Elijah: A Man Like Us (Part One)

1 Kings 19:1-11a

Consider the great contrast between chapters 18 and 19. It is hard to comprehend that they are speaking of the same person. In chapter 18, we read of Elijah standing boldly before hostile false prophets, a wicked king and people that had walked away from the Lord to worship false gods; in chapter 19 he flees from a threat of one woman, Jezebel.

A great victory does not prevent future troubles, whether it was a victory in service to God or a victory over remaining sin. People hope to solve all their problems by triumph in one shining moment. “Let’s win this one victory so we can get on with our lives.” We should never think that sin, the rebellious world and the evil one will surrender so easily. The believer’s life is a constant warfare against sin. Why else would we need the full armor of God?

Let us think about some problems that Elijah faced immediately after seeing God answer his prayers for fire and rain.

Elijah felt the pressure of fear (19:1-3). He looked in the wrong direction. It’s amazing how quickly we can lose the proper spiritual outlook. Peter experienced this while walking on the water with Jesus (Matthew 14). Remember what happened to the ten spies (Numbers 13:33). They had known God’s miraculous provision and victory over two powerful enemies within two years. Yet they did not believe that God was able to give them the land.

Elijah fell into fear, because he did not wait for the Lord’s direction. Contrast 1 Kings 17:2-4, 8-9; 18:1. He had done so well before, but he did not wait for a word from the Lord now. By the way, it’s useless to speculate about “what would have happened if….” Don’t waste your time in empty wishing that you would have done something different. Repent, believe and get on with the good work of serving the living God. In the Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan, the Great Lion, says to one of the children, Lucy, “Child, I do not tell people what would have happened.”

Even in his failure, the Lord was working for his prophet’s preservation. Elijah failed to see what God was doing for him at the very time he fell into fear. Why didn’t Jezebel slay Elijah immediately? Why did she wait? The Bible teaches us confidence in the living God who controls everything. The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (Proverbs 21:1). The Lord can protect when everything seems hopeless.

Elijah felt the pressure of fatigue (19:4-6). We must be aware of the effect of our bodies upon our souls. A human is a functional unity of the spiritual and the physical. Jesus told his disciples that they needed to rest (Mark 6:30-32). Not only does the body affect the soul, but the soul can also affect the body. Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:24 NIV; cf. 17:22). This physical fatigue influenced Elijah to pray foolishly (19:4). It is grace that some of our prayers are answered “no”, because we can ask for some foolish things. I do not think that Elijah really wanted to die. If he did, he could have stayed where he was and Jezebel would have been happy to cooperate. God wisely and lovingly supplied what tired Elijah really needed then. He gave him sleep (Psalm 103:13-14), and he gave him food.

We must apply this knowledge to ourselves. Some cases of spiritual depression have physical roots. If your soul is down in the dumps, you may be ill or mistreating your body. You may need to see a medical doctor. Make sure you have proper rest. Choose wisely when you read your Bible. This can involve hard choices for busy moms. Some people function quite well at night and they can profit from Bible reading late at night. You may not be that way. You may be a morning or an afternoon type of person. Know yourself. The axiomatic wisdom of Jack Sprat. Know the rest you need before you go to church services. Get to bed earlier on Saturday night.

Grace and peace, David

Mercy After Judgment

1 Kings 18:41-46

Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful (Luke 6:36 CSB).

God’s prophet Elijah acted boldly for the cause of God and truth, in the face of strong opposition. Hundreds of false prophets had opposed him. Yet the Lord vindicated Elijah’s stand for him and that he was a true prophet. Then Elijah led the people to carry out the doom of the law covenant upon the teachers of error (1 Kings 18:40; cf. Deuteronomy 13). Was it time for the Lord to pour out judgment on the people who had also worshiped false gods?

God had the right, the authority, and the power to do that. Yes, the people deserved wrath. But God is also merciful. Sometimes we hear of people asking God to judge his enemies in our time, like the disciples wanted Jesus to judge the Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56). Anger and hatred reside in the human heart, and their preferred objects are people that cause us problems. This makes us forget the character of God. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made (Psalm 145:8-9 NIV).

The mercy of God is seen in the sending of rain for the good of his people. What caused the rain to come?

It was not due to a change of direction in Israel’s leadership. There wasn’t any positive change. We read no record of repentance, thanksgiving or prayer on Ahab’s part. As we will see, Ahab was not softened by wrath or mercy. He steadily became worse. The evil king’s chief concern was for eating and drinking (18:42). Ahab was a materially-minded man, like those Paul later described. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things (Philippians 3:19 ESV). Elijah grants him liberty to pursue his pleasures. To be given material benefits without spiritual blessings is slippery ground (cf. Psalm 73:18). History is filled with many examples of this preference for partying over praying. Consider Belshazzar (Daniel 5); or those in London during World War II who partied during the air raids.

Sending rain was an act of the kindness of God. The covenant Lord had taken the initiative (18:1) in this entire event. It pleased him to do this. God is in control of the weather (Psalm 148:8; Matthew 5:45). He had withheld rain for three years and six months, and then he chose to send it. Yet at the same time, rain came because of the prayers of Elijah. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit (James 5:18 ESV). The God who ordered the end also ordered the means to that end. Prayer is part of God’s plan.

How did Elijah pray?

  • With a posture of humility (18:42). Though Elijah had experienced great blessings from the Lord, he did not lose a high regard for God’s majesty.
  • With persistence (18:43-44. cf. Luke 18:1-8). Notice the difference in the length of this prayer with his prayer in 18:36-37. God does not always answer when we expect. Even Elijah did not always receive an immediate answer to prayer.
  • With faith. (James 5:15-18). By faith Elijah heard the sound of heavy rain (18:41). Faith looks at things future, at things not yet seen, and reasons that God will bring them to be, and so acts as if they already were.
  • With fervency (James 5:17).
  • With a definite request (James 5:17-18). For example, every follower of Christ should always pray for the salvation of five people. Your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers form a fine place to start your list.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to pray as Elijah did. Let us have faith in God. With him all things are possible! Read Jeremiah 32:17, 26-27; 33:3.

Grace and peace, David

Love in Practice (Part Two)

1 John 3:16-18

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (NIV).

When we learn the truth and begin to practice it, we learn the obligation to love one another sacrificially (3:16b). Instead of using the worldly language of unconditional love, it is more accurate to use biblical ideas and to say sacrificial love. God teaches us that genuine love requires us to give ourselves sacrificially for the good of others.

Notice that the apostle uses the language of “ought”. He is not merely giving good advice, like “you ought to buy this brand of gasoline to keep your fuel injectors clean.” The word John selected conveys the sense of obligation or debt (cf. Matthew 18:28, 30, 34). This is a constant obligation—present tense. Whenever we encounter others in need, we have a responsibility to do what we can to help them. Remember the parable of the “Good Samaritan” that Jesus used to teach the meaning of a neighbor in need.

We have not reached a proper understanding of love until we actually give sacrificially for the good of others. You will never express love in a relationship simply by talking about it. Anyone can say “I love you.” It is another matter to do disagreeable tasks for the benefit of someone else. You will know what love means when you have given yourself for someone else. Obviously this concept is not too popular today. It requires us to put others first and to risk personal discomfort. Someone might say, “I don’t feel like doing that!” I used to respond, “You don’t have to feel like it; just do it!” However, I find that somehow dissatisfying and not really measuring up to Christ’s example. Instead, stop and count the cost, but as you do that, factor in the truth of his love for you, and let his love rule your emotions. Never allow emotions that are unregulated by redeeming grace to have a greater authority in your heart than Christ’s example and God’s word.

How is loved proved or demonstrated (3:17-18)? John answers by illustrating with a scenario that shows the absence of love (3:17). Observe the reality test: if someone is capable of meeting a need. God is not asking you to step beyond what he has equipped you to do. But that is not the problem envisioned here! Too often we try to find a way out of simple obedience by raising objections that do not in fact apply to us or the situation.

John is talking about a person who has sufficient means to help, but closes their affections. The Greek word translated pity here means the seat of the emotions, including love, sympathy, pity and compassion. Observe the conclusion: then how does God’s love remain in such a person? God’s love changes how we act toward others!

So then, John says that love requires agreement between words and actions (3:18). He urges us to close the gap between our profession (words) and our practice (actions). Genuine love, like true faith, produces works. In fact, love produces works that are difficult and strenuous to perform. As Paul wrote, We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:3 CSB, my emphasis).

One of the most difficult works we are required to perform is to evaluate a situation to determine what is Biblical, what is merely my preference, and what I must choose to do for the benefit of others! This can cause a seemingly mature saint to crumple. Or it might help you stretch your faith and grow! Consider 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Love for one another is indispensable in the church (Ephesians 4:29-5:2). We may not hold back from reaching out to meet the social and spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This means that every child of God must always communicate with the rest of the Father’s family in a loving manner.

Grace and peace, David

Love in Practice (Part One)

1 John 3:16-18

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (NIV).

Our mission is to turn people from the pursuit of sinful desires to be fully committed followers of Jesus Christ. As we seek to fulfill this mission, we will necessarily be involved in closing the gap between correct teaching and correct living. We must not say, “We know the truth,” unless we are diligent in the practice of truth. For example, there is something drastically wrong with the person that says, “We stand for God’s law!” and yet fails to love his or her professed brother in Christ, because isn’t love for one another Christ’s new commandment? And if a person will not obey the Son of God when he commands his people to love one another, isn’t he or she “a wicked antinomian” (as some pompous legalists like to accuse others)?

In order for us to function in a Biblical manner, we must join correct teaching and correct living. We must never allow an option (“Choose truth or love!”) In addition, we should not expect that correct teaching automatically produces a changed way of life. The Spirit of God must make the truth alive with power in the heart.

The Holy Spirit begins with practical definition of love (3:16a). A Christian knows that true knowledge begins with the reality of God, the counsel of his word, and the surpassing glory of his works in creation and salvation. So we say, a proper understanding of love requires knowledge of Christ’s atoning work.

The Bible always starts with the holiness of God. Apart from that truth we lack any reference point to understand why the death of Jesus Christ could ever be any kind of a demonstration of God’s love. However, once we now that God’s own holy character requires him to oppose what is sinful and evil, then we can begin to comprehend the reason that the cross of Christ is the most amazing proof of love the universe has ever seen. If you do not start with God’s holiness, was Christ’s death…

  • The act of a martyr?
  • A zealous but overdone example?
  • A senseless display of cruelty?

If you start with God’s holiness, then Christ’s death was…

The only way for sinners to be right with God!

We must remember this as we think about our friends and neighbors who are strangers to God’s saving love. It is too easy for them to bring up something like a devastating earthquake in some part of the world and then ask, “How can you say that God is love? If God is love, why does he permit such suffering?” Instead, the Bible begins with the facts of God’s holiness and human rebelliousness and then says, “You can see the love of God in the death of Jesus, the Son of God, for rebellious people.” This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:9-11 NIV). Now obviously, you cannot be blunt and tactless when you raise this point, because that would not be love. But the point must be gently and kindly made.

You can quickly get yourself in deep spiritual difficulty if you do not begin with the cross. Suppose you measure God’s love by nice, pleasant things you have. But what if you lose those things? Has God stopped loving you? The only way out is to repent of your error and turn back to the truth. There’s only one way out of a dead end street, which we have a lot of in my area. You must turn around!

Christ’s love for us is the revealed standard of love. Since Christ’s death on the cross, we have a completed revelation of what it means to love. Now, we are to love as he loved us. I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35 CSB). Because of all that we have in and through the Lord Christ, we are to imitate his love. In this way redemptive grace both sets the parameters of and energizes love.

We must lay hold of the truth that we are to love one another at all times with the same kind of love that Christ loves us.

Grace and peace, David

The Struggles of the Believer (Part Fifteen)

Luke 12:51-53

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law (ESV).

Next, let’s contemplate the struggles that come from the schemes of in-laws. This happens when, for whatever reasons, parents, aunts and uncles or siblings begin to interfere in a couple’s marriage, or just want to cause them trouble. Mother-in-law jokes abound about the wife’s mother. But as one counselor wittily observed, “You don’t hear mother-in-law jokes about the husband’s mother, because it’s not a matter for jokes.” Whether or not you agree with that chestnut, it is a rare couple who can say that they never had an in-law problem. Here are two biblical examples of this problem.

  • The troubles that came between Jacob and Laban. Here was a case of two crooked schemers matching wits and both losing. Both were miserable and had a hard life, and eventually came to a sad parting. Laban did not want his son-in-law to succeed.
  • The jealousy of Saul against David. Here David was godly and innocent of wrong against his father-in-law, but Saul had turned his back on the Lord and was jealous of David. Saul could never get over his jealousy, and caused his son-in-law years of sorrow and deprivation. If it happened to the man after God’s own heart, don’t be surprised if it happens to you.

How can we form a biblical pattern of response?

  • Do not descend to the level of your interfering in-laws. If not for God’s sovereign mercy, Jacob would have had nothing and perhaps even died at Laban’s hand (Genesis 31:23-29, 43-53). But do not presume that God will bail you out. We must remember that the storyline of the Bible shows how God’s purpose triumphed in spite of huge opposition. The hero of the story is God, and not the people who we read of in the story. Looking for the same outcome they received can be spiritually dangerous. Also, never judge the righteousness of your actions by the apparent outcome or how you feel. The Holy Scriptures alone set forth God’s standard of righteousness.
  • Allow God to be the Judge. Do not take matters into your own hands, but trust God to do the right thing. This is the pattern of action that David followed (1 Samuel 24 & 26). This can prove to be very difficult because our emotions operate in overdrive when family members are involved.

Here is an important principle. It is our duty to obey God and let him handle the consequences. We may do the right thing and suffer for it, but at the end, he will reward our faithfulness. You are living for more than the next few years. Keep eternity in view. And beware of seeking revenge. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good (Romans 12:17-21 CSB).

Grace and peace, David

The Struggles of the Believer” (Part Fourteen)

Luke 12:51-53

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law (ESV).

In every gathering of Christians, there will be people facing various struggles with differing degrees of success. Thankfully, not all of us struggle in the same way! In God’s providence and according to the grace given us, some have no problems in a few areas, but face trials and temptations in a couple others. There is something mysterious in this fact, and I have often thought that it should induce all of us to be compassionate and understanding toward one another. You might ask, “How does he or she survive in the midst of all their problems?” At the same time, that brother or sister might be wondering the same thing about you.

Next in our series, let us consider three problems that believers face in reference to our families. The words of Jesus recorded in Luke should help us understand that he never promised that our families would be places of peace. One aspect of our struggles can always be false expectations. We assume that our family will be a place of rest and peace. Yet remember even Jesus had conflict in his family (Mark 3:21). We might hope that through the application of gospel truth, these problems will become non-existent in any church that preaches and holds to the gospel. But simply being part of a gospel assembly does not mean that all families conduct themselves according to the gospel. These struggles all constitute part of life in this fallen world, and wishful thinking won’t make them disappear. Hopefully, we will learn a few Biblical principles that can provide help and encouragement, and teach us to avoid adding to the problem.

Here is the first of three problems that most believers face in their families at one time or another. They are struggles that come from the error of partiality. This is the situation in which either or both parents show a preference for one child above the rest of their children, or ignore one to prefer the others. As a famous comic said many years ago to his comedian brother, “Mom always liked you best!”

Consider two Biblical examples of this problem.

  • It happened in the family of Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 25:26). Here both mom and dad made the same mistake, and it really doesn’t matter who started the mess. Dad liked the athletic, outdoorsman, but mom preferred the more refined thinker. Once this started, the opportunities for disagreement and strife between the couple and among their children quickly became numerous.
  • Their son Jacob didn’t learn from their failure, since he preferred his son Joseph over his eleven other sons (Genesis 37:3). Without digressing into a discussion of the Bible’s view of polygamy, let us understand the relevance of this incident to our time. Widespread divorce and remarriage have created similar situations in which some have children in the same family who do not come from the same mother and father. This provides ample opportunities for partiality to be displayed. Jacob’s situation was complicated by the fact that Joseph was the oldest son of his deceased yet favorite wife, Rachel.

To combat this error, we need a proper view of children. Recognize that all your children are a gift from the Lord. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons born in one’s youth. Happy is the man who has filled his quiver with them. They will never be put to shame when they speak with their enemies at the city gate (Psalm 127:4-5 CSB). The testimony of Scripture and human experience should join to convince us that God gives children. How many want children and can never have them! If God has granted you the ability to reproduce, be sure to treasure each gift and to bring the up properly—in the warning-instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

Recognize also that God has designed each of your children (Psalm 139:13-16). He made each one with their own particular physical features, personality traits and varying abilities. For some wise purpose, he made them according to his design, and he gave them to you to nurture and to love. Try to help each child achieve the best that God has made them to be. Their gifts, abilities, preferences, and dreams may be different from yours, but show every child the love and care that God wants you to give and give to them.

Grace and peace, David

The Struggles of the Believer (Part Thirteen)

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:7 CSB).

The fifth cause of a believer’s struggles about “that one sin” can be summed up by this way: The cause of trouble is the failure to realize the believer’s union with Jesus Christ. The basic teaching about the believer is that he or she is “in Christ”. For example think of 2 Corinthians 5:17. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (NIV) The fullest teaching of this truth is found in Romans 5-6 and Ephesians 1-3. “Wear out” those pages of your Bible if you need to, but learn this truth. It is found throughout the New Testament letters, for example, Colossians 3:3. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (CSB). We must know that we are in Christ in order to live correctly in God’s presence. The Holy God desires that his children enjoy the riches of his love, joy, and peace, and this way of life comes from the assurance that being in Christ provides.

You must lay hold of the truth that God looks at your and accepts you because you are in Christ. His righteousness has been credited to your account by grace through faith in him. You have the fullest liberty to approach him in faith in Christ—even when you have sinned. Nothing can shake your standing in Christ. You do not need “to work yourself up into good feelings” about your spiritual position. You simply need to trust the Lord’s promises in the word. We too easily slip into a “performance righteousness” and resultant feelings of acceptance after we have sinner. It is too easy to think that “God doesn’t really like me” until we have a “proven track record”. It is not that we would claim that our perfect obedience is the basis of our acceptance. “Oh, we would never do that! Horrors!” It is simply that we want to feel good about ourselves before we feel worthy to ask for forgiveness and then live boldly in God’s presence. And this is practical, functional, performance righteousness that denies the gospel in our walk with God.

This is the test that we really our trusting in Christ and his righteousness and not in our merits or ourselves. If you have been relying on your good works and what a sweet, lovable person you are to “get God to like you”, then what will you do when convinced of the guilt of your sin, when you no longer feel sweet and lovable, and can’t boast about what good things you have done? But if you confess that Jesus Christ came into the world to save the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and that your only hope and ground of boasting is in him, then you can glory and rejoice in Him. You can say, “I know I have sinned, but I also know a trustworthy saying!” Then in faith you will be able to give glory to your King!

What is your confidence, what is your boast today? Run away from self-reliance and run to the Lord Jesus Christ. Bow before him, and rely upon his grace and mercy. O that God would give   you joy in the Lord!

Grace and peace, David

The Struggles of the Believer (Part Twelve)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9 ESV).

Currently, we are looking at the struggles that some believers in Jesus Christ have about “that one sin”. They continually fret about how they could ever do such a sin or keep doing it or whether God would ever forgive such a person. So far we have considered that such struggles come from the work of Satan and the spiritual forces of evil and from a failure to apply Biblical teaching about God’s grace. This brings us to a third cause.

The person with this condition may be struggling about actually trusting the Scriptures. Is their confidence in what God says or in what they think about sin, grace, and their reception of it? Some Christians act like prosecuting attorneys against themselves. They refuse to accept a clear promise of God about forgiveness (1 John 1:9) about themselves. In theory, they admit that the Lord will forgive their sins, but they fail to rest in confidence on God’s words. They tell themselves that God cannot forgive them when he has promised that he will. Beware of getting into an argument with God—telling him “no” when he says “yes”. Don’t do what Peter did in a different situation. Don’t argue against God’s words (Acts 10:13-16).

This is another instance in which you may need to stop praying and simply start believing. Merely saying words is not praying in faith. God does not answer people’s prayers because they ritually or franticly or repetitiously pray. Your prayer might be an evidence of unbelief instead of faith. Listen to what God says in his word, pray on that basis, and then act in conformity with God’s promise of forgiveness.

A fourth cause is this. The person who struggles over “that one sin” may be deficient in his or her understanding of Christ’s redemptive work. Earlier in this series, I presented the concept that we are not saved by the amount or clarity of our understanding. Praise God that that is true, or we would all be in serious difficulty! However, knowing, understanding, and by faith acting on the truth revealed in the Bible provides us with a great advantage amid our struggles.

Some people know that it is the sacrificial work of the Lord Jesus on Calvary’s cross that saves them, but they have not fully grasped the significance of what he accomplished. They know enough to be saved, but not enough to rejoice always. They know enough to rely on Christ, but not enough to rest on him. What this person must do is to become intimately acquainted with the truth of Christ’s saving work. Learn the meaning and significance of passages like 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:24-26; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; Hebrews 9:11-15; Revelation 1:5-6; 5:9-10; etc. As you do, ask the Holy Spirit for his help. “Holy Spirit, help me know the power of God’s love for me expressed in these words!”

A person in this condition may feel unworthy to participate in the Lord’s Supper, but this remembrance of Christ’s death is the very thing that can help them. We need to know the Lord’s Table is not a ritual conduit of grace that works simply by participating in it. No, it is a remembrance of Christ and his saving work that points us afresh to our Lord, who is mighty to save. A woman was once weeping over her sinfulness and felt unworthy to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. Her minister wisely told her, “Take it; it’s for sinners!”

The Lord’s Supper is a proclamation that Christ paid for our sins fully and that now we have a new and better covenant with God. Yet some avoid “Communion Sunday” out of guilt and fear. Please do not make this mistake. Before you go to a meeting, boldly confess your sins and boldly receive God’s promised forgiveness. Then boldly go to worship with your brothers and sisters in the Lord and boldly remember the Savior with them.

We must see that our justification is not based on who we are or what we have done, but on the finished work of Christ. He secured our justification, our righteousness with God, by his saving work. So then, rejoice in what he did for you and find your access to God through him. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1-2).

Grace and peace, David

The Struggles of the Believer (Part Eleven)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17 NIV)

Last time we wrote that to struggle about “that one sin” is the work of Satan and the spiritual forces of evil, and that they have too many willing human agents to assist them in creating hardships in people. The second, close companion to the first cause mentioned is that it is almost entirely due to an ignorance of doctrine.

The person with regrets about “that one sin” fails to understand and/or to apply to himself or herself the Biblical doctrine of salvation. There is a great dislike in our day for clear statements of truth. We are too afraid of alienating or offending anyone. And so truth has been abandoned in the name of false love. The result is that you lose both truth and love and are left with a selfish, manipulating, greedy lust. We must recover the truth of statements like Psalm 19:7-11 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

This might surprise someone, but the wrong approach of the person with regrets about sin is to pray. In fact, you need to get up off your knees, sit down and begin to think Biblically! There are some problems in the Christian life that you will never solve by just “praying about” them. Instead, by faith you must act in the right, Biblical way. Continual prayer about your regrets only reminds you of your difficulty. If you worry about something, certainly pray about it, but then move forward with confidence in the God who hears and answers prayers. To pray constantly about your worry will only keep your heart stirred up. For example, pray and then serve others in their needs.

The right approach is the one Paul took in our text. If there was ever a Christian who should have been troubled about regrets concerning his sinful past, it was the apostle Paul. Notice what he says about himself. “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” When Stephen was murdered, he consented to his death and began to destroy the church (Ac 8:1-3). Too make matters worse, he was all those things as a religious person! You can imagine how the words “murderer” and “hypocrite” could have troubled his conscience.

But Paul’s trust and hope was not in the law or religious works. It was in the mercy and grace of God. Reread carefully Paul’s words in the above text (1:12-17).

  • Paul says that his case serves as a model. How did Christ saving him make him a model? It is a model that no one’s sin exceeds the love and grace of God that is found in Jesus Christ our Lord. What can you do that exceeds this?
  • While some sins are serious because of the disruption and heartache they cause, this also speaks against making divisions among sins in regard to guilt, making some little and of no importance and others big and destroyers of grace. (This is the so-called difference between mortal and venial sins.) No, all sins are against God, rightly guilty and deserving of wrath, but not beyond the power of Christ’s blood.

At this point, someone might raise two objections.

  • But doesn’t Paul say that he was the worst of sinners? Well, yes he does use those words, but not with the intent of setting up grades of sin. The closer a person comes to God, who is light, the more he or she will discern and feel their sinfulness (1 John 1:6-7). That was Paul’s experience and he expresses it in these words. But notice carefully that he is not saying that some sins are worse than others are because he resolves all that he did into the one sin of unbelief. Lists of sins mix what people consider “big sins” with what are deemed “little sins” (Galatians 5:19-21; etc.). Since God forgives unbelief, he forgives all (Mark 3:28).
  • But what about the believer who sins after salvation? Paul says that he did this ignorantly and in unbelief. But I wasn’t that ignorant and unbelieving! There are two ways to answer this. First, every sin is an expression of ignorance and unbelief. Becoming a Christian did not bestow upon you perfect knowledge and faith. You must grow in grace. Second, consider the cases of David and Peter, both of whom tragically sinned, but both were restored fully to God’s favor. Read Psalms 32, 51 and 130.

What matters is your relationship with God. Do not focus on your sin. God’s grace has forgiven all kinds of sinners. Concentrate on his love and grace. Read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

Grace and peace, David

The Struggles of the Believer (Part Ten)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17 NIV)

To struggle about “that one sin” is the work of Satan and the spiritual forces of evil. They have too many willing human agents to assist them in creating hardships in people. For example, some people struggle all their days because they were sexually abused as a child. Many times the victim of abuse feels guilty for the abuse, and so they can come to struggle with “that one sin”. Others are responsible for their own struggles. Satan’s foremost goal is to oppose the work of God and to destroy God’s people. He hates us and is most happy when we are miserable, despairing, and desperate about our condition. We must always remember the malicious intent of the enemy. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8 NIV). Read that again. Devour. He seeks our destruction; he wants to rid the earth of us, or at least to make us totally ineffective for God.

The best advertising for the gospel is joyful, loving believers. Satan despises those who rejoice that their sins are forgiven and who want to express love for God and others. If he can get the follower of Christ to fixate on doubt of forgiveness and justification, he can hinder that person from rejoicing and acting in love. For he or she will become too focused on his or her own self. Satan can point at miserable Christians and say to the unbelievers, “Look at that person and their unhappiness. That is what happens from getting religious. You don’t want to be like that, do you?”

Regardless of how someone falls into this condition, we need to step back and keep the evil one’s schemes in view. Satan’s tactical objective must be resisted by faith. Resist him, firm in the faith, knowing that the same kind of sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world (1 Peter 5:9 CSB; cf. Ephesians 6:11-18)

The evil one often appears as an angel of light. And no wonder! For Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14 CSB). He comes quoting Scripture! He attacked Jesus this way (Matthew 4:6). What makes you think that he won’t use this weapon against you? Always be careful when someone throws a Bible verse at you in your struggles. People can be handing you a verse outside of its Biblical context. We must know the Bible’s storyline, as well as the immediate surrounding paragraphs of any verse. Two texts that currently suffer terrible abuse are Philippians 4:13 and Jeremiah 29:11, and the misuse of these verses can seriously complicate a person’s spiritual struggles. Why? They fail to achieve the happiness that the misuse of such verses promises, and then they blame themselves for “that one sin” of failing to believe enough or properly. People are complicated beings, and we should be careful about making the problems of others worse.

Since the prince of darkness misuses Scripture, you must have a thorough and complete understanding of the gospel. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough (2 Corinthians 11:3-4 ESV). All of us must know that we are right with God by grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Learn the letters of Romans and Galatians well. Read them and reread them.

Grace and peace, David