Thinking about the Faithful God

Hebrews 10:23IMG_0722

Theology is the study of God; it is the proper study of God’s people. He is the starting point of our world and life view. Since we are in a personal relationship with the Maker and Preserver of all things, we seek to understand what he has told has about himself. As we grasp his majesty, we are capable of making better sense of ourselves and the world he has placed us in. So we can say that the study of God is one of the most practical activities that we can engage in. The writer of Hebrews has told us in this great paragraph to hold fast our profession. The second part of verse twenty-three tells us of the motivating force to obey the command in the first part of this verse. Why should we obey? “For he who promised is faithful”.

Remember some basic ideas about our faithful God. When we talk about the living God with people in our generation, we need to define what we mean by the word “God”. Don’t assume that your neighbor has the same ideas that you have. They will define “God” according to whatever their religious philosophy is—Hindu, Buddhist, Islam, pagan, new age, religious existentialist, etc. Let’s think about two truths concerning the true and living God that relate to our subject.

God is personal. We need to listen carefully to what God has said about his nature and what people say about their “god”. God is not an impersonal force to be manipulated by people. God is a tri-personal being. Yes, he is infinitely greater than we are, but he is personal as we are. We must accept God as he reveals himself. We cannot recast God to conform to our opinions. God tells us that he is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one God in three persons. Certainly this is very difficult to understand, because we know of no other being like him. But our lack of comprehension does not give us the right to reinterpret reality according to our whims. There are many parts of higher mathematics that the average person does not comprehend. That lack of comprehension doesn’t alter the reality of mathematics.

God is a communicator. God speaks to us in language we can understand. He could have spoken in a way that no human could understand, but that would not have agreed with his purpose to make himself and the way of salvation known to us. To speak to us clearly, God chose three human languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic) and the thought forms, idioms, and qualities of each of those languages. In doing this, the living God was able to make known the truth about himself and how to know him.

God gives us statements that we can rely on. For example, he has told us that he is eternal, all-powerful, and compassionate. This provides us with confidence in him when we grieve over departed loved ones, feel the weakness of our human flesh, and feel miserable. The Lord God makes promises to us out of his desire to draw us to himself that we might experience the wonder and joy of who he is. For example, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 HCSB). We might feel helpless and hopeless, but Jesus’ words encourage us that he will rescue us from the guilt and punishment due us for our sins.

So then, God’s revelation about his nature, fuels our confidence in the faithful God. If we follow God’s example in talking with our neighbors in this way, then we can share with them the promises that God makes to people who will turn to him and trust in him through Christ.

Grace and peace, David

Reading with Fresh Eyes

IMG_0694In our Sunday morning gathering, we aim to read through a passage of Scripture together each week. For example, we have read through Colossians five times in a week and the book of Hebrews once. Last week and this, our goal is to read through the Gospel of Matthew together. Although I don’t have a text of Scripture to back up this method, I think it is wise for groups of Christ learners (disciples) to be reading together. It draws our thinking to the same portions of the Scriptures and provides material for discussion or reference.

So then, as I was reading Matthew earlier this week, I came across a paragraph in my “Notemakers” Bible (it has wide margins that are perfect for making notes) that I had not made many notes on. It was in the middle of a well-marked chapter. The paragraph is Matthew 15:29-31. (By the way, do not feel inadequate or a failure, etc if you don’t make notes in your Bible. We are all different, and I find this a useful method for me. There is nothing spiritual about making notes in your Bible.)

Back to our topic. As I read, I began to think about how I had never meditated on this paragraph. I feel no need to analyze myself about the reasons. We all have heard someone say in a Bible study or small group, “Wow, I never read that before!” The more likely explanation is that we weren’t paying attention in our previous times of reading that passage. As I wrote at the end of last year, we might need to slow down as we read the Word, so that we can absorb what were reading. And we should not view some passages as extra material that happens to be in the way of our desire to read our favorite passages.

On a fresh reading, what do I see? First, this event follows his “secret mission” to Gentile territory, where he healed the daughter of a woman who begged Jesus to heal her. Back in Galilee, the large crowds of people bring many to him that had a variety of physical difficulties. This gathering with many in misery must have touched Jesus’ compassionate heart.  He acted with the power of the Spirit and healed them. I thought about the need to show mercy to people with physical and mental difficulties. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7 NIV). Evaluate yourself about how often you show mercy.

Second, Jesus produced a at change in those who were healed. Can you imagine the change in their attitudes when Jesus had restored them to health. Recently, I was at a men’s retreat that my dad had attended almost every year for nearly forty plus years. The retreat center is built on very hilly landscape. You can see it on the above picture. I wondered how he could have walked from the bunkhouse to the dining area. But he did. While there, I saw other older men struggling with the terrain also. Yet they were there. It is easy to talk about one’s pain and weariness in such circumstances. For this reason, imagine the change in attitude after Jesus healed them: from despair to victory.

Third, the people praised the true and living God, the God of Israel. They had great reasons to praise. They could talk and walk and see! Those with arthritis and other crippling diseases were cured! Certainly, it was time to magnify the greatness of God. There are are couple of lessons here:

  • Contrast the concerns and reaction of the healed people and those who brought them with those of the Pharisees and the teachers of religious law (Matthew 15:1-14). One group was intent on religious traditions and looking good before people; the other worshiped God and cared about other people.
  • If we understand what Jesus did, we ought to be amazed, even two thousand years later. Something is wrong with us if we read these words carefully and fail to be amazed. This is true history about real people. To nod your head and move on points out a troubled area in your soul.
  • Who are we trying to bring to Jesus? How are we involved with other people? Our goal in living must be for far more than personal comfort.

Grace and peace, David

Prayer and Triumph through the How Long Times

IMG_0683Psalm 13:1-6

As we have observed, David kept God in his thoughts during his struggles. He did this although he felt that God had forgotten him. But he did more than think about the Lord. He sought the Lord by prayer (13:3-4). There are times to think and there are times to pray. Too often we do the one when we should be doing the other. Spiritual maturity brings the wisdom needed.

David prayed for God to hear him. He earnestly addressed his God. Though he was at a low point, he did not forsake his confidence in the living God. Recently, I wrote about assurance; there can be various degrees of assurance. A happy believer can hear the voice of the Spirit of adoption, crying out, “Abba, Father”. During times of wrestling with problems and sorrow, we should head straight to the throne of grace. Claim God’s word of promise and run there (Hebrews 4:16).

David used arguments in his prayer. God has told us his story in the Bible, so that we can know how he kindly interacts with his people. Remember how Abraham pleaded with God for Sodom (Genesis 18). He used arguments as he prayed for that wicked city. (By the way, do you pray for our cities?) He presented two related consequences if God did not help him as arguments for God to act for his benefit. The first argument was that without God’s help “I will sleep in death” (cf. Psalm 30:9). David told the Lord that he would be losing a worshiper on earth if he died. He grabbed hold of the concept of one of the purposes for a godly life (cf. 1 Peter 2:10), and turned it into an argument for God to act for him. The second argument was the gloating of God’s enemies, which were also David’s enemies. “My enemy will say.” As John Trapp put it, they were composing “comedies out of my tragedies.” Turn trouble from the adversary into a prayer request. “Save your child from this cruel monster.”

After God answered him, we read of the believer’s triumph of faith (13:5-6). Faith in God brings victory (cf. 1 John 5:4). Very often failure to trust the Lord gets us into trouble, such as what happened to Peter. He looked at the waves and fell, when he should have focused on Jesus (Matthew 14:29-31). Trust in God’s unfailing love. As someone wrote, “He cannot fail, for he is God. He cannot fail; he pledged his word.” Trust of this nature will be accompanied by joy in salvation. Here we find the desire of our inner persons satisfied. We go to God despondent, fearful and needy. We leave filled with joy.

There is the joy of victory (13:6). This is greater than any athlete’s thrill of victory. Now the storm is past and the sun shines. David’s heart was filled with song. His thinking changed. He thought about the goodness of God rather than his problems.

Some final points as we close this article:

  • Too often we erect monuments on the graves of old problems. We are wiser to raise “Ebenezers” where the Lord has helped us (1 Samuel 7:12).
  • The next time you suffer as David did, reach for the remedy that helped him. Use this psalm as a pattern for your approach to God. Make the Scriptures a valuable weapon in your hands against the enemy.
  • If you are in a spiritual struggle you can’t seem to get out of, please go to other gospel partners for help. God has placed us in gatherings of believers that we might be able to help each other in our struggles. Get rid of pride! Every believer has weaknesses, in spite of our perfectionistic quest to keep them hidden, or so we wrongly imagine. Listen to others; let them hold you up in prayer.

Grace and peace, David

How Long?

DSCN0051Psalm 13:1-6

Every believer needs to know what to do for his or her own basic spiritual care. None of us go to the doctor every time we have a physical ache or pain. In the same way we all need to know what to do for the spiritual ailments we suffer. This psalm, like others such as Psalms 6, 42-43, 88, and130, talk about the problem of spiritual depression. Psalm 13 presents a believer, David, who struggled in a condition of desertion. What is desertion? It is the state in which God, for wise reasons, hides the smile on his face from his believing child for a while. During this time the believer does not enjoy his usual comfort in God. We are not told when this happened in David’s life. Surely he went through many experiences where these words would have described his condition.

First, we hear David’s complaints (13:1-2). A wise friend listens to their friend’s symptoms. Note the extreme misery David was in, and how intensely he desired deliverance. He complained that God had forgotten him (13:1). His emotions were overruling his mind. In his words he denied what he knew so well. Can an all-knowing God in covenant with his people forget them? Meditate on Isaiah 49:13-16. Affliction had changed David’ s outlook. Where was the psalmist of Psalm 23 at this point? He painted a worst case scenario: “forever?” Observe how dark his thoughts became. You and I are liable to lose patience in our afflictions. We want everything yesterday, and this can cause additional complicating problems.

David complained that God was hiding his face (13:1). Is there a slight improvement here? Or a decline? First, he thought God had forgotten him. Now he looks at God as actively withdrawing from fellowship with him. God may hide his face for various reasons. Discipline for sin is one cause (Hebrews 12:5-13).

  • Discipline for neglect of obedience to God’s purposes. The Lord desires us to follow him, and yet we become side-tracked from doing good works.
  • Discipline for a false self-confidence. We assume that we can do that Christian life in our own strength.
  • Discipline for grieving the Holy Spirit.

When we feel that God is far off, we might benefit from self-examination. Compare your walk with the Lord to that set forth in the Bible. But avoid over-introspection, which can cause similar problems.

David complained about his internal struggle (13:2). Hard thoughts that denied God’s love and promises were striving for the mastery of his mind. The battle brought weariness upon him. At least David is seeking to control his thoughts. He wrestled with them. This is better than letting your inner person run wild. Every action to take charge of your thoughts is a positive step. Take every one of your thoughts captive for Christ. Refresh your thinking with the knowledge of the greatness and grace of God.

Another villain tried to cut him down: sorrow. We can reach a point where we refuse to be comforted. It is remarkable the arguments that a human heart can raise against its own comfort. What do you do then? Go to God your Father (Read 2 Cor 1).

Discouragement also came because he felt like he had been beaten (13:2). The seeming triumph of our enemy is a terrible experience. No one likes to lose to their rival in sports. No one likes for one’s personal rival to show them up. Far worse is the experience of apparent defeat by the enemy of human souls. We must remember that our spiritual life is complicated by the spiritual foes who seek our destruction. Each of us has enough serious difficulty with our own flesh. But there is an external as well as an internal warfare. As the old hymn says, “For still our ancient foe does seek to work us woe.” In Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan painted the sad picture of Christian’s journey through the Valley of Humiliation. There is no escape from these trials, even when we try to walk close to our Lord and Savior. Many situations will cause every follower of Jesus to cry out, “How long?” In your unhappy experiences, learn to cry out, “How long, Lord?” It is far too easy to think of our difficulties rather than to fix our thoughts on our God, who deeply cares for us. Keep the Lord God in your thoughts. He is light (1 John 1:5) and can brighten the darkest places of your soul.

Grace and peace, David

Something to Hold Tightly

DSCN0507Hebrews 10:23

The writer gives a command in regard to our confession—“let us hold it unswervingly”. First of all, consider the importance of hope (firm anticipation). Hope in the Biblical sense is not uncertain or a mere wish, but a confident expectation of what will be ours. Some examples are:

  • We look forward to seeing Christ return in glory (Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7).
  • We eagerly wait to be with Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
  • We anticipate that we will be changed to be like Christ (1 Corinthians 15:51-55).

We are to hold our profession of hope firmly; that is, to hold it firmly and not let it go. Perhaps you’ve taken a young child to a zoo or an amusement park. What do you do? You hold their hand tightly. You don’t want them to wander away.

In an age where the prevailing trend is constant change, we need to be reminded of what is absolute and unchanging. Human thought varies like the wind, but God and his truth remains the same forever! Or to change the illustration, it can shift like the tide. May God give you grace to keep you from the numerous deadly riptides that can destroy you. The gospel of grace that gave people good hope when first preached still gives that same hope by God’s controlling grace. How we need to pray that God would raise men up to preach the good news of grace in Jesus Christ. “You can be right with God by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!” And let us pray that God would bless his truth for the salvation of souls. And pray for the young men that are already in the gospel ministry. Preach God’s word, not human opinion.

This confession must be steady. We live in a day in which Christianity has been reduced to merely claiming to be a Christian. Someone says a prayer or “makes a decision” and he or she is counted as a follower of Christ. However, saying a prayer or making a decision does not save you. You are saved when you repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You then start to follow Christ, and to make other followers of Christ. And a true saving faith in Christ is one that continues or perseveres (Hebrews 10:39; Colossians 1:23; John 10:27; 1 John 2:19).

As we take care to keep our love for the Lord constant (Revelation 2:4f), so we must keep our hope unvarying. Do not waver like the incessantly changing Philadelphia weather forecasts. We may not allow our hope to lessen because of the pressures that seek to consume it.

However, too often, something like the following happens. “It was a day of great trembling, but of great joy, when first we avowed our faith in Jesus! What we said we meant. We salted our words with our tears; but oh! we felt it such an honor to be numbered with the people of God! If we had been promised a seat on the floor, or had been allowed only to hear the gospel in the draughtiest corner of the building, we should then have been fully content. We sang and meant it: ‘Might I enjoy the meanest place, Within thy house, O God of grace! Not tents of ease, nor thrones of power, Should tempt my feet to leave thy door.’ We want soft cushions now; we cannot stand to hear a sermon now, nor yet travel very far, especially in damp weather. It is very strange that we should have become so delicate; but it is so. How many miles we could walk when first we knew the Lord: the miles have grown much longer lately, or else our love has grown much shorter! Those were blessed days—changeful, showery, with little more that the dusk of dawn about them; but still there was a morning freshness about them upon which we look back with supreme delight, and somewhat of regret. Then was it a time of love, a season of buds and flowers, and song-birds and overflowing life and hope. [Spurgeon, “Holding Fast our Profession”, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 32, p. 233]

So then we ask, How unswerving is your hold? Do you change like the phases of the moon? Do you truly have a hope to hold fast? You can’t hold something that you do not have!

Grace and peace, David

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

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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