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

Walking in the Truth

img_42683 John

For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (3 John 1:3-4 ESV).

In our group reading, we have read (or should have read!) 2 and 3 John ten times. Those who have read it will be aware that the ideas of “walk” and “truth” are important in the letters of John. Here, he takes these two important concepts and joins them together to form a lively picture of what the Christian way of life looks like. What is walking in the truth?

“Truth” is the message of Jesus the Anointed (Messiah or Christ). He was sent by God the Father to make known who God is and to provide the only way that sinful people like us can have our sins forgiven and be right with God. In Christ, God is known, and we can have koinonia (“fellowship” or sharing of life) with God. Truth is essential to John. True Christianity is not formed from our opinions and preferences but from God’s revelation of himself and the way to God in Jesus the Messiah. This is the reason that correct teaching (“doctrine”) matters. Our views must develop out from the Scriptures, instead of trying to find a text that can be stretched in bizarre ways to lend supposed support to human inventions. Therefore, we stress reading and rereading books of the Scripture. As we read and listen carefully, we will hear God’s ideas of reality, and by the Spirit, we will see those ideas and values become ours.

“To walk” means our way of life; it means the attitudes, words and actions that we have and do. In many places in the Scriptures, the Spirit teaches that these can be transformed and conformed to God’s word. Our present practice can be far different and godlier than how we used to live. We are not victims of our circumstances. In Christ, we have power to change. This requires personal choices that are consistent with what the Spirit of God has revealed in the Bible. Yes, I understand fully that you might think that sinful patterns of attitudes, words, and actions are native or natural to you. It feels that way because sin comes from inside you (Mark 7:21-23), as well as being presented to you by others. But in Christ you can make godly choices with the help of the Holy Spirit.

“To walk in the truth” is the practice of seeking to experience the way we live transformed by the truth. God’s message forms new, godly ways in us. An example of this is Paul’s statement in Galatians 2:20. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (ESV). The apostle said that the reality of his union with Christ in his crucifixion produced a radical change in the way he lived. The bigoted persecutor had become the servant of Christ and so followed him in his way of life. John rejoiced when he saw people walking in the truth. There was no gap between the message of the gospel and how they lived. Dear friends, are we walking in the truth? Do we walk in the truth so that others notice our new way of life?

Grace and peace, David

Spiritually Outfitted (Part Two)


Ephesians 6:11

Why should we put on the full armor of God? We should put it on because the Lord commands us to (cf. Luke 12:35). This alone ought to be sufficient reason. We are to recognize his authority to direct our lives. Who are we to disobey the Lord? But this is an age of incredible spiritual immaturity. I speak of us all. Someone has said that American Christianity is 3,000 miles wide and a half an inch deep. Therefore, let’s think of some other reasons.

Satan has a great advantage in battle when we fail to put on and then use the weapons of our warfare (cf. Luke 4:13; 16:21-23). Imagine going tent camping and then failing to zip up the doors to keep out the mosquitoes and other nasty bugs. That would be failing to use your advantage. Whatever opportunity the evil one now misses by our diligence, he hopes to find again by our negligence. He hopes that we will be tired out by continual duty. Satan is a skilled hunter (1 Peter 5:8). He watches the tracks of our feet for an indication of the direction of our hearts (Psalm 119:10). Beware of youthful over-activity, middle-aged laziness, or senior sleepiness. We need to be like Eleazar in battle (2 Samuel 23:9-10) or like Joshua (Joshua 10:12-14).

It is hard to reactivate a habit of grace when it has fallen into disuse (Song 5:3). Sometimes this happens because of the shame of guilt. Is there anyone reading that is too ashamed to serve because you have really messed up your Christian life? I know one way that you can be whiter than snow. The blood of Christ never loses its power! Remember that after David was forgiven he went out to fight again. Sometimes this happens from sheer difficulty. When a room has been messed up, it is harder to clean than when it is kept in constant order. One sin tolerated will eventually lead to greater problems. Learning to play a musical instrument and then neglecting to practice and then trying to play again is difficult. Sometimes our lack of spiritual responsiveness happens from being under false teaching. Human-centered or free will teaching marinates a soul in self-sufficiency. Legalism bakes the heart hard in self-reliance. Transforming experience errors of various types send a soul on an empty search for something besides Jesus Christ. Seek fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, not an experience!

In one sense it doesn’t matter how someone falls into a trap. What matters is how to get out of it. The only way is through a fresh faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. What can I do to persuade you of our Lord’s surpassing worth and all-sufficiency?

We should put our armor on for the sake of our fellow soldiers. A soldier who does not know how to use his weapons is a danger to his own comrades (cf. Hebrews 5:11-14). Good doctrine with an evil lifestyle is like a loaded gun in the hands of a two-year-old. Incorrect doctrine with good intentions is like carrying out attacks without regard to where the enemy is—many are injured by “friendly fire”. The unwise conduct of one professing believer makes the situation worse for many others. Even when the person does not fall into a scandal, he or she cannot help other saints, as should be the case.

We can only put on spiritual armor by faith. This action is a daily necessity for every follower of Christ. You and I must be prepared for battle! However, you cannot put on spiritual armor unless you first know the Lord. Are you a follower of Jesus Christ? Are you united to him by faith? Do you desire to fellowship with the Lord? True Christianity is a relationship with the risen Lord, and not an empty practice of duty. Make sure that you know the Lord before you try to follow him.

Grace and peace, David