The Struggles of the Believer (Part One)

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 56:3-4 NIV)

Please imagine the following scenes for a few moments.

  • See a Christian weeping in their living room — a dear spouse of many years has died. This person has been alone in sorrow for a few days, but now a Christian friend comes to visit. Knowing that the spouse was a believer, the friend offers the following words of consolation: “You shouldn’t cry like this! You should rejoice that their suffering is over. You’re acting like an unbeliever. Don’t you know that your spouse is with the Lord?” What is wrong with this picture?
  • See a Christian waiting for surgery or concerned because he might lose his job. A fellow believer senses his uneasiness after church and talks with him about his problem. The fearful follower of Jesus receives this counsel, “Why are you afraid? Don’t you know that God will take care of you? Have you forgotten Proverbs 3:5?” What is wrong with this picture?
  • See a Christian who has entered into temptation and then sinned. Everyone knows what she has done. She feels miserable, though she has confessed her sin. Some won’t talk to her in church. Everywhere she looks, she sees stares of condemnation. What is wrong with this picture?

Perhaps these three scenes are all too real for you, because you have been the mourner, fearful, or the believer overtaken by sin. In each case, the person needs to experience God’s overflowing grace. The law came along to multiply the trespass. But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness, resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:21 CSB). However, the struggling believer instead experiences more guilt feelings because of their failure to perform as a — are you ready for this? — a perfect Christian.

Many errors have crippled the evangelical church for over a hundred years. We must always avoid the tendency to trace all weaknesses to one source and then apply a cure-all solution. Having said that, we should understand that both sinless perfectionism and psychological perfectionism have created an atmosphere of unreality in the church. No one is allowed to struggle because… well, after all it’s so easy to be perfect! The wrong idea is that a Christian only needs to have a “transforming experience” to lift them from defeat level to victory level. Then, they can live as perfect Christians. The problem is that no believer is perfect. Someone might try to sidestep this problem by claiming, “Look pastor, I know Christians aren’t perfect. Haven’t you read my bumper sticker that says, ‘Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven?’” Well, yes I have read those bumper stickers. Leaving other matters aside for a moment, my question is, “Do you treat other Christians that way, as not perfect but forgiven?”

In order to help one another, we must accept the fact that Christians struggle, that we ourselves know how to struggle, and that we know how to help others who struggle. Our theme in this study is the struggles of true believers and how to help yourself and others in these struggles.

The writer of this psalm is David, the man after God’s own heart. Yet he wrote this psalm after one of the lowest points of his life. King Saul was intent on killing David, and so he had to run away. Strangely, David went to Gath in Philistia, the hometown of Goliath, whom he had killed in battle! (And you thought you made poor decisions!) The Philistines seized him, and he had to feign insanity in order to escape (1 Samuel 21:10-15). David learned from his sin and wrote this psalm to help others. Next, we’ll think on how he received help.

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Seventeen)

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6 NIV).

God is gracious.

Like other words, the word “grace” is used in various ways. All words depend on the context in which they are used to establish their exact meaning. As we study the Scriptures, we find that “grace” is used in three general ways.

  • Grace is the favor God shows or extends to people (Jonah 4:2). In regard to sinners, this favor is always unmerited or undeserved or without cause in the sinner. In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace. Now if by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace (Romans 11:5-6 CSB).
  • Grace is the power of God acting to change a situation or person. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a CSB).
  • Grace is the response of thankfulness that induces worship and service to God. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God (Colossians 3:16 ASV).

The Bible teaches us that God is gracious in his nature—that he has the attitude of showing favor and the power that flows out of that attitude to change situations and people (Exodus 34:6; Nehemiah 9:17,31; 111:4; 116:5).

We should know these four important characteristics of God’s grace:

  • God’s grace is eternal. Since it is an essential part of his eternal plan, we must not think that is some sort of “Plan B”. Some teachings give the wrong impression that God first planned to deal with mankind on the basis of works, but when Adam disobeyed, God had to shift to other plan to have fellowship with the now fallen humanity. However, God teaches us that his plan of grace included us in Christ before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9).
  • God’s grace is free, which means that it is without cause in the recipients of grace (Romans 3:24; Ephesians 1:6). From this comes salvation by grace and not by works (Ephesians 2:5,8-9). No person will ever be able to claim that he or she deserved to be saved or somehow earned salvation. In fact, even repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18) and faith (Acts 18:27; Philippians 1:29) are gifts from God. In this way God receives all the praise for salvation.
  • God’s grace is sovereign; that is, he extends grace to sinners who deserve his wrath as he decides (2 Thessalonians 2:16; Titus 2:11). Since we all deserved wrath because we have rejected God as our God, no one has anything to complain. What ought to surprise us is that the Lord chooses to show grace to anyone!
  • God’s grace is given in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Romans 5:15, 17, 21). No one can expect to find grace apart from Christ. Throughout all eternity, God’s chosen people will enjoy God’s kindness in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7).

How should we respond to God’s grace?

First, our hearts should overflow with gratitude toward God and worship him for his grace (Psalm 86:15). Thankfulness for grace received should form an essential part of the way that we relate to God (2 Corinthians 9:15; Ephesians 1:3). We ought to thank God for his grace to others (Romans 6:17; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Colossians 1:3-4), the blessings we enjoy through those who have also received grace (1 Thessalonians 3:9), and his action in our lives (2 Corinthians 2:14). Second, we should pray that God’s grace would be extended to others (Romans 1:7; Galatians 1:3; etc.). Third, graciousness should be part of our conduct (Colossians 4:6). Fourth, we should live in the expectation of grace from God (Hebrews 4:16) and keep ourselves in the way of grace (Hebrews 13:9).

Grace and peace, David

Thoughts on the Reformation (Part Two)

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9 CSB).

Grace is one of the most joyful words of true Christianity. The truth of grace can set troubled hearts and weary minds free to sing and praise and laugh. When we understand the grace of the Holy God to sinners deserving of eternal wrath, we may indeed rejoice with an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8).  God used his grace to restore joy to the church that was trapped in joyless performance of working for salvation.

I immediately here objectors saying, “Ah, you are wrong; the medieval church believed in grace. So, how can this emphasis on grace be a hallmark of Reformation Theology?” This is a good question, that I’ll answer in two ways.

First, the medieval church had become a religion. One of the characteristics of the religions of the nations is a system of works that provides certain rights and blessings from the god that is worshiped. The medieval church might have mentioned grace in its ritualistic services, but if the meaning of grace is not taught and understood, everything quickly degenerates to the performance of works required by the church. Though grace (unmerited favor for those who deserve wrath) is talked about, what people hear is “do good works, do good works, do good works, and then… maybe… God will be merciful to you.” It is no secret that the Reformation started among people that were long accustomed to performing works of penance for their sins and to pursuing indulgences by taking pilgrimages to shrines or by simply paying cold coins. People did not know the joyful truth that God freely forgives sins, because of the finished, saving work of Jesus Christ.

Second, grace had become a spiritual quantity that was dispensed by the church through her sacramental system. Their concept was that Jesus, Mary, and the saints had earned grace from God, and the church was able to give her faithful followers this grace when the faithful partook of the sacraments. Only after the Reformation were the sacraments officially codified as seven. But the way to receive grace was to go to church’s bishops and priests and participate in the required rituals. This is clearly the performance of good works.

The good news of our text from Ephesians is that we are saved by grace (we’ll talk about through faith in another post) and that all is God’s gift—not from works. God does not save (rescue from sin and its consequences) anyone by good works. Salvation is a gift from the overflowing love of God through Jesus Christ. We’ve earned death by our sins, but God delights to forgive sins and to give eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

This good news that people rediscovered from reading the Bible remains good news today. Through grace alone still tells us that God himself acts to save people who have rejected him, have refused to love him, and have rebelled against him, his truth, and his ways. It proclaims that God saves sinners. Has God saved you by his grace?

Grace and peace, David

Twice Spared

When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple. You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength… (Psalm 65:3-6 NIV)

Today I am sixty-five. Now I’m halfway through the new middle age of fifty to eighty. It just seems like I turned fifty in a way, but so much has happened since then. I definitely would not want to walk through many days of that part of my journey. However, I praise God for his overflowing grace that he has shown me constantly. Truly, his mercies are new every morning and his faithfulness is great. He has been with me through the dark days, refreshing me with the light of his joy. Now, I want to remember two of those times.

A couple weeks after I turned sixty, my wife Sharon and one of our friends went away to make cards with another friend. The next day, a Saturday morning, I woke up feeling a strange pressure in my back. I had read years before that if you have pain or pressure around your heart or stomach and if it doesn’t go away when you change positions to call for help immediately. Since Sharon wasn’t there, I did, or I wouldn’t be writing this. I called around six and the ambulance arrived at six ten. By seven ten, I was on a table in the hospital having a heart catherization. As I was lying there, I remember praying, “Lord, I know you could end my life now, but I trust you for your grace.” God was merciful, and a cardiologist put three stents an artery, nicknamed “the widow maker”. Yes, it had been a close call. Later, when I told my pre-heart attack symptoms to an ICU, nurse, he said, “It’s a wonder you’re here. Men never come in with mild pressure.” I thanked the Lord repeatedly for sparing my life.

My cardiologist ordered me to start walking in a couple weeks. I figured that if God had used the man to rescue me from death that I ought to listen to him. One bright October day, I crossed the street to walk in the Ellis Preserve. It is relatively flat (everything in Pennsylvania is on a hill!) and a good place to build up my strength. I had not walked far, when I remembered an article that I had read many years previously in the Sword & Trowel magazine, edited at that time by a friend of mine. It was about a pastor with inoperable heart problems. The pastors in his area had gathered around him and prayed that the Lord would grow a new artery for his heart. And the Lord did.

I stopped and prayed, “Lord, if I need new arteries, please grow some for me.” I resumed my walk, and perhaps I prayed that prayer the next day also. I did not make it a regular prayer request. About a year later, my cardiologist had me take a stress test, “just to be sure everything is all right.” I did, and a couple days later, while I was out on a file-mile walk with Sharon, he called. The news wasn’t good. He said that I should have another heart catherization. “Maybe you need another stent or roto-rooter,” he joked.

A heart catherization takes about two and a half hours: one hour to take pictures and the remainder of the time to do the work. He was done after one hour. “Why so fast?” I asked. He replied, “Do you want the good news first or the bad news?” I answered, “You know I’m a pastor. I always give people the bad news first, so that I can finish with the good news (the gospel).” He said very professionally, “The bad news is that you need a triple bypass.” I agreed that was bad news and questioned, “Then what’s the good news?”

He said, “The good news is that hasn’t been any damage to your heart, and that your heart grew three new arteries from the right side to the left. That’s the only reason you’re talking with me right now.” God had answered my prayer. My life had been spared twice!

God does answer prayer. While we ought to ask others to pray for us and we can pray in faith repeatedly (Matthew 7:7-8), God doesn’t require that. The prayer of one person declared right with God is sufficient to present a request to Almighty God. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16 NIV). God is holy, wise, sovereign, all-powerful, and good. Be encouraged to present your requests to him. The Lord answers prayer! You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior. Amen.

Grace and peace, David

A Brief Guide to Romans

The letter to the Romans is a missionary letter to various gatherings of believers in Rome. The apostle Paul had not met most of these people (1:11-15), but he had heard of them (cf. 16:3-16). Paul was on his way to deliver the large gift from the Gentile believers to the believers in Judea that were struggling financially. After the gift was delivered, Paul planned to God to Spain, and he sought their help for that intended journey. (Paul was imprisoned when in Jerusalem, and he went to Rome in a way he did not plan. Read Acts 21:17-28:31.)

Most of Romans is like being in a Bible study with the apostle Paul. He teaches and raises questions that he had undoubtedly heard many times. After opening remarks in which he introduces himself and the gospel message (1:1-15), he sets forth his theme: the gospel and the righteousness that God provides through it (1:16-17). Next, he declares the sinful condition and need of all people for justification (1:18-3:20). When everyone seems doomed, Paul turns to the good news about how to be right with God by his surpassing grace (3:21-5:21). The key verses of the book are 3:21-26. Grace reigns in believers through union with Christ.

Next, he answers two objections. First, he tells us that grace leads to holiness not to sinfulness (6:1-7:6). The gospel does not provide “a license to sin”; instead, it overthrows the reign of sin. Second, he talks about the law covenant and the need for grace (7:7-8:4). What the law covenant could not do, God did in Christ. Paul then continues his main idea about the triumph of justifying grace (8:5-39). Here are some of the most loved teachings in the letter.

Next, Paul answers the third objection to his teaching about God’s purpose and Israel (9:1-11:32). He shows that God’s purposes were always to save a remnant from both Israel and the nations. He wraps up the section on justification with a doxology (11:33-36). Next, he returns to show that grace also transforms people (12:1-15:13). He then gives his missionary appeal (15:14-33). The letter ends with greetings, an appeal, and a prayer (16:1-27).

Obviously, there is much more to be said. But I hope this gives you a brief guide to what has been called “the greatest letter ever written!”

Grace and peace, David

A Picture of Repentance

Genesis 44:1-45:3

Our last section in the life of Joseph served as a picture of electing grace. This one illustrates repentance. Joseph worked to draw this out of them so that his relationship with them could be restored. Again, let us remember not to push the details of this historical narrative too far. The repentance of the brothers is evident, but everything is not a parallel to what happens in conversion.

First, we see a change of mind (44:1-13). Joseph had a clever plan to discern his brothers’ hearts (44:1-5). He had to use this stratagem (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). Though God knows our hearts (Jeremiah 17:10), he, too, uses events to bring out our repentance and faith; for example, Abraham, Genesis 22:12. Joseph’s action is not a model for us to follow. The fact that any Biblical character did something is not in itself a warrant for us to do the same. The imperatives of the New Testament set forth God’s wisdom for our way of life. The narrative sections of the word provide examples of how men and women honored or dishonored the Lord by their choices. We must compare their choices with the imperatives.

The change of mind produced evidence of their repentance (44:6-13). They acted honestly regarding the silver. Previously, they had sold Joseph for silver, but now they had offered the silver back to rescue Simeon. They also were loyal to Benjamin. Although he was Rachel’s son, they cast in their lot with him. They acted as brothers ought to act. They didn’t say, “Too bad Ben; a rather sorry turn of events for you. Keep a stiff upper lip, young man.” They did not leave him even when they had the liberty to leave. Instead, they tore their clothes as a sign of their sorrow. Their remorse, at least, would be evident when they were taken to Joseph. While there have been emotional excesses in the past when people were converted, I hardly think the present lack of emotions is healthy either (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:8-11).

Second, they pleaded for mercy (44:14-34). Immediately, they had to face Joseph’s seeming reluctance (44:14-17). He put on a stern face to draw out their true attitudes. Consider Christ and the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28). Jesus used this means so that she could express her faith. The brothers had nothing to say in their defense. What could they say? Though the parallel is imperfect, note Romans 3:19. Joseph declared his justice (44:17). They tried to bargain in the face of their uncovered “guilt”, 44:9, 16. Both times the answer was justice. God doesn’t want bargains from the sinner. He demands justice. What hope can a guilty sinner have? Only the death of Christ our Sin-bearer. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:25-26 NIV).

Judah humbly offered a fervent plea (44:18-34).

  • He acknowledged Joseph’s superiority over them (44:18).
  • He recounted their recent history (44:19-29). It was a very moving account.
  • He set forth Jacob’s condition (44:30-32). This also showed their repentance. They would now do anything to avoid bringing Jacob more grief. Judah would even become a slave that Benjamin might be free.
  • He offered himself as a substitute (44:33-34). This is another picture of Christ!

Third, Joseph made a great and gracious discovery (45:1-3). His time had arrived. In his case, it came at this point, in part, because of his human weakness. His emotions were so strong they overcame any other possible courses of action. Emotions are very powerful in humans. Facts and logic will matter little to anyone under their control. Ask yourself, “What is ruling me, my mind or my emotions?” Joseph wanted his disclosure made in privacy – only to his brothers. The relation between Christ and his people is intimate, like that between husband and wife. He meets us privately. The world has no part in it (cf. Matthew 7:6). He revealed his identity. This was unbelievable to them. Wasn’t Joseph dead? They had told that story so long that they believed it. What would he do to them? “What a discovery the soul makes when it perceives that Jesus whom it crucified is Lord and God” (Spurgeon, cf. Acts 2:37).

Let us learn the following for our own growth. There is hope of repentance for those we esteem unlikely to repent. “We cannot judge what men are by what they have been formerly, nor what they will do by what they have done… Those that had sold Joseph would not now abandon Benjamin” (Henry). We should learn what our attitude should be in reaching out to people who have changed their minds (cf. Luke 17:3-4). Most of all, learn God’s attitude toward every repentant sinner. Read Luke 15 on your own.

Grace and peace, David

Thinking about God and His Friendship with His People (Part Two)

Psalm 25:8-11

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great (ESV).

When we think correctly about the Lord God, we know that he is holy and exalted. As we live in his presence, we learn more and more that we are sinful and lowly (cf. Isaiah 6). God needs to act in grace to welcome us to approach him. Two serious problems in spirituality are either to downplay God’s holiness or our sinfulness. Both failures distort our understanding of grace.

In his word, the Lord reveals that he forgives great sin. Here are twelve factors that make our sins great. Our sins are great…

  • Because they are against the great God
  • Because they test God’s great patience
  • Because they despise great mercies (cf. Rm 2:4)
  • Because they are against great light (made known to us in Christ and the Scriptures)
  • Because they are many
  • Because of our pride in thinking that we can change without grace
  • Because they break out from our very nature, from the inner person of the heart
  • Because they show that we have followed God’s enemy, the devil
  • Because they challenge God’s justice and wrath
  • Because we have tempted others to join in our sin
  • Because in sinning we choose evil instead of God’s goodness
  • Because the only way they could be forgiven was through the sacrifice of the Holy Son of God

Apart from God’s grace in Christ, the realization of the seriousness our sinfulness could drive us to despair, if we would grasp the magnitude of our offense against the Holy God.

The greatness of our sins creates the need for God’s greater mercy. When the wound is dangerous and near fatal, the patient needs a highly skilled surgeon. We need one who can properly understand our need, who is able to provide what we need, and who is able to apply the cure to our souls. This skilled physician is the Triune God, in whom is the wisdom of the Father, the redeeming sacrifice of the Son, and the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.

“It is the glory of the great God to forgive great sins” (Henry). To forgive great sin is not difficult for God. David makes use of the greatness of his sin to make his plea stronger, as a person in a famine would magnify the seriousness of the calamity as a reason to provide food. God does not pity sinners because they are worthy, but because they need his pity. The splendor of God’s grace is seen clearly in this: in Christ he forgives the worst offenders and makes his grace overflow to them. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (Romans 5:20). Think of the testimony of Paul (1 Timothy 1:13-16):

Though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life (ESV).

See the greatness of your God, trust in Jesus Christ, and then confess your sins as great. You will experience the exceeding riches of his grace and mercy to you.

Grace and peace, David

The Source of Love (Part 2)

1 John 4:19-21

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister (NIV).

God’s love produces love in us. The experience of God’s character transforms our spiritual condition. Consider this. One of John’s great word pictures of God is that God is light. When light enters a room, it overcomes the darkness. In this picture of God being light, God is holy and his holiness produces holiness in his people (1 John 1:5-7).

  • In the same way, God is love and his love produces love in his people. As his light overcomes darkness, so his love overcomes our hatred.
  • John exposes three black lies (1:6; 2:4; 2:22-23) in this letter. All three lies falsely claim that a person can know God and yet not be transformed by fellowship with God. Such false claims deny the power of God’s character (cf. 2 Tm 3:1-5).
  • But God is the God of glory (brightly shining excellent worthiness), and when we encounter him by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, his powerful glory starts an ongoing transformation. God’s holiness, truth and love bring about change. Think of a light on a dimmer switch. Before you push it to turn on the light, there is darkness. And as you turn up the switch, the light becomes brighter. As our fellowship with God increases, our lives shine brighter with his holiness, truth and love.

In what ways is the intensity of God’s glory changing you? For example, God is faithful. Is faithfulness developing in you? God is patient and kind. Are you patient and kind?

God’s love creates love for God’s family. The parts of our lives are not disconnected. Contemporary people wrongly assume that a person can be one sort of a person in one role and another sort of person in another role. For example, “he or she is a good political leader, even though he or she is sexually immoral.” While that it might be true of work that is mere technique, it is not true of anything that involves morals. A jealous person might be able to shovel the snow out of your driveway, but that does not mean that they shovel out of kindness, or that they will necessarily do a “good job” shoveling snow. Unless a person has a change of mind about sin, it eventually affects performance.

In the same way, we cannot disconnect our relationship with God from our relationship with God’s people. For example, some say, “I’ll trust God, but I’ll never trust another Christian!” But according to this text, such an attitude is not possible. If you cannot love your brother, whom you can see, you also cannot love God, whom you cannot see. Why? “If the first commandment is that I should love the Lord my God with all my heart and mind and soul and strength, then it must follow of necessity that I am greatly concerned about doing what God asks me to do. And what does God ask me to do? The first thing He asks is that I should love my brother” (Lloyd-Jones, The Love of God, pp. 197-198). My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you (Jn 15:12 NIV).

God’s commands agree with the principle of relationship. The Lord has commanded us to love God and to love our neighbors. The two greatest commands are so closely joined that loving God requires that we love one another. John draws this statement from the teaching of Jesus (John 13:34-35). Following Christ is demonstrated to the world by our love for one another. And this kind of love flows from grace, and not out of worthiness of the object loved. God loved us without a cause in us, and so we must love one another in the same way.

This is where true Christianity gets tested. We do not love each other because we feel, “What fine people they are! They like me and I like them!” No, that is far from what the Lord is saying. We love, because we have been deeply affected by the source of love, God, and the power of his love, having transformed us, reaches out to love others. Is this true of you?

Grace and peace, David

A Testimony About Another Believer

img_4573Third John 1:12

Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true (ESV).

In our last study in 3 John, we listened to a warning that the apostle gave to Gaius about an evil leader, Diotrephes. We need to receive warnings to protect us. But we cannot live on warnings. Prevention is not the same as nourishment. Fences serve a good purpose around gardens; however, if you spend all your time of fence building and maintenance, you don’t have any to invest in planting and tending to the garden.

Some leaders do not grasp what should be obvious. They are eloquent about warning people about the dangers of worldliness or whatever they feel they must oppose now. They are not nearly so concerned about the spiritual strength and health of the people they are to serve. People need sound teaching (Titus 2:1). Sound teaching instructs in the truth and provides a variety of spiritual food. It presents the glory of the Triune God, and it makes known the love and grace of God for his dearly loved people. It tells them to love one another; it shows how to love one another. It models love, compassion, and goodness.

In many evangelical churches, there is a proper emphasis about having a good testimony for Jesus Christ. We are to live and to speak for the Lord before others in a way that points people to repentance toward God and faith in Christ. However, do we give a good testimony about our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we tell of their goodness? Can we? Do we know how?

You see, a fence is unnecessary unless there is a garden, a garden of good people producing good fruit in a spiritual climate of rejoicing in the truth (3 John 1:3-4). It matters not if there is a splendid doctrinal statement with a fine constitution along with an attractive morning service with nice music and clever preaching. Advertising a schedule of advent services or children’s ministries is not close to what John teaches here. John wanted them to celebrate Demetrius, because of his goodness. The apostle was happy to point to a brother in Christ that bore good fruit. The Lord wants his people to be fruitful. You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you (John 15:16 HCSB). A local church should be known for the Spirit’s fruit. It should be the place where people in Christ are very able and willing to speak well of each other.

Are the people in your local assembly interested in the spiritual well-being of one another? Do you know other people in your local church, not merely their names, but their spiritual struggles and progress? Do you celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit in producing Christ-likeness in each other? Every gathering of Christ’s people is a place to share our new life in him. It is a place, not only to be challenged but also to be celebrated. Listen to Paul’s words about the Corinthian church. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge… (1 Corinthians 1:4-5 ESV). He appreciated the spiritual riches that he saw in their “garden”. Yes, he knew their problems, but he could celebrate the grace of God given to them.

Join with other followers of Christ, and rejoice with one another. For Christ’s sake, rejoice in the Lord together.

Grace and peace, David

Continued Grace

dscn1574Genesis 26:12-16

What I am about to write, I write cautiously. Sin lurks in the human heart (Mark 7:21-23), and it needs only the slightest encouragement to break out in all sorts of evil. For this reason, I write cautiously, but we must always pursue all the truth of the Scriptures.

Isaac had sinned. He had lied and told his wife Rebekah to lie. He had done that to try to protect his life. He was weak spiritually, though he was a believer in the true and living God. In his weakness, he had relied on his own wisdom rather than God’s power. But God had mercifully rescued Isaac and Rebekah from a very dangerous situation (26:6-11). God stirred the king of the Philistines, Abimelech, to issue an “order of protection”, so that no one would harm God’s people. Later Philistine rulers would not act that kindly.

The human heart likes to boast about self-effort, especially in “religious duties”. We wrongly imagine that “God likes us” because we do the proper religious stuff. We expect God to bless people who are pious and strict in their religious observance. We end up fretting and perhaps displeased when the wicked prosper (cf. Psalms 37 & 73) and the righteous suffer (Job). If we are on a “religious performance treadmill”, we might be even more shocked when a professing believer prospers although they have displeased the Lord.

The case is more troubling in our text. Not only did the Lord rescue Isaac and Rebekah from their sin, but the Lord blessed them lavishly. Isaac became rich and continued to prosper until he became very wealthy. That does not seem fair to anyone who supposes that our works earn God’s blessings. It appears that sin is a reason for God to show grace (cf. Romans 6:1-2). Yet the Lord was not blessing Isaac because of his disobedience. God acted in grace that they didn’t deserve, because he kept the covenant that he had made with Abraham and Isaac to bless the world through their seed (26:4). God had a purpose to bless the nations through the seed or offspring, and that Person is Jesus the Messiah. For this reason, Isaac received continued grace to guarantee their survival.

But we live in a fallen world. Isaac’s God-given prosperity was the occasion of the envy of the Philistines. If they had loved their neighbor Isaac, they would have rejoiced over God’s goodness to an undeserving man. This jealousy became so extreme that Abimelech expelled Isaac from his land. Observe the hand of God. Abimelech kicked him out but didn’t attack or kill him. Under orders to stay in the Promised Land, Isaac had to stay in another place that was not part of Abimelech’s territory. And God continued to give grace and mercy to an undeserving man.

This week when your family gathers to thank God, do not boast in your faith, obedience, or service to God, as if God was required to bless you. Instead, trace the benefits that you enjoy back to the continued grace of God. It is by grace that we stand (Romans 5:2).

Grace and peace, David