The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-four)

Acts 10:37-38

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (NIV).

One of the difficulties of presenting biblical teaching in a survey form, like this series about the Holy Spirit, is the presentation of teaching without an adequate understanding of the context. The message of the Bible is the story of God’s glory in Christ through salvation by judgment. Please invest some time in reading Acts 10:17- 48 to grasp the immediate context of this greater story. In his message to his Gentile audience, Peter had to familiarize his audience with the narrative of the Bible to show how God acted in Christ to bring salvation to all nations. Peter explained as an eyewitness how he saw Jesus as he fulfilled God’s plan for his glory. We must never forget this underlying purpose. It is God’s story that we need to listen to and then accept by faith in Christ. We do not read verses merely to collect information. We listen to the Spirit of God speak through chosen men to tell God’s message. As this happens, we learn truth about God and ourselves that can transform us. Peter was not giving an informational talk but one that was transformational. Again, I urge you to read the passage.

What are the Four Gospels? They are God’s written testimony to what God did in his Son to save his people to glorify his name. In the Gospels, we read of God the Son in true humanity coming to set up a new humanity from the wreck of the old creation. It is not by accident that John and Mark start their Gospels with words referring to this “new beginning”. John, more profound and theological, starts from the time of the first creation and briefly sketches history up to the entrance of the Son. Mark, more powerful and direct, drives the point home immediately. Matthew and Luke, after setting the arrival of the Son in history, refer to the purpose of God in the coming of the Son as announced in the Old Testament Scriptures (Matthew 4:12-17; Luke 4:16-21). Part of the purpose of the Old Testament Scriptures is to show the wreck that human sin has made of everything and our absolute need for a better Redeemer, a better Mediator, and a better Priest than occurred in the wreck of the ages past.

My point in mentioning this is to open up the practical importance of this article. Diamonds are very beautiful, but to enjoy their beauty people set them in place—in a ring, on a necklace, or some other kind of jewelry. The Lord Jesus Christ is the surpassing diamond. And the Father has provided the jewelry of the Gospels to enjoy his beauty until we see him face to face. You and I need to know that the Son of God, in fulfillment of the Father’s purpose, came to set up a radically new age in history. The Bible, like the facets of a diamond, speaks of this great change in various ways: the new creation, the new age, the kingdom of God, and the new covenant. We need to know that God has made us part of this by his grace to us in Christ. And we need to know that to live in this new age involves living by faith in the crucified, risen and ascended Christ in the Holy Spirit poured out on us. Here Peter presents the power of the Spirit of God during the earthly ministry of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are part of something glorious! Since we are, we should listen well. And we should live accordingly.

Grace and peace, David

Providence Explained (Part Two)

Genesis 45:4-15

Yesterday, we viewed God’s good purpose (45:4-7). Next, we see God’s great action (45:8-11). So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute’” (NIV).

The Lord exalted Joseph as the governor of Egypt (45:8). Observe his repeated insistence that God had sent him to Egypt. Sometimes it takes a while for the message to get through to people.

We must reassert the truth of God’s sovereignty to a human-centered, naturalistic generation. God had the ability to place Joseph in a position of high authority (cf. Daniel 4:17), and he did.

“Are our leaders appointed by God?” Most surely. “But they’re so corrupt!” Then we ought to call on God to change their hearts or give us new leaders. There used to be a day when Christians would pray for those in authority over them. Listen to the apostle’s words. I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NIV).

Joseph intended to use what God had given to him (45:9-11). He gave reassurance that he would care for them. Often the forgiver must reinforce that he or she loves those who are forgiven. This is what the Father has done through the new covenant ministry of the Spirit of adoption. Joseph knew this was necessary. God’s plan was to save their lives, and it included their relocation to Egypt. Observe how generous the Lord is. He paid for their moving expenses! God’s end includes God’s means to his end.

Lastly, Joseph conformed to God’s plan (45:12-15). He insisted that they bring his father down to Egypt. This also revealed his concern for his father’s well-being. And he wanted to be with his father again.

Joseph gave physical expression of his love for them. The repentant need to know that they are accepted again. If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 NIV). Sometimes a hug or even a handshake can go a long way. Joseph was a good picture of Christ. He is never weary of speaking peace to his brothers. “How He is ever striving, by His word and Spirit, to reveal Himself to you, and to get you to see Him! How does He raise you from the dust and set you on a rock that you may sound His praise!” (Candlish, Commentary on Genesis) “These kisses were seals of love, comparable to the witness of the Spirit in believing men” (Spurgeon).

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part 15)

John 14:6-11

Have you ever toured a mansion? Sharon and I have been on several tours. A typical tour goes something like this. You purchase your tickets at a welcome center, walk to the mansion, and then wait. Finally, a tour guide appears, gives a lot of instructions, and walks you through. Some rooms are roped off, so that you can just look in, and of course, you can’t touch anything! Other rooms might be dimly lit, and you wish you could enter fully in with a bright light and really enjoy the riches displayed in such rooms.

The believer in Old Testament times lived in a dimly lit chamber. They had great blessings as God’s people (Romans 3:1-2; 9:4-5). But they could not see them clearly or experience them fully. They had to wait for the coming of a great light, the Lord Jesus Christ (Isaiah 9:1-7). Listen to what the Spirit reveals about the level of insight that the prophets, who spoke the word, had. Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things (1 Pt 1:10-12 NIV). The prophets received and spoke God’s word, but unless the Spirit explained it to them, they could not understand it. They were before the Light of the world came, and lacked events like the resurrection and the Day of Pentecost to understand what was met. They had an ignition key but no car. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets cf. Eph 3:4-5 NIV). Some truths simply were not revealed until the new covenant age began. You might desire the next generation cellphone, but until it’s on the market, you can’t have it or use it. Many of the truths about the Holy Spirit had to wait till after the ascension of Jesus the Messiah.

From these texts, the church has long recognized the truth of the greater light of the New Testament Scriptures. Consider the words of Augustine. “The New Testament is in the Old concealed, and in the New, the Old revealed.”

“The Old Testament may be likened to a chamber richly furnished but dimly lighted: the introduction of light brings into it nothing which was not in it before; but it brings out into clearer view much of what was in it but was only dimly or not at all perceived before. The mystery of the Trinity is not revealed in the Old Testament; but the mystery of the Trinity underlies the Old Testament revelation, and here and there almost comes into view. Thus the Old Testament revelation of God is not corrected by the fuller revelation which follows it, but is only perfected, extended and enlarged” (Warfield).

Our next subject in our series on the Holy Spirit is the Person of the Spirit of God in the dimly lighted chamber of the Old Testament Scriptures. Obviously, we cannot speak in detail about this. Whole books address this theme! But in some glimpses of his glory as God that the Spirit gave in the Old Testament Scriptures, we may learn more of God and all that he is for his people. So then, we’ll take the rope down and with the light of Christ explore a little of this dimly lighted room.

Grace and peace, David

Responding to God’s Word (Part Two)

20150523_1439292 Chronicles 15:8-19

In our last article, we mentioned a couple wrong responses to God’s word: ignoring it and failing to apply it to ourselves. The last mentioned can happen because of distraction, laziness, or some other reason. In today’s text, we learn three good responses to the Word. Anytime that people respond positively to God’s message is a time to give thanks and worship, because it is only God’s grace that makes us live godly.

The right response is renewed reformation or better, transformation (15:8). Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2 HCSB). We must see our lives, worship, and fellowship transformed in conformity with the Holy Scriptures. This is a task that is never completed in this world. Churches and the people who are the gospel partners in them too easily get stuck in tradition, being unwilling to transform their beliefs and practices according to God’s Word, the Bible. Brothers and sisters, we must be willing to walk in the light of the Word that the Spirit of God gives us!

  • The starting point of this renewed reformation was the effect of the message on the leader, Asa. “When Asa heard these words… he took courage.” He had courage to lead his people in change. When we know that we are mired in the ways of tradition and unbiblical practice, we must act courageously and change. The lack of this courage yields churches that are in steep decline. To how many people is your local gathering actively reaching out now? Can you name them? Does your group pray for these people? Please don’t complain about the decline in church attendance if you aren’t involved in outreach. Being filled with the Spirit produces boldness in God’s people.
  • Asa responded by acting to remove the objects of false religion from the land (cf. Deuteronomy 12:4). We must clean out evil, the thorns that choke out the fruit, so that the good fruit may flourish. Anyone who has ever had a garden knows this truth. You must always be after the weeds, or soon the good plants will die. Yet people fail to apply this truth to spiritual matters. If you allow the weeds of false teaching or ungodly living or unrestrained desires for worldly matters to remain in your heart, they will choke out the good fruit of the Spirit.
  • Asa also sought to restore true worship by repairing the altar. Here we must think for a moment according to the old covenant. The altar at the temple was crucial for old covenant worship. The Israelites had to offer their sacrifices there for worship and fellowship with God. If it was in a state of disrepair, their worship would have been hindered. We worship properly when we keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

The response of covenant renewal (15:9-15). Such assemblies had occurred earlier in Israel’s history (Deuteronomy 29:1ff; Joshua 8:30-35; 24:25; cf. 1 Samuel 11:14-15) and also later (2 Chronicles 23:16; 34:31-32; cf. 29:10). Here are the parts of such a gathering: First came the call and gathering of a great assembly (15:9-10). It this case it was around the time of the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost), which was one of the three times of the year that all the men were required to assemble in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:16-17). Asa probably took advantage of this time to impress the truth upon his people. Second, it was a gathering to worship of the Lord (15:11). They presented sacrifices from the plunder that the Lord had given them (14:13-15). In this way they would be acknowledge God’s goodness according to the manner of worship of the law covenant. We should be bringing a sacrifice of praise to the Lord (Hebrews 13:15).

Third, their commitment to the Lord was reaffirmed (15:12-14). This recommitment touched the roots of their being as God’s people. We see:

  • Essence of true commitment ­– They agreed to seek the Lord with all their heart and soul (Deuteronomy 6:5; 11:13, 22; 30:2, 6, 10). The Lord Jesus calls us to the same kind of commitment today (Mk 8:34).
  • Expectation of true commitment – They saw that God was serious about total devotion to him, as he had stated in the Law (Deuteronomy 13). In a physical nation, the penalty was severe. New covenant people are to enforce commitment to the Lord in a spiritual manner, since we are a spiritual people (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
  • Excitement about true commitment – They were glad about the whole-hearted commitment that they saw others make. When we see commitment to the truth in other, we should rejoice, too (2 John 4; 3 John 3-4). Are you making other believers rejoice because of the commitment they see in you? Total commitment leads to great joy!

The Lord God responded to their faith (15:15). He gave them rest!

Asa was affected by the act of reaffirmation. He responded by cleaning his own house (15:16-19) in two ways. He removed the queen mother from her position. She was a descendant of David’s son Absalom and was a source of much evil. She had to be removed. He also contributed financially to the worship of the Lord. Asa got around to giving to the Lord what he had promised. What should you give? The old trite phrase is “put your money where your mouth is.” Generous giving, including the giving of money, should be a priority matter among a people transformed by the grace of God. Give for the glory of God!

Grace and peace, David

Lessons from Ruth’s Conversion

IMG_0855Ruth 1:16-18

Ruth had chosen to follow the Lord, instead of making the choice for her former gods, as her sister-in-law had. Along with that choice came other immediate consequences that produced a new identity for her. Ruth knew this and was ready to accept it, though she could not realize the dramatic changes would follow. It is only when we begin to experience the reality of following the Lord that we start to understand the radical, new life that results from being part of the family of God.

When we become a believer in the true and living God, the way we look at ourselves changes. As a believer who lived before Christ’s death and resurrection, Ruth became part of the old covenant nation of Israel. She was joined to Yahweh and his people. This meant that she would from that time on live as one of the Lord’s people, keeping the law’s commands and regulations. What she ate, how she dressed, her thoughts, attitudes, words and actions were now within the boundaries of old covenant life. For example, she could longer have a ham sandwich for lunch! She had to keep the Sabbath. She had to keep the laws of ritual cleanliness. Yes, even the basic desire of her heart had to change.  Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

As new covenant people, we become part of Christ’s body or church (assembly or gathering). We are united to Christ by faith. Everything in our way of life must change. When we wake up every morning, we must remember we are in Christ and part of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have a new mission statement and a way of life that agrees with it (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:1-4:1; 1 Peter 1:13-2:3; etc.)

With this union with Christ to God the Father’s family, we gain a new passion for life. We stop wandering aimlessly through life and begin to live for the kingdom of God. Ruth’s passion showed up in the strong promise and oath she made (1:17), probably made with a fitting gesture, such as slashing one’s throat. (Remember that when people speak with emotion, we tend to use gestures!) She was very willing to join the people of God and to worship the true and living God the rest of her life.

True Christianity involves living with passion for the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. The good news has forever changed us, and we want others to hear the good news of Jesus and be saved! And so we gladly make sacrifices of wealth, health, leisure, honor, and perhaps even our lives for the Lord Christ.

Our daughter Sarah once attended at a meeting for managers, where the founder of the company told the story of the start of that company and the sacrifices many had made to launch it. Christ’s church grows in the same way. People make sacrifices for the benefit of others and to extend the spread of the good news. Are you passionate about what the mission of the church, the new covenant people? Are you glad that you’re part of the people that follow Jesus Christ?

Our hardships can become the doorway to faith in the Lord for others. What must have Naomi been thinking as she listened to Ruth’s confession of faith? We are not told! The writer allows us to ponder the scene in solitude. In any case, to the praise of God’s glory, all of Naomi’s complaints failed to have a detrimental influence on Ruth. But clearly, Naomi was not filled with joy at the moment, as this “pest” of a daughter-in-law walked by her side, because Naomi’s words were filled with her bitterness when she arrived in Bethlehem. However, God has told us the rest of the story that neither Naomi nor Ruth knew at that moment. God wants us to share his smile, as his sovereign grace as provided a kind, loving, believing sister-in-the-Lord to walk beside struggling Naomi. For at that time, the story of God’s glory was very much wrapped up in Ruth, and through her, Naomi’s life is about to change from bitter sorrow to sweet joy.

My friend, why not trade in your bitterness, sorrows, frustration, disappointment, and anger for the opportunity to serve the Lord with gladness, because he delights in joy and offers to share joy with you? Life is short. Don’t waste your life being peeved and pouting.

Think on the words of the last stanza of “The Master Has Called Us” by Sarah Doudney, 1871.

“The Master has called us, in life’s early morning,
With spirits as fresh as the dew on the sod:
We turn from the world, with its smiles and its scorning,
To cast in our lot with the people of God:
The Master has called us, His sons and His daughters,
We plead for His blessing and trust in His love;
And through the green pastures, beside the still waters,
He’ll lead us at last to His kingdom above.”

Grace and peace, David

Reassurance of Friendship

IMG_08592 Corinthians 7:2-4

The apostle Paul concluded the previous section of 2 Corinthians by calling his readers to live according to what they are in Christ; namely, the temple of the living God. One of the great truths about the new covenant people of God is that we do not have a temple but that we are the temple. God lives in us by the Holy Spirit. After doing that, he immediately reassures them of their friendship or fellowship or partnership in the gospel. What we want to think about today is the attitude that must saturate our approach to the Christian way of life. How ought we to live together as Christ’s people? We can profit greatly by learning how Paul reassured his dear friends in Corinth.

Paul told them to “make room” for him (7:2). A contrast of two churches, Corinth and Thessalonica, will help us understand the reason for this request. Both were started at about the same time by the same church planter (Paul), but they had developed different views of the Christian way of life, and Corinth’s view was very defective.

  • The church of Thessalonica started in a time of persecution. They had a decisive break from idols and quickly became an effective partnership in the mission of the gospel. The word rang out from them (1 Thessalonians 1:8)! Yes, they needed to grow in grace, like all Christians do. Although they knew Paul only a short time, they were open to his ministry.
  • Some conflict with the Jews in Corinth happened in Corinth, but this church did not start in the turmoil of persecution. In fact, the Lord Jesus guaranteed Paul release from persecution there (Acts 18:9-10). This was a great outward advantage that Paul used well. But at the same time, the believers in Corinth seemed a little too at home in the world. This attitude showed itself again and again in their opinions about worldly wisdom and their willingness to participate in contact with idolatry, which every new gathering of believers had been urged to avoid (Acts 15:29). Both of these combined together, with evil actions of false teachers, to make them rather closed to Paul’s new covenant ministry.
  • So then, after telling them to separate from idolatry, which they had been too open towards, Paul commands them as Christ’s apostle to make room for him, whom they had been closed towards. They had been open toward the wrong things of idolatry and closed to their true gospel partner. So he repeats the command of 6:13 in different words. Each of us should evaluate ourselves to see if we are open to gospel influences and closed to the influence of the world and its idols.

He joins another personal defense of himself to this command. I think that here Paul gives a summary, forceful defense of himself of any supposed charges that anyone could possibly bring against him. He wants to end the past mess once and for all, in order to have a fresh start with them.

  • He had mistreated no one. When he directed the church to take action against certain people, they were receiving what they deserved. Christ’s apostle was simply applying the Lord’s directives to them.
  • He had corrupted no one. Teaching the way of grace does not provide a license to sin, regardless of how some have twisted the gospel. Gospel grace always leads to a godly way of life.
  • He had taken advantage of no one. The fact that faith in Christ involves a break with a worldly and idolatrous way of life, which can lead to financial loss for some, does not mean than Paul was somehow out to ruin some of them. I will illustrate. Consider the book Radical by David Platt. Suppose a couple reads it and agrees to downsize their lifestyle in order to give more of their lives and finances for the gospel. In the process, something unexpected happens and they suffer financial loss. The author was not trying to cause them harm, but he redirected them to follow Christ more fully. Sometimes in God’s providence people suffer unforeseen difficulties, which might have happened anyway!

If people are going to work together as gospel partners (and all Christians are to be gospel partners with other followers of Christ), we must make room for each other in our hearts and lives. This is where our walk with one another can get messy. Part of the process involves getting rid of incorrect theological views. Sadly, many professing Christians don’t want to invest time in accurate Christian teaching. Then they wonder why the wheels have come off their lives and their relationships with others. Your doctrinal assumptions will affect your life. We must also try to clear out misunderstandings about our actions. This requires patience, which comes from the Holy Spirit.

Grace and peace, David

Unnormal Provision

IMG_4249Ezra 1:1-11

We anticipate that people will act according to their character and their worldview. Moms are supposed to be tender and affirming; judges are supposed to uphold justice; servers in restaurants are supposed to be happy and considerate (at least if they want a generous tip). When we meet people, we tend to classify them immediately. We may or may not approve of their actions and personality, but we assume that they act consistently. Then we make adjustments when they are in our immediate world. Think of the grouchy boss or the snoopy person on Facebook. We learn how to adapt our interactions with such people.

Israel had been in exile from the Promised Land for seventy years. During that times they suffered at times and thrived at others. This happens. Some live in misery and bitterness, while others profit from the situations. One reality that all the exiles in Babylon and then Persia endured was that they were not free. They had been taken out of the land by the will of the Lord, and they had lost the old covenant way to worship and to draw near to God (at the temple offering sacrifices through the priests). Oppression and separation had become the “normal” for them after seventy years. There wasn’t any reason to look for change, as long as they were under the heel of the world’s superpower of their time. Or was there?

The Lord teaches us in his word that he is able to change the normal situation and to provide unnormal provision for his people. Yet we are so accustomed to the normal that we feel that the normal we are in now will always be normal. The post-exilic books (Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi) are unfamiliar territory to most readers, with the exception of Daniel. We ought to read them, since the Lord God has much material in them which will build hope (Romans 15:4). Since the new covenant people are “scattered exiles” in this world (study 1 Peter), there are many lessons in these writings for our profit.

  • God acted in conformity with the purpose of his will: “in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah” (1:1; cf. Ephesians 1:11). God acts according to his plans, which he sometimes makes known to his people. We saw previously that God acted in the exodus according to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Here, God did what he told Jeremiah he was going to do (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10-14). God will always do what he has promised, but we should never expect him to do what people speculating about “Bible prophecy” have taught. For this reason, we need to know the word, and we learn it by carefully reading it.
  • God acted directly on the heart of Cyrus, the emperor of Persia, in order that he might make a proclamation (1:1). He was going to speak in a manner very unnormal for an emperor, most of whom have been very oppressive in the history of the world. The Lord can act directly on the hearts of the rulers of nations to turn them to do what he chooses (Proverbs 21:1). He is sovereign over the affairs of kingdoms. For a man in his high position who led an empire that followed other gods, this was very unnormal.
  • God revealed to Cyrus a mission for him to accomplish (1:2). The Lord taught him that he and not Cyrus was the true ruler of the world and its nations and so Cyrus received his position from the Lord. With this idea of his purpose in God’s world, Cyrus was faithful to the mission that God gave him. We must remember our mission (Matthew 28:19-20). Let us ask ourselves who is more faithful: a pagan emperor or us? Cyrus knew that this was a specific mission. He was to build a temple for the Lord in Jerusalem. We are to help build a temple for the Lord from all nations.
  • God instilled a spirit for the mission in Cyrus (1:3-4). He became a coach to help God’s people participate in the fulfillment of the mission. He encouraged them to return to Jerusalem and to build his temple. He told people to contribute to the task. This is very unnormal, especially when you read today’s news and see how opposed human governments are to God’s people today.
  • God changed the hearts of his people to become involved in the mission (1:5-6). God stirred up some to return to Jerusalem. He moved others to give to help them on their way. From the unnormal of captivity (which they had got used to as normal), the Lord led them to return to the normal for the old covenant people: life in the Promised Land.
  • God induced Cyrus to return the articles of worship that had been taken from the temple (1:7-11). Everything in old covenant worship had to be done according to the pattern that the Lord gave Moses (Exodus 40:16-33). The people needed those articles to reestablish worship of the living God. Therefore, the Lord made sure that they received them. These articles were worth a large amount of money, and for Cyrus to part with them was truly unnormal provision.

The Lord God who acted in Cyrus’ life is the same Almighty God today. The Lord Jesus, who rules over everything for the good of his church, knows what we need for the mission he gave us. He can change human governments, in order that we might be able to reach people. Or he can give us Holy Spirit boldness to act during opposition and adversity. May we be encouraged that the Lord is able to give whatever “unnormal provision” we need.

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

Sorting Out Guilt and Guilt Feelings

SAMSUNG
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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