The Struggles of the Believer (Part Seven)

1 John 5:13

I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (CSB).

The second support is that of a changed life. We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did (1 John 2:3-6 NIV). To use our previous illustration, this is like showing you my wife and having her testify that we are married. If I claimed to be married, and no one ever saw my wife, you would rightly be suspicious of my assertion.

At this point we must be careful, because of what I’ll call “short-checklist morality”. When most people think of sin, they confine themselves to a few of the prohibitions of the Ten Commandments, like don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, and don’t bear false witness. They might add a couple other prohibitions to their list, but they assume that “holiness” concerns the avoidance of the items on their checklist. And they evaluate others the same way. For example, if homosexuality is on their list, they’ll be proud that they’re not and roundly condemn anyone with even homosexual tendencies. This short-checklist morality twists their own view of true Christianity and also what others think a true Christian is or isn’t. If they keep their short checklist, they assume that they have evidence of salvation. But that is not the changed life the Bible presents. I’ll explain.

  • The apostle John wrote: We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Clearly, this means the commands that tell of godliness for new covenant believers, but I’ll avoid explaining the reasons in this post. To be brief, this means what the Spirit gave as directives to us in all the Scriptures, but according to the age in which we live in redemptive history. These commands involve many prohibitions and many positive commands and instructions and godly wisdom and encouragements.
  • This means not only theoretical agreement, but also practical performance of what the Lord commands us: Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.
  • This kind of obedience springs from love for the Lord. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. A person might say, “I never steal, and I love to tell the truth.” That’s nice. But if they don’t love God in the process, they have never actually obeyed, because love for God is indispensable for obedience. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10 NIV).
  • We do not truly obey unless we model the character of Jesus Christ. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. In every act of obedience, he pleased the Father (John 5:30; 8:29). He rejoiced to please the Father, even in the most difficult time (Hebrews 12:2). This is the kind of life God the Father expects from us, too, a life that pleases the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9; Ephesians 5:10; Colossians 1:10; 3:20; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 4:1; 1 Timothy 2:3; Hebrews 11:6; 13:16; 1 John 3:22).

The apostle John tells us that we will be able to see a two-part witness of the reality of our salvation, and that this testimony is one of the three bases of assurance. If we lack this testimony, we have a serious crack in our assurance. There is the witness of love for other Christians. This is a witness to ourselves (1 John 3:14). It is also the witness to others (John 13:34-35). We also can see the witness of a holy life (1 John 2:29; 3:3; 5:4). We stop doing some things (1 John 3:8-9). We put sin to death (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5). We begin to do other things (1 Jn 2:29; 3:10). This is the process of continual renewal (Colossians 3:12-17; 2 Peter 1:5-11).

This makes a proper doctrine of spiritual growth so important. If you seek to become godlier in the wrong way, you may corrupt your assurance of salvation. We must avoid a common error—making our growth in grace a source of confidence before God. That is legalism, and the error of many in both Reformed and Fundamentalist circles. A truly growing godliness is the product of union with the risen Christ (Romans 7:1-6). Christ alone must be our joy and confidence! The holy witness is a sign of what he is doing in us by his Spirit.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part Ten)

Psalm 19:13-14

Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (NIV).

We conclude this great psalm about God’s revelation. Its closing words speak joyfully about his confidence in God and the grace that is freely received from him. God’s words are intended to lead us to his joy, but that is only received as we trust in him, as he has revealed himself to us.

“Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.” As David prays for help against sin, he uses the argument that such help will enable him to live for God as he should. This is the blameless character of which he speaks. He would be blameless in regard to willful or defiant sin. Every saint should make this his/her aim, as also the apostle Paul tried to live. Because of this, I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people (Acts 24:16 NLT).

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart…” David concludes this psalm with what has become a very well-known prayer. Notice that he asks for God’s help with both his outer man (“my mouth”) and his inner man (“my heart”). As Jesus taught, the mouth speaks what comes out of the heart. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him (Matthew 12:34-35 NIV). What David prayed showed his concern for the purity of the whole person, body and soul. We might perhaps say the right thing, but if the heart is not producing those words, we are being hypocritical.

David recognized that his heart would meditate or ponder on things that his mouth might not necessarily say, yet he wanted to be pure in heart also, for he knew that God knew what he was thinking in his heart (cf. Psalm 139:1-6). Idolatry of the heart is as evil as outward performance (Ezekiel 14:3-4). David wants God alone to be worshipped by him.

David was focused on the Lord. He desired that his words and thoughts would be pleasing in your sight…. Here was David’s great concern, that his whole person and actions would bring pleasure to God. The believer should not merely be concerned about avoiding offense to God, but he or she should have a positive concern about how to please the living God. If we are made to glorify God and to enjoy him forever, then we ought to recognize that we are not reaching the goal of our being until there is this joint pleasure of God in us and we in him. True Christianity is more than not doing things; it is living in the Lord’s presence in fellowship with him to bring him honor and pleasure and to enjoy all his excellent worth.

O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer: Here is the focus of David’s life. The God who has spoken in creation and in the holy writings is more than a communicator to David. He is also personally interested in David, and graciously makes himself available to those who trust in him. David views him as his Rock, the one who is able to provide full stability to David’s life, and as his Redeemer, because he had set David free from his sins (see Romans 4). The goal of the Scriptures is to lead us to have fellowship with the living God. David entered into that purpose. Have we?

Grace and peace, David

Prayer Two of a Struggler

Psalm 25:4-7

People want to know and to be known. These are powerful cravings. Witness the desires for information about what is happening from a multitude of websites and to tell others about ourselves in social media. Yet when we look at life from God’s perspective, we can see our own inadequacies. And this stirs up anxiety in us. David expressed his feelings about seeing himself as God saw him, but he nevertheless drew near to God.

David struggled with walking in God’s ways. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long (25:4-5 ESV). David knew his weaknesses. He had an accurate self-image. He knew he had blind spots and an enemy in his own inner person (remaining sin). Still, David had a learner’s attitude. Even godly men need to learn (2 Corinthians 5:9). Years ago, we visited a church where a friend was pastor. He was an accomplished teacher of God’s word. He sought to stir his congregation to attend Sunday School with these words. “I still need to learn; I’ll be in Sunday School.”

David knew what he needed to learn: what pleases God. He was not interested in a mere outward conformity, but in really learning a way of life that is consistent with God. For this reason, he opened himself to the teacher, his covenant Lord. He wanted practical instruction. We want you to be able to use this article on Mondays, Thursdays and all other days.

David knew the entrance requirements for God’s school of grace. He knew God’s teaching flowed out from the fact that God was his salvation. In God’s school, everything starts with knowing the Lord as Savior. From the full light of the New Testament Scriptures, we know that this is the gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16-17). A profitable next step is to focus on God choosing you, the Savior dying for you, and the Spirit helping you. David knew that the application of the teaching related to an active hope in the Lord (cf. Colossians 1:5-6; Titus 2:11-15). We cannot make progress in godliness apart from living in hope in Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:1-4).

David struggled with his friendship with God. Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord! (25:6-7 ESV). He wondered if God’s friendship could be depended upon in two crucial areas. But instead of fretting about these matters, he approached God as his friend and talked to him about them.

David wanted God to remember his great mercy and love. Observe his God-focus. “Lord, consider yourself!” Remember your great mercy and love. This is how to pray in faith. Bring God into your story, because you are part of his story. He strengthened this with an appeal to God’s long story of glory.

He did not want God to remember his sins. David confessed his sin clearly. He did not hide or evade. He put everything on the table. He confessed the sins of his youth. The godly man shudders about what the world winks at. He spoke about rebelling against the Lord. It was not little, but major sin. See his example: Use biblical concepts about what sin is to assist in making your confession genuine. But after his confession, he asked his covenant Lord to remember him according to love, God’s love. His plea was not a mistaken reliance on his covenant loyalty, as some wrongly talk in our time. Instead, his plea depended on God’s commitment to be faithful to his covenant promises. Since David was a sinner, how could he do this? He lived in hope that one day God would provide a better sacrifice for sin. He depended on God’s promise of the Savior. And one day on Golgotha, God showed that his promise was completely trustworthy as God himself paid the penalty in full for our sins.

You and I are all sinners; yes, all of us are! Yet I have good news today! The living God welcomes you to forgiveness and righteousness in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. If you are feeling guilty because of your rebellion against God, God has provided the way to be cleansed from guilt through Christ’s perfect, once-for-all sacrifice.

Grace and peace, David

Thoughts on Leviticus (Part One)

dscn4087Leviticus 1-8

Each year about this time, I think about how Christians (those who truly follow Jesus Christ) read the Bible. I think about their strategy for listening to God in his word. On January one, many will start on a program of reading through the Bible in one year. It is a cause for spiritual concern about how many of those will still be following their chosen program on March first. I have written previously about the challenges of such programs and will not repeat them here, except to say that any program must be doable for you. In order to read through the Bible in one year, you must commit to reading three to four chapters a day. Can you sustain that pace? Can you read that number of chapters and really listen to God speak? Or will you be reading with a lack of attention?

As I have also said many times, every follower of Jesus ought to read through the Bible. It might be better to do that over two or three years. As you do, you will read familiar books, such as Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Proverbs, the Four Gospels, Acts, and a few others. Most are unfamiliar with books like Ezekiel, Obadiah, Ezra, and Zechariah… and Leviticus. Many get “bogged down” in its opening section about sacrifices, and then are perplexed about “all those laws” in chapters eleven through twenty-five. Their minds wander as they wonder about their significance, especially to the believer in our time. In this article, I suggest a few thoughts on the opening chapters of Leviticus that will hopefully stimulate you to read them attentively.

  • The first seven chapters present five offerings for the law covenant worshiper to bring to the Lord. The offerings are called (according to the ESV translation) burnt, grain, peace, sin, and guilt offerings. As you read about them, a few ideas are repeated. Much is written about sin, blood, and the exact manner in which the offerings were to be offered. “Sin” points to our basic problem before God. We have rejected him, refused to love him, and rebelled against him. We need an offering that he will accept in order to be received by him. “Blood” is significant, because as the writer of Hebrews says, According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).
  • A few times we read the phrase a pleasing aroma to the Lord (or something similar). The Holy Spirit tells us God’s acceptance of the offerings that he required from the old covenant people. When his people came to him by faith with those offerings, they could know that God welcomed their worship. We no longer bring the sacrifices of the law, because we have a better sacrifice than the blood of bulls and goats. But here, we want to focus on the concept that the Lord wills to be pleased in the worship of his people. God invites us to draw near to him, as we keep the covenant during which time we live. (New covenant people keep the covenant through faith in Jesus Christ.)
  • In these chapters, we encounter the concept of “holy”. Most believers use “holy” and related words like “sanctify” with little idea of what they mean. It is too easy to like the “religious tingle” of using religious words like “holiness” or “sanctification” to impress other believers or to feel like you are worshiping. But God wants us to love him with all our minds. There should be understanding. To be “holy” is to be “set apart” to God or “consecrated” to him. Who we are and how we live are to be set apart unto the Lord. In this we see a personal relationship. Holiness is not a matter of devotion to rules or rituals, but consecration to the Lord of glory.

I hope this will help you as you start to read Leviticus. If you have questions regarding other books, please contact me at our email address.

Grace and peace, David