The Case of the Unbelieving Believer

Luke 1:18-25

The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and tell you this good news” (Luke 1:19 CSB).

Unlike many people, I have never been into watching crime and detective shows. The exception would be Dragnet, which I always watched with my dad, including reruns. But I digress. We all know that detectives attempt to solve cases that involve murders or other crimes. Counselors also consult case stories with others to help them learn how to help others. In Zechariah, we have a case of a believer who failed to believe.

Let us understand clearly that Zechariah was a believer. How do we know this? The Holy Spirit had already guided Luke to write that Zechariah and his wife were upright in the sight of God (Luke 1:6 NIV). The only way anyone can be right with God is by grace through faith (Romans 3-4). His faith showed itself in his works, in his zeal to obey God. The Spirit wants us to know that Zechariah was a good man.

Zechariah had heard a message of good news for himself and his people through the angel. His prayer for a son would be answered. His heart ought to have been rejoicing! But… he began to doubt. He looked at his and his wife’s physical capabilities and knew that in the normal course of life, childbirth was impossible for them. This is where you and I often get trapped. How many times have I seen a church count noses and pocketbooks and assume that a challenge to move forward for the Lord was simply “impossible”. This corporate experience is simply the overflow of the hearts of the members of the church, who have for long years assumed that it was simply “impossible” for them to see their friends and neighbors become followers of Christ. And so, they choose easy ways “to serve the Lord”, like being greeters or working in the nursery or buying cookies for Vacation Bible School or serving on church boards and committees. Faith in God is simply “impossible”, because they live by sight, rather than by faith. I can’t listen to Zechariah explain his failure to believe God two thousand years later, but I’m rather certain where our failures lie.

Gabriel, God’s chosen messenger, did not shrug off Zechariah’s unbelief, like you and I regularly do. Contemporary Christians have a very short list of sins, and our unbelief and the unbelief of our family and friends isn’t on the list. In fact, if anyone raises the issue of our unbelief, we become huffy and “hurt” by the mere suggestion. All right, I’ll risk “offending” you. What matters of unbelief in God and his provision are you struggling with? Could you be a case of another unbelieving believer? Back to Gabriel, he had a “tough love” response to Zechariah’s unbelief. He removes his ability to speak until his son is born. Boom! And let him know that Gabriel’s message will certainly happen. Boom!

Since Zechariah could no longer speak, Luke returns to the waiting worshipers. They wondered about his delay in performing the ritual, and on his return to the temple courts, they realized that he could not speak. He had some kind of vision in the temple, but they didn’t know what had happened.

When Zechariah finished his temple service, he went home. Then he acted in faith and made love to his wife, and… she became pregnant, though he had previously thought it “impossible”. Here is the good news. The unbelieving believer can return to believing when he or she trusts God and his promises in the Good News. God works through the good news of the gospel to save (Romans 1:16-17) and to change (Titus 2:11-14) his people. You and I can by grace turn back to a believing condition. As for Elizabeth, she believed, since she traced back her pregnancy, not to natural circumstances, but to the power of God. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people” (1:25 NIV). Thank God that the gospel is always good news for his people. So then, let’s trust God to do what he sets before us!

Grace and peace, David

Holy Desires (Part Five)

2 Timothy 2:22

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (NIV).

This verse gives wise counsel. However, we must understand wise counsel wisely. Good and godly teaching can be misunderstood and misapplied. We see that every follower of Jesus Christ is to avoid the evil desires of youth. Here is the necessity of an ongoing repentance. If you think that you are going to make an “once for all turn” in this matter, you are deeply mistaken. Sin must be put to death continually. Occasionally, we hear testimonies of people who were involved in outward, socially unacceptable, life-dominating sins. After coming to Christ, they profess that they have never fallen into that sin again. All right, we know that such conversions happen. But we need to make a few clarifications.

  • They are not delivered from all sins. Listen to the apostle John. If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:8-10 CSB). Being freed from one or a couple life-dominating sins is not the same as escaping from the influence of every sin. Spiritual warfare is not against one sin but all sins.
  • Failure to realize how extensive are the effects of sin in us can produce pride that can devastate a person spiritually. Supposing themselves free from a few sins can blind them to the seductions of many others. Free people in Christ must offer themselves to God as servants to righteousness (cf. Romans 6:14-22).
  • Part of the problem is that many have a “short check list” view of sins. This develops through an overemphasis and misunderstanding of the Ten Commandments, which are exalted over many other parts of the Bible. They are not the ethical summary of the Bible, but the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 4:13; etc.) This wrong view also develops the consequent wrong assumption that sin is mainly a breaking of a few prohibitions.
  • There is no “instant godliness”, though we all wish that it was that easy. We must seek help from the Lord on a daily basis (Matthew 26:41). The life of faith involves a daily reception of grace from the Lord (John 15:1-8).

Part of the growth process involves self-control. By the Spirit, we must shun youthful desires. For example, there are countless internet sites and phone apps, but there are many that we should never go to. Taking the apps off the phone and unsubscribing from certain YouTube channels is part of self-control. Some places simply fuel wrong desires, and I do mean only wrong sexual desires. Shopping apps can fuel greed in anyone’s heart.

Another important matter is how we view ourselves. While we realize how easily sin can entangle any follower of Jesus Christ, God’s people should not view themselves as “sinners”. We are in Christ, and we ought to find our identity in him. (Read Ephesians about ten times!) We flee the evil desires of youth, not as “sinners” but as “saints”, as those already set apart for the enjoyment of God and his glory. We are new in Christ. How can we get involved in the evil desires of youth?

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

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Part Ten)

John 3:6

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (ESV).

Our subject is the work of the Holy Spirit in our regeneration or new birth from above. In this great action, he acts to renew us, so that we have a close relationship or friendship with the Holy God. In regeneration, the Holy Spirit conveys an image or likeness of the Begetter to the begotten (Colossians 3:10). As the first Adam begat a son in his image (Genesis 5:3), so by the Spirit the last Adam begets sons for God that bear his image (1 Corinthians 15:49). This image or likeness to God lies in two things:

  • It is conformity of spirit to God’s, which means a radical break from the rule of sin to the government of holiness or being set apart to God (Romans 6:17-18; cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16). This involves love (Romans 13:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9) at the core. This is what caught the attention of the world as they looked at the early church. They said, “Look how they love one another!” To participate in my college’s athletic program, every team member had to read Schaeffer’s The Mark of the Christian and then sign a statement that they had carefully read it. God’s love ought to permeate our interactions with fellow Christians and reach out to those we seek to see become Christ’s followers.
  • It is having God’s glory set up in our hearts as our ultimate purpose, and as the measure of all our attitudes, affections and actions.

This image or likeness to God is what is meant by Peter’s statement (2 Peter 1:3-4). The regenerated inner person of the heart now has a disposition to seek God and righteousness as the unregenerate person sought sin and darkness. Have you found an attitude in your heart to seek holiness and the glory of God?

How does the Holy Spirit do this? He directly acts on the inner person of the heart. Frankly, the Holy Spirit does not tell us much about exactly how he produces new spiritual life. There is mystery here. All we can say is that he is the efficient cause. He produces spiritual life in the heart of a person dead in sin. “The Spirit gives birth to spirit” (3:6). “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (3:8).

The Spirit of God uses the Holy Scriptures to create new life. The word functions like seed in the heart (1 Peter 1:23). The Spirit adds his power to the living word of God and produces life. This is a deliberate action of God. He gives new life through the word of God because he has chosen to so act (James 1:18).

What happens when the Holy Spirit causes us to be born again?

  • He gives a new heart (inner person) and life. Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 24:7; Ephesians 2:5-10
  • He gives the gifts of repentance and faith (Acts 16:14). Repentance is a gift of God (Ac 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25-26) and so is faith (Acts 13:48; 18:27; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29; 1 Timothy 1:14; 2 Peter 1:1). As Spurgeon said, “No Christian can lay his hand on his heart and say, ‘I believed in Christ without the help of the Holy Spirit.’”
  • He breaks the power of sin (Deuteronomy 30:6; cf. 29:4; Colossians 2:11; Romans 8:9; 6:22; Acts 26:18).
  • He opens our hearts to Christ and his glory (Acts 16:14; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Matthew 16:16-17; Ephesians 4:20-21; cf. Philippians 3:3ff).

The good result is that former rebels against God become his submissive, humble, trusting children. We live in newness of life.

Grace and peace, David

Up to This Point (Part Two)

dscn38511 Samuel 7:2-13

When we return to the Lord, it is easy to expect a free pass from difficulty for a time. We think, “Now that God is for me (Romans 8:31), life will be easy.” Part of the problem is a muddled evangelistic presentation that makes promises that God does not. Another source is that self-centeredness is the attitude of the times. We suppose we have denied ourselves (Mark 8:34), when we have only taken the initial step of a lifelong journey in self-denial. God does not call us to a life of ease. Salvation involves service of the living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9). To be saved is not to be given assurance of party time in this world (John 16:33).

From a Biblical perspective, then, we can understand that after a revival, we might experience crisis (7:7-11). The enemies of God and his people are always seeking opportunities (7:7). From their point of view, the Philistines probably sensed danger in the religious assembly of Israel. The children of evil are shrewd in their observations. In our day, they know that a renewed church would upset their evil plans, so they strike constantly at us. Notice carefully that this crisis came when the people were returning to the Lord. How often evil seems to accompany what is good. God does not automatically make trouble disappear when we repent. He uses troubles to give us occasion to exercise our renewed faith. A change of mind on your part does not require God to dissolve all your troubles in an instant. He has an eternal plan. If you find yourself asking, “Then why bother to repent?” perhaps you should consider that you have not yet changed your mind. Your eternal relationship with God is the primary issue, not the disappearance of your temporary crisis.

So then, the crisis became an opportunity to express their faith in God (7:8). They sought the means of prayer in old covenant fashion, looking to a mediator like Samuel or Moses on other occasions. In the new covenant, our only mediator is the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). The key was that they relied on the Lord to rescue them. When we stop saying, “How are we going to handle this problem?” and pray and ask, “Lord, we trust you to handle this problem”, then we have made spiritual progress.

God helped his people (7:9-11). He helped his people while the old covenant sacrifice was being offered. God didn’t wait until the ritual was finished. God is free to act when he pleases. God used an extraordinary means—thunder. If you’ve ever lived around the Great Lakes in the summer, you know how awesome thunder can be! When God himself pushed the “thunder” button to rout an army, it must have been spectacular! How easily are the most supposedly bold people overwhelmed by lightning and thunder or ice and snow! All scoffers can try jousting with hurricanes and tornadoes, if they please. The men of Israel had only to do a mop-up operation. Where did they get their weapons? There were probably many to pick up that the Philistines had thrown down in their panic.

Hope was the outcome (7:12-13). They looked at the past. It is wise to stop and remember what God has done. Hopefully, you concluded last year by taking time to thank God for all the benefits he gave you in 2016. It is wise to be God-focused in our remembrances. “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” We need to approach our every gathering with Christ’s followers as being “in the presence of God”. This rejuvenates all our worship.

God’s past work induced them to look toward the future. The stone acted as a means to keep on recalling how God had helped them to this point. I have seen God help Sharon and I year after year. Up to this point, we can say, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.” My brothers and sisters in Christ, since God has helped us up to this point, year after year, don’t you think he is able to help us again in 2017? God’s faithfulness in the past and present is a sign pointing to his help in the future. God has more grace and greater grace to lavish upon us!

So join with me! Let us joyfully raise up a figurative Ebenezer, a stone of help, as we begin 2017! Let us have hope in God, for we will still praise him together! Let us confidently expect the exceeding riches of God’s sovereign grace to be poured out on us, his dearly loved people. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Grace and peace, David

Up to This Point (Part One)

img_0105-21 Samuel 7:2-13

Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord (7:2 NIV).

Back in the days when we lived where there was sufficient snow cover, Sharon and I would ski, cross-country style. One place we skied was in the Charleston State Forest, which had twenty some miles of ski trails cut in it. In the north section in one area, the trail ran through a long avenue of pine trees. With a couple of feet of snow on the ground, it was a beautiful sight. We would stop at different points to admire the scene.

Picture in your mind a long avenue of evergreen trees. You might be skiing or walking or driving down it. As you travel down this green avenue, you stop along it to admire the view. You look back to what you have already traveled, and are grateful for what you have seen. Your stopping point seems calm and peaceful, and you are glad. Then you turn to look forward. New views await, but some parts look challenging. You think, “The trail goes up, so the way will be harder, but then the view might be better!” And you move on. Our walk with God is similar. Let us look at a passage to help us in this matter.

Our spiritual journey with God involves our repentance (7:2-6). For twenty years, the ark of the covenant had been separated from the tabernacle. Worship of God had been disrupted. No one seemed to care. Unexpectedly, the hearts of God’s people turned back to the Lord (7:2). It was a general revival. Behind this was the Holy Spirit. Nothing else explains this situation. He stirs people’s hearts, so that they are dissatisfied and feel that God is missing in their lives. His action causes the people to sorrow. “Life is not right; we need the living God among us. How can we return to God?” Compare Psalm 42:2-4. People in our time are dissatisfied, though they are far from thinking that the problem is the absence of God. “Lostness” gnaws at their souls, as they seek hope in a new year. But they suppress the knowledge of God. If you understand, weep for our generation!

Into this dark setting, God sent Samuel to preach (7:3). He recognized what was happening and seized the opportunity to give them hope. Consider four elements of his preaching:

  • Samuel told them to turn away from their false gods. The Baals and Ashtoreths (notice that both are in the plural, 7:4) were Canaanite fertility gods and goddesses. As you need not imagine, the worship of them was vile and degrading. Yes, they knew about sexual immorality in ancient times and were sophisticated enough to make it part of worship. And you thought times were bad now! Don’t be surprised at the next step of debauchery you hear of. Humanity has already been there.
  • Samuel told them to make it their business to return to the Lord. Interestingly, to return to the Lord means to serve him, which is also a very new covenant concept (1 Thessalonians 1:9). A true return to the Lord makes us recover a proper Creator/creature relationship and a desire to do what pleases God.
  • Samuel told them that they must be wholly for God: “serve him only”. The fashion of ancient times and postmodern times is pluralism. Hmm, we have advanced to the past! But true Christianity is exclusive. Whatever others may do, we affirm the reality of one true God (Ephesians 4:6).
  • Samuel told them that this was the only sure way to recovery. They had lived for years in oppression, but God was not about to help unless they really repented.

This is always unpopular preaching. It upsets people. But if you’ve ever remodeled, you know that you usually must rip out rotten material and make a mess to improve the situation. Most people only want to be happy, today and everyday, with no interruptions. Sadly, they sacrifice eternal joy for temporary happiness.

We can detect the fruits of true repentance (7:4-6).

  • Their change of mind caused them to put away their false gods. They made a clean, radical break. There is a time to burn the bridges to hinder any return to your old way of life. Do you have any bridges you need to burn right now? If there are items you know you need to get rid of, throw them in the trash today. Change comes from a believing heart, but it expresses itself in the fruits of repentance.
  • They acknowledged God in their public assembly. Fasting and pouring out water were used on various occasions in old covenant times to illustrate zeal and consciousness of the need for cleansing.
  • They confessed their sin. “We have sinned against the Lord.” They stated their sin in its true colors; it was against the Lord.

The Lord God encourages us to walk with him this year. The path will look difficult, but with his Spirit and help, we can overcome the challenges that will appear. Let’s learn from this incident in the life of God’s people.

Grace and peace, David

Remember Lot’s Wife! (Part Three)

dscn0495Luke 17:32

We conclude our look at the exhortation by Jesus “Remember Lot’s Wife”. So far, we have considered that she was Lot’s wife (a woman with spiritual advantages) and that she had been warned by God to flee from Sodom. Thirdly, we ought to remember that she was halfway out and yet did not escape.

The Bible teaches two companion truths that together we call the fifth of the doctrines of grace: the preservation and the perseverance of the saints. It is certainly true that those who truly believe and repent have eternal life immediately. Those who are saved are in Christ, and already have his righteousness credited to their account before God. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Nothing can separate them from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). However, it is also certainly true that true faith and repentance perseveres. If you really change your mind about God and his glory, the nature of mankind and sin, the uniqueness and sufficiency of Christ and his work, the freeness of saving grace and trust in the Lord from the heart, that kind of repentance and faith will endure. But a cheap or false repentance never turns from idols, and a false faith never trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 10:35-39; 1 John 2:19).

Let us never boast in empty professions of faith. To borrow an example from retail stores, there is a difference between customer count and sales. A store can have a lot of people walking through its doors due to location, intelligent design or clever ads or whatever, but the store doesn’t make money from people walking in and out. Sales pay the bills and make the profit. In the same way, it doesn’t matter if many people attend a church and talk with religious lingo and participate in the rituals of the church. Those actions are “customer count”. Lives of people who become learners of Jesus Christ are the “sales” in our illustration. American churches will never achieve reality until they believe and pursue that what matters in true Christianity is following Christ (1 John 2:3; Matthew 7:21-23).

Fourthly, let us remember that she desired to return to Sodom and was destroyed (17:31,33). He who knows the hearts of all people knew the reason she looked back to Sodom. Many people, while they look back at the world like Lot’s wife, have been suddenly overtaken by God’s wrath. “When Lot’s wife looked back, she was immediately destroyed, God had exercised patience toward her before. When she lingered at the setting out, the angels pressed her, and her husband and children, to make haste. Not only so, but when they yet delayed, they brought her forth, and set her without [outside] the city, the Lord being merciful to her. But now when, notwithstanding this mercy, and the warnings which had been given her, she looked back, God exercised no more patience towards her, but proceeded immediately to put her to death” (Edwards, “The Folly of Looking Back in Fleeing out of Sodom”, Works, Vol. 2, p. 67).

Reader, perhaps today God is being merciful to you, but are you looking back? This blog might be God’s messenger. What if a preacher would come down from his pulpit, grab your hand, and plead with you, “Come with me to Christ!” Would you go? Or would you turn beet red, pull your hand away, and say, “What are you—some kind of nut?”

The fatal error of humanity is found in the heart. People love the pleasures of whatever Sodom they are in and look passionately to those pleasures. Listen to God’s word about the heart. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV) Perhaps by some mercy, your heart might come under conviction to flee your spiritual Sodom. You might even start to change your life. “But the tendency of the heart is to go back to Sodom.” [Ibid.]

No one knows when the Lord will return, but he will return suddenly. “We cannot certainly tell what God is about to do, but this we may know, that those who are out of Christ are in a most unsafe state.” [Ibid.] The Lord’s great warning to you is, “Remember Lot’s Wife!”

Grace and peace, David

Good News for America

img_4236Luke 7:34

Today is Election Day. Some will win; others will lose. Regardless of the identity and promises of the victors, there is no good news in them and their grand schemes. Long ago through the prophet, the Lord God warned us not to boast in the wise, the powerful, or the rich. Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV). Yet today many worldly wise, worldly powerful, and worldly rich will be elected by our people. And we will see their boasts come to nothing. This election is not good news for America.

However, there is good news for America, if our people will listen. The good news is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. In him, the One elected by God, God’s plan of victory comes to fruition. Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you” (Isaiah 49:7 ESV). It is the Messiah who will win ultimate victory. Every knee will bow to him and every tongue will declare that Jesus the Messiah is Lord for the glory of God.

You may ask, “Why is this good news for America?” The answer is found in who the Lord Messiah is. Listen to what Jesus said that people were saying about him. The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Luke 7:34 ESV). Here is a description of our people: gluttons, drunkards, tax collectors, and sinners. We need to face what we are. We eat too much, while others starve. The nation is becoming progressively more and more intoxicated by strong drink. People cannot have a beer; they empty a six-pack. People cannot have a glass of wine; they have a bottle or two. We tax, and tax, and tax, so that no one can prosper. We commit sins by the truckload, and then wear ourselves out to invent new ways of doing old sins.

Yet Jesus owns the accusation brought against him. He, the Son of Man, though falsely accused of being a glutton and drunkard, is the Friend of sinners. He welcomes people like us to come to him. His message of acceptance toward sinners is always the same: “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). He will rescue us from our rebellion against God, our refusal to love God and others, and our rejection of God as God, if we turn from our sins and trust in the Lord. This is the good news we desperately need. It is the good news today, and it will be the good news tomorrow, regardless of who wins the election. The Lord is the Great Friend we need in our times.

Grace and peace, David

This Man Welcomes Sinners (Part Two)

img_3663Luke 15:1-10

In this section we read an encounter of Jesus with the Pharisees about the nature of God’s love and mercy toward people. The Pharisees (the Jewish religious leaders of that time) were of the opinion that God loves good people and certainly not people far away from God. In their mind they could not imagine that the Holy One of Israel would want to be with people that lived rebellious lives against him. They assumed that God loved nice religious people like them, or rather like they thought they were. For this reason, Jesus talks about what God’s love accomplishes when he finds sinners.

Jesus told them how the lost sinner who is found by the Lord is repentant. The Pharisees looked on the outward condition of people, and all that they could see was how those following Christ used to be: tax collectors, thieves, drunkards, prostitutes, irreligious, etc. In this they were not unlike other people. You know how it is. People do not believe that anyone can really have his or her way of life change. But Jesus told people not to concentrate on the outward appearance to the neglect of the inner person of the heart (Matthew 23:25-26). True change begins from the inside out. Proper outward actions are spiritually meaningless unless they flow out from a clean heart.

When Jesus finds a sinner, he gives that person a new heart, a heart that continues to repent (cf. Acts 3:26; 5:31; 11:18), a heart that wants to fellowship with the Holy God.

Notice the phrase “one sinner who repents” (15:7, 10). To repent means to have a change of mind about God, sin, oneself, Jesus Christ and the way of salvation. The Spirit of God sets the saved sinner free from bondage to sin (what is called total depravity or radical corruption). The Spirit teaches the mind with the truth that is in Jesus, gives the emotions godly desires, and sets the will free from bondage to sin and Satan. Have you repented? Is there an ongoing change of mind in you regarding God, sin, yourself, Christ and the way of salvation?

After telling them how God changes sinners by his grace, the Lord Jesus told them about the correct attitude they ought to have about the salvation of sinners. Joy is the proper response to the repentance of sinners.

The Pharisees and the law experts muttered about what was happening. They could not believe that a respectable rabbi like Jesus would welcome sinners into his fellowship and actually eat with them!  Extending a welcome of grace to the unworthy was unthinkable. It was like they were saying, “If the lost sheep wants to be found, it will find its way back to the fold. If the lost coin wants to be found, it will roll back where the woman can find it.” Every such opinion, of course, is utter nonsense. Sinners do not seek God (Romans 3:11), because all unsaved sinners are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). Though the Pharisees and teachers of the law should have understood the first of the doctrines of grace, their problem went much deeper. They did not see their own need of grace. They could not imagine that they might be a lost sheep or a lost coin. The Pharisees and teachers of the law, like many in our day, believed in conditional love, conditional grace, and ultimately, a conditional God. In the views of such people, sinners can only receive God’s love if they first measure up and change their lives by becoming very religious.

But Jesus must tell what God’s attitude toward repentant sinners really is. God gladly, happily, and joyfully receives sinners. Jesus says that God rejoices like a shepherd who has found his lost sheep, though he had ninety-nine others. Jesus says that God rejoices like a woman who has found her lost coin, though she had nine others.

Christians, brothers and sisters, are we imitating our Father’s welcoming love? Do we extend a welcome sinners to receive God’s love now? Or do we expect others to “measure up” first?

You might think that you are the worst of sinners. Your life perhaps has been godless, greedy, profane and blasphemous, dishonest, intoxicated again and again with drugs and alcohol, rude, self-seeking, unkind, heartless, violent or sexually immoral. The world may have tired of you, or your family may have cast you off. Whatever you are, wherever you are, listen to this word about Jesus, intended as a criticism, but gloriously true nonetheless: “This man welcomes sinners!”

Grace and peace, David

The Wise Estimator (Part One)

img_3172Luke 14:25-33

My first experience in contracting was as a “go fer”. You know, “Dave, go for this, and Dave, go for that”. In between running from construction site to construction site, I would sometimes work as a laborer. One day as I was nailing on some sheathing, the foreman came up to me and said, “Erl (the owner of the company) wants to see you in the office after work.” All that I could think of was, “I’m going to get laid off. I can tell things are slowing down, and I’m the most recent one hired.” So bracing myself with prayer, I drove to the office on Green Island Ave, in Latham, New York. “Lord, what am I going to do? You know our needs! How will I provide for Sharon and Kyle?” As I walked with trepidation into the office, expecting bad news, Erl asked in his usual straight to the point manner, “How would you like to estimate for me?” I was quick to reply, “I’d be glad to, but I don’t know anything about estimating buildings.” His simple answer was, “That’s no problem; I’ll teach you.” So began my career as a construction estimator!

Sometime later as I was reading through Luke, I “found” verses 28-30, which became my “life’s verses” as an estimator. I have had farmers tell me that they had a real-life understanding about what Jesus meant in passages like Luke 9:62. I think I have a similar appreciation for 14:28-30. I could tell you many stories about construction estimating. But the main point of this passage is not about estimating the cost of buildings or preparing proper strategy for a war. Instead, Jesus is confronting the crowds following him about the true cost of discipleship, of following Christ.

Let us not mistake what Jesus is talking about. He is talking about eternal life, for to be saved in the teaching of Jesus is to be a disciple or follower of Christ (Matthew 28:19). But in this passage the Lord Jesus is not talking about how to be saved, which is by turning from one’s sin to trust in Him, but about the character of those who truly turn from their sins to be saved by faith in Christ alone.

The Lord Jesus made solemn statement about following him. First, think about the form of this solemn statement.

  • It is a conditional statement in the general form, “If anyone does not… he/she cannot be my disciple.”
  • This conditional statement is repeated three times. When anyone repeats in this way, he is obviously and deliberately making a point. Jesus is clearly saying that some people cannot be his followers. This bothers people, and it ought to! But Jesus seeks true followers, who will receive eternal life, not false followers, to whom he will say those most terrible words, “Depart from me. I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23).

This was a shocking statement in Jesus’ time and it still is in ours. People are impressed by numbers. If the crowds are present, people think that something is successful. But one thing that you learn as you study the Bible is that the Lord is not afraid to “thin the ranks”. God is not impressed by crowds of people or by anything else he created. He wants quality before quantity. A graphic example is the size of Gideon’s army. The Lord reduced it from 32,000 to 10,000 to 300.

We must watch out for a trap of the enemy at this point. The evil one will attempt to use this to lessen our zeal and to draw us into inactivity. He will whisper, “That’s right! Just minister to the few you have. Build them into strong converts. Most large churches are terribly shallow anyway. Don’t be like them!” The trap is that the evil one wants us to think that the choice is between, on the one hand, large and zealous and, on the other, small and spiritual. But the truth is that we ought to be both zealous and spiritual and let God take care of the results.

The Lord Jesus Christ wants us to understand that no one can follow him unless he or she truly repents. A deep change of mind about God, Christ, oneself, sin, and salvation is required! Until this happens, a person cannot really follow Christ. Oh, we might be religious, attend church, read our Bibles, but have we truly become followers of Jesus Christ? Are we pursuing Him?

“Hark, Ten Thousand Harps and Voices”: (second verse)

Jesus, hail! Whose glory brightens all above and gives it worth;
Lord of life, Thy smile enlightens, cheers and charms Thy saints on earth:
When we think of love like Thine, Lord, we own it love divine.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Amen!

Do you have this view of the Lord Jesus?

Grace and peace, David