The Struggles of the Believer (Part Nine)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17 NIV)

Think with me about a couple of situations that followers of Christ fall into. Just to make it sound more personal, I’ll use first names, but I assure you that these names refer to no specific individuals.

Tim led a very wild life. He was notorious for swearing and drunkenness. He used to mock Christians. He first heard the gospel from someone at work when about thirty-five years old. After two years of friendship and faithful witness from this friend, by grace he believed in the Lord Jesus and was saved. For the first couple months after his salvation, he rejoiced. But recently he has begun to struggle with doubts about whether he is really saved. He is glad that his drunken behavior is behind him and feels good about being forgiven for that. However, he often asks himself, “How could God forgive someone who as swore I did? The way I used to misuse the Lord’s name makes tremble! I try to take part in the Lord’s Supper but I remember those horrible words I said. God could never love someone who said those things about him.”

Melinda was brought up in a “good Christian home”. She trusted in Christ when she was nine during Sunday School. During her teen years, she had a vibrant testimony. She attended a Christian college and became romantically involved with a young man she later married. But prior to marriage, their relationship became sexual. She asked God to forgive her, but now ten years later, she still feels guilty. Her guilt feelings hinder her present physical relationship with her husband. To make matters worse, she often finds herself fantasizing about another man at the office where she works. She wonders, “Can I be a Christian? Will God forgive my sin? How can a person like me serve the Lord. I want to live for the Lord, but there is the problem I have with ‘this one sin’.”

Both of these people have a problem with regret—the regret about “that one sin”. There are many sins that could be mentioned, perhaps some if mentioned would make some feel rather disgusted. You might wonder if such a person has ever believed in the Lord. But when you ask them to explain the gospel, they give all the right answers!  They will testify that they have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. But they are never really happy, though they try to appear that way. They always analyze, scrutinize and then condemn themselves because of “that one sin”. Regardless of how much some may want to think that Christians can’t have problems like this and should just “be happy because they made a decision” and “praise God anyhow”, it is a serious spiritual problem. Examining the struggles of the true believer with regret about sin will help all of us understand the gospel better, and hopefully, help anyone who “just might” be struggling in this area.

What is the real trouble of those who struggle about “that one sin”? Though every sin is serious, their problem is not simply caused by “that one sin”. Let us examine five causes, and in doing so, arrive at a remedy for those who struggle in this way.

Grace and peace, David

The Struggles of the Believer (Part Eight)

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 third support is the witness of the Spirit. The one who keeps his commands remains in him, and he in him. And the way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit he has given us (1 John 3:24 CSB). This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit (1 John 4:13 CSB). It is clear that the Spirit is the way of knowledge, and that his presence with the believer is convincing testimony that we are sons and daughters of God.

But there is more. We mean the direct testimony of the Holy Spirit to the inner person of the heart. He tells us that we are sons of God. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:14-16 NIV). Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6 NIV) The Spirit himself testifies to the inner person of the believer.

“This is something subjective, something which essentially belongs to the realm of feeling and subjectivity, and the emotions. It is something within us at a deeper level than the level of the intellect… In other words this does not result from certain actions on our part; it is the Spirit that produces it in us. It is not something of which you persuade yourself” (Lloyd-Jones, The Sons of God, p. 235). The Spirit produces a sense or consciousness of assurance, and not merely a belief in a fact.

Think of this illustration to make this clear. “You do not persuade yourself that you are in love; at least, if you do, or have to do, you are not in love!” (Lloyd-Jones) It is something that you just know and feel in your heart.

The person who has the witness of the Spirit is certainly orthodox and God-fearing. The adopted son of God with assurance loses none of his or her reverence for God. In fact, the reverence will increase! But there is an experience of love and delight in the heart that the assured saint alone can sense.

For example, you may listen to a message and say, “That was a nice sermon, good content and illustrations, etc.” You know what we all (preachers included) think and say! But it is far different when the Holy Spirit “catches you” with the truth and lifts you up with the wings of a mighty eagle. Then you know in the inner person of your heart that your soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken (Psalm 62:1-2 NIV). Do you know this? Are you enjoying this facet of blessed assurance?

The existence of his precious fruit in us (Galatians 5:22-23; John 7:37-39). Everyone who follows Christ as Lord and Savior has received the Holy Spirit. If you don’t have the Spirit, you do not belong to Christ (cf. Romans 8:9-13).

At this point, it is common to focus on outward actions of godliness. They are important. But is there are heart for God? In your inner attitudes, do you desire the ways of godliness. Do you long for the fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) that the Spirit produces. One of chief signs of a confident saint with full assurance is joy! This is something that cannot be manufactured by the saint. You may sing about it, but only the Holy Spirit can give it (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Only he can make, as in the words of an old hymn,  “floods of joy o’er my soul, like the sea billows roll”. If you grieve or quench the Spirit, do not be surprised when you feel bitter while others rejoice. This is the joy of being able to say “I have heard and continue to hear his vows of covenant love to me. He tells me that I am part of his family; indeed, that I am one of his adult sons and heirs!” This is one reason for you to understand the new covenant teaching of adoption.

Each of these supports or bases or foundations of assurance is important to a full assurance of faith. It is a serious mistake to think that you can have errors or failings in regard to one or two of the pillars and still make proper spiritual progress. Today is the time to start repairing the foundational supports of your assurance.

But perhaps you have come to read this blog without repentance and faith. God has brought you here to hear his word. Now, respond wisely and turn from your life of rebellion against him and rely on the Lord Jesus Christ alone as your way to be accepted by God and to enjoy eternal life with him forever. God is able to save you today. Call on him while he is near!

Grace and peace, David

Serving Christ in the Hard Places

Matthew 25:31-40

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or without clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit you?’ “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:37-40 CSB).

God’s people can be found in hard situations. The Lord Jesus mentions some of these. His brothers and sisters can be hungry, thirsty, alienated, lacking adequate clothing, ill, and imprisoned. The life of faith does not equal a life of ease. We thank our God and Father for every provision that comes to us by his mercy. But there are often times when we must walk before him and feel some of the anguish of now living in a world cursed because of human sin. And we must walk with others in their difficult circumstances. God leads his people through places and times that are unpleasant. Some of these are due to their sins, while others come upon them because of the sins of others, or simply because we must live in a world that waits for the revealing of the sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:18-21). Regardless of the reason, Christ’s people must be ready to serve him in these hard places.

One of our friends was in prison. After the usual time of adjustment required by the officials, we could visit him. But he first had to put us on his list of ten visitors, and then we had to receive clearance before we were able to visit. Yes, he could only have ten people visit him, and the other eight on his list were family members, some of whom lived far away. We were glad to visit him month after month to encourage him.

However, what of the other brothers and sisters in Christ who loved and cared for our friend? They could not visit him. What could they do? Yesterday, our friend, now out of prison, visited us. He brought with him a box filled with cards and letters that he had received while in prison. Some were written by Sharon, who is a much better letter writer than I am. But in the box were many notes written by friends at our church and by our friends from around the country. We rejoiced greatly to see how many brothers and sisters in the Lord had written to him during those trying and lonely years. They couldn’t visit, but they did what they could (cf. Mark 14:8).

The believers in Philippi helped Paul in a similar way when he was in prison. They couldn’t go, but they could and did send one of their number to help Paul. Consider the joy and appreciation in Paul’s thanks to them. Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God (Philippians 4:14-18 ESV).

When our brothers and sisters in Christ are in need, we ought to be alert and concerned about the hard place they are in. A long illness is complicated by loneliness and weakness that affect the person’s spirit. Some people simply need friends, because their family has cast them off. Others need physical and financial help, for food, clothing, transportation, and shelter. Some struggle with repairs needed on their car or house. Often people won’t make their needs known, and they suffer in silence and struggle spiritually. This is why we must share our lives with each other. We must draw near to others and allow others to get close to us (this is a two-way street!), so that we will be ready to help, strengthen, and encourage one another.

Our dear friends did this for our dear friend, while he was imprisoned. Again, how we rejoiced to see all those cards and letters! Now, let us look for ways to help others, because when we serve those in need, we are serving the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

Showdown on Carmel (Part Three)

1 Kings 18:25-40

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be knowntoday that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (1 Kings 18:36-37 NIV).

Next we read Elijah’s prayer for fire from heaven. Too often we assume that prayer for “big things” must be spectacular. And we suppose that if we can add a lot of religious or spiritual stuff to our prayer, we have a better chance of getting what we want from God. Any pastor can tell you that people come to him asking for him to prayer, because they presume that the prayers of a “holy man” are more powerful than those of average Christians. Elijah’s short prayer ought to end those wrong ideas. We should also learn that superstition overflows with ceremonies; faith uses the means of prayer.

First, think about the way Elijah addressed God. He spoke to God as the covenant Lord of his people, Israel.  He was saying, “Lord, you are faithful to your covenant. Remind these people of your faithfulness.” We are able to plead a better and eternal covenant in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20). He prayed plainly, directly and reverently, yet with emotion. There is nothing wrong with emotion, provided it is in response to the truth. The elder, To the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth—because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever… (2 John 1:1-2 NIV). It was only a short prayer, especially as compared to the prayers of Baal’s prophets. Their ritual was six hours long; Elijah’s prayer was less than a minute. The length of a prayer is unimportant, provided that its duration is not done to be seen of people. God is most concerned about the content, your attitude, and your faith. The length of a prayer is a secondary matter.

Second, listen to his requests. Elijah asked for the glory of God, that the Lord would clearly demonstrate that he is God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6 NIV, my emphasis). He prayed for the vindication of the word. He wanted the Lord to testify that Elijah was his prophet and that his actions were in conformity with God’s word to him. This was not self-centered, but a matter of the truth of God’s word. He asked for a work of grace. He cared about his people. He longed that the Lord would turn the hearts of the people back to God. Conversion (repentance and faith) begins with God’s supernatural act of the new birth from above. This was a God-centered prayer. This is the crucial concept. Are we seeking first the honor of God? Our foremost concern should not be for the prosperity of our church or our lives, but for the honor of the Lord (John 8:50; 12:28; 14:13;15:8; 17:4).

Third, we see God’s answer (18:38-40). The fire had a supernatural character. An ordinary fire simply doesn’t produce such an effect. I had many fires in my fireplace, and the bricks easily outlasted every fire! It was also a controlled fire, because it did not harm any of the people, even Ahab and his pagan prophets.

The people outwardly acknowledged the supremacy of the living God. The indisputable happening constrained the people to worship the Lord. How many of them were truly converted is not stated in this passage. An outward confession is no proof of grace; they could have just been overwhelmed by what occurred (cf. Mark 5:16-17; John 6). A miracle alone cannot change a heart. Ahab saw the fire fall, yet he did not repent. Consider the unbelief at the raising of Lazarus (John 11:47-48). We need to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who alone produces regenerate hearts, instead of praying for  miracles or judgments.

The end was the execution of the false prophets. Elijah had a firm Biblical warrant for this action (Deuteronomy 13). The law or old covenant was a ministry of death (2 Corinthians 3).

What are some lessons we should learn?

  • Let every Christian be encouraged to put their trust in God and to go forth in his strength to live for him in this ungodly age.
  • Let us not underestimate the power of faith in the Sovereign Lord. Nothing is too hard for him! Therefore, we ought to believe and pray.
  • Let everyone fear the living God who has such power. Hear the words of Jesus. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him (Luke 12:4-5 NIV).
  • Let everyone find acceptance with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

Showdown on Carmel (Part Two)

1 Kings 18:25-40

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord (1 Kings 18:30-32a ESV).

Elijah led the return to the worship of the true and living God. This was a much bigger and better goal than simply proving that he was the Lord’s prophet. It is too easy for humans to have desires for personal vindication. At this moment, he was spiritually on course. Elijah was motivated by the desire to see God exalted.

Elijah prepared the means of worship. We need to remember the time in which Elijah lived. It was the time of the law or old covenant. Israel was the people of God, if they obeyed the Lord (Exodus 19:1-6; etc.) Worship and fellowship with the Almighty, Holy God was only possible through the offering of an animal sacrifice presented in the proper way. As God’s prophet (cf. similar acts by Samuel), Elijah could do this on special occasions, though only the priests could minister at the altar in Jerusalem. The Lord graciously called his people back into covenant fellowship with the enemies of God and his people watching. Churches do not hesitate to have new covenant practices (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) on display before unbelievers. In fact, such times have often been the occasion for unbelievers to turn to the Lord Jesus and be saved.

Elijah did everything very openly so that no one could accuse him of trickery. He called the people near. Truth does not fear investigation. He thoroughly doused the altar, wood and sacrifice with water. (Certainly, the people would have come with much water to drink.) It seems like Elijah was trying to make it “harder” for the Lord. There was no possibility of a spark on that altar.

He acted to show the people that the Lord was still their God (18:30-31). It was kind of a covenant renewal service. Remember what Moses did when the law covenant was given. And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early the next morning and set up an altar and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel at the base of the mountain (Exodus 24:4 CSB). The people had broken the covenant by following other gods, but God is rich in mercy. He welcomes back those who return to him in faith. Elijah proclaimed by this action that there was hope for the people. They still could rightly be called Israel. God had named the people, and so they could rebuild an altar in his name. Worship could be restored.

Too often when we read the Scriptures, we can skip over what is important. We need to slow down, reread, and think. Notice how the writer described Israel: to whom the word of the Lord came. Having the word of the living God was preeminent among Israel’s privileges. What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God (Romans 3:1-2 NIV). In the Holy Writings given to the Jews, we have the words of the God who speaks! A core problem of Israel in Elijah’s time was their failure to hear and to obey God’s word. For three years there had been no rain, in fulfillment of a covenant threat (Deuteronomy 28:22-24). But the writer reminds us that God’s people have his word and can and ought to return to the Lord.

What of us? Do we value God’s word? Do we read it daily? To we by faith listen to its message? May God give us grace to treasure God’s word in our hearts!

Grace and peace, David

Showdown on Carmel (Part One)

1 Kings 18:25-40

At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27 NIV).

The scene before us in this text is one of the most dramatic and moving in the Scriptures. Picture what happened in your imaginations. Four hundred fifty richly robed prophets of Baal versus one simply and sternly clothed prophet of the Lord. And there sits the powerful king of Israel, Ahab, who is surrounded by his court and people. The crowd anxiously waits to see who will win this contest.

What we have here is a tremendous act of mercy on the part of the Lord. To think that he, the Creator and Preserver of all things, would stoop to allow himself to be so tested! Yet he did this for the benefit of those people, and for us as well. Come, let us worship the Lord who displayed his glory at the showdown on Carmel.

The contest opens with exposure of the false gods. After the terms of the contest were accepted, Elijah allowed them to go first. What happened next was a worthless effort by the pagan priests.

The writer described them in two ways. First, they had a unity of purpose. Unity can be used by evil as much as division. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (cf. Acts 19:34) The majority was in full agreement among themselves, but the majority was wrong. Second, they were sincerely and seriously devoted to their god. They called on Baal, they shouted, they danced, they slashed themselves, they frantically prophesied. What zeal; what ignorance! For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge (Romans 10:2 NIV).

In spite of their efforts, they failed. Sincerity and seriousness of purpose is no evidence of truth. You can seriously and sincerely take medication, but if it is useless as a remedy for your illness, your seriousness and sincerity do nothing to help you. They might even harm you. Ritual involvement and emotional displays lack value before the Lord. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV; cf. Matthew 15:8). Many in our day place a high value on grand displays of ritual or exciting entertainment in religion. The prophets of Baal will always offer such flesh-pleasing diversions. You should ask instead, “Is the grace of God in the gospel of Christ being preached in truth?”

They received a stinging rebuke by Elijah. He used sarcasm to help expose the ridiculous nature  of their false religion.   Sarcasm is a dangerous verbal weapon and should be used only with great caution. But there are times that it must be used to expose error and to convince people of their sin in pursuing a lie. His mockery of Baal’s priests represented the Lord’s attitude toward false religion. The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them (Psalm 2:4 NIV; cf. Proverbs 1:22-27).

Why did the false prophets and priests fail? They did not serve the only one true and living God (Psalm 115:1-8). There is no reason to fear false gods. Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good (Jeremiah 10:5 NIV).

Is your trust in the living, sovereign God?

Grace and peace, David

Wavering Between Two Opinions (Part Three)

1 Kings 18:16-24

Next, let’s consider the object of the contest between the Lord’s prophet, Elijah, and the false prophets encouraged by Ahab and Jezebel. This is an unpopular topic in this day of the “intolerance of tolerance” (D.A. Carson). Political correctness in North America and Europe has reduced the level of communicating ideas to the level of complete silliness. If you say anything that disagrees with the opinions of the self-appointed intellectuals and pop celebrities, you are branded a bigot, intolerant, or worse and then roasted alive in social media. A truly open-minded person is willing to join in a discussion and to listen and to talk without inflammatory words.

Elijah acted in order that the reality of the worship of the Lord would be clear. True Christians are against violence and trying to coerce people to believe. We think that all people are free moral agents and must grasp the superiority of Jesus Christ and the gospel, if they are to follow him. No one can follow the Lord, unless they are convinced in their minds to follow him. Having said that, we also state that the worship of the living God is just not another religion to be tolerated. It is the right one. All others are wrong.

Someone might ask, “Isn’t that being rather narrow-minded?” Let’s use an illustration. If we had a table before us with 20 glasses on it, one filled with pure water and 19 with deadly poison, would it be narrow-minded to drink only the one filled pure water? If God’s word is truth, then all other religions are deadly error. Should Christians then work for the suppression of other religions? Israel was so ordered in the old covenant (Deuteronomy 13). No, because we live under a different covenant, which is not a ministry of death, but of life (2 Corinthians 3). The new covenant way is to avoid false teachers (2 John).

During the old covenant, God demonstrated his ability to effectively deal with sin. He operates in space and time. He reserves to himself the right to tell us how to interact with people who oppose him and truth. We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5).

In our time, we are in the midst of a great struggle within professing Christianity. Here are a few examples.

  • Is the object of religion to love God or oneself?
  • Is the Bible the word of God or a mixture of truth and error?
  • Can we even say that there is any such thing as absolute truth?
  • Is there eternal punishment for the unsaved or merely annihilation or even universal salvation?
  • Is a Christian someone who merely assents to the “Apostles’ Creed” or one who trusts in Jesus Christ alone in order to be right with God?
  • Is there any value in or purpose for being heavenly-minded?
  • Was Christ’s death and resurrection necessary to save us, or were they only moral examples?
  • Does God really care about sexual immorality?

Elijah acted in order that the people would serve God only. His demand was based upon a basic principle of the old covenant: “if… then follow…” (1 Kings 18:24). The law covenant prohibited the worship of any other gods and the making of idols and images (Deuteronomy 5:1-10). Once you know what is right, you must live in conformity with the truth. Jesus taught this same truth: no person can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). You must be for the Lord and live for him, or be for a false god and live for him.

What should we learn from this uncomfortable incident?

  • It is not enough to be brought up in a Christian home, and just to drift along with the tide when out in the world. You yourself must know Christ by faith and decidedly live for him.
  • It is insufficient to have an orthodox creed and to live a wicked life (Titus 1:16). True faith produces godliness.
  • It is not acceptable to be a Christian on Sunday, and yet fail to confess the Lord Jesus Christ during the week (Matthew 10:32-33).
  • Don’t waver between two opinions. Worship the living God and live for him!

Grace and peace, David