I am Weak!- A Prayer on Psalm 38.4

July 31, 2008

For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.” -Psalm 38.4

God, my sins are too heavy for me, my burden is too heavy for me. I am such a failure. I wrap myself in your word and in prayer and yet the smallest hole in my armor allows the flooding waters of sin to drown me. I can’t take one step without your presence, without your strength carrying me.

Why do I run and embrace the rotten fruit when the eternally good tree is right in front of me? I plead to you for forgiveness and can only take comfort in the fact that I know your mercy is greater than mine. If it were on my power I don’t think I could forgive someone after so much wrong against me, yet I delight in the knowledge that you will.

Protect me God. Receive my repentance and bury me in your arms. Shield me from the Devil. Turn my eyes only to you and my lips solely to your praises. Carry me, Father. I am weak!

Impressions from the Word- Jeremiah 25

July 29, 2008

Yet you have not listened to me, declares the LORD, that you might provoke me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm.” (25.7)

the responsibility of the people for what befalls them could not be any clearer. People constantly want to argue “Free Will! Free will!,” but what does that will get them? Here what we see is that God’s people, in their freedom brought wrath upon themselves! I am thankful for a God who is not interested in my works towards salvation, since if he were I’d be screwed.

Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant.” (25.9b)

Ouch! God’s servant! It is a testament to both his power and his sovereignty that God will use the wicked to enact his plan. It also speaks to our stubbornness that God would use the unbelievers to punish those who are to be called by his name. Do we see this today?

For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished?” (25.29a)

Recall Peter’s words in chapter 4, verse 17, of his first epistle. God chooses to punish (judge) his people first, that they may be purified and come to repentance. But this serves as even greater warning for the rest of the world. If he did not spare his people, nay, if he did not spare even his son (Romans 8.32), then what hope do those not called by his name have? It is this knowledge of God’s just judgment, viewed first among his people, which will condemn all unbelievers, leaving them without excuse.

And those pierced by the LORD on that day shall extend from one end of the earth to the other.” (25.33a)

What argument do Universalists have if it be the case that the Lord will “put to the sword” “the wicked” (v.31) and those pierced shall be of so great a number that they span the globe? What grounds for salvation can you base for these whom the Lord himself declares he will slay in judgment? All meaningless wishful thinking that does great violence to the glory of our Lord!

Impressions from the Word- Jeremiah 21-23

July 28, 2008

“I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath.” (21.5)

Why would God fight against his own people? So many today just take for granted that “God is on our side,” but on what grounds can we base this confidence. We see clearly here that God assists the followers of pagan gods in battle against Israel. God is not indebted to fight for us, let our immorality not drive him to war against us.

“I spoke to you in your prosperity, but you said, ‘I will not listen.’” (22.21a)

This is how it always is. If things are good then we act independently, having gained our own good fortune. Yet when we’re frustrated it must be the cause of someone else that tis happens. Why is our pride so great that we struggle to obey God when the world is in our favor? We must fight against becoming complacent or self-righteous when things are well, since when difficulties come this makes us want to blame others and miss out on God’s sanctification through fire (1 Peter 1.7).

“They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (23.17)

Can we spot the lying prophets today? They tolerate the despising of God’s Word, accept perversion or ignorance of what he has said, and redirect interpretation to avoid offense. As well they preach salvation without repentance, deliverance without regeneration. Can we see this anywhere today?

“Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD.” (23.24a)

What do I expect when I sin? Particularly when the sin is an active, conscience choice on my part. What is my goal? Why do I neglect God in such a way to seek my own wants? Do I not know he will be there after it’s done? Even more, that he is there when it’s committed, ever watching my thoughts, words and actions. What necessity do I see in sin that I feel I must do it in place of what I know God commands? Or is it that I take his forgiveness lightly, advantaging myself of the fact that Christ died for all my sin? Why do I abuse Christ so, sinning so grace will abound more. Why can’t I avoid sinning when I know all I need to do is seek his strength? “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51.3).

Can We Please God Outside of Faith?- A Look at Hebrews 11.6

July 26, 2008

Recently in the “blogosphere” I have been engaged in a lot of discussions where people have argued for the ability of man to participate in doing things which are pleasing to God while not actually being submitted in faith to Christ. This is apparently their way of trying to rectify one, why people who do “good things” can be okay even if they aren’t Christians, and second, how people who have never been presented with the Gospel can still be saved. This latter idea is so infectious that it even seems to have stricken “the great evangelist” Billy Graham (there is even more to read in the transcript). However, instead of just taking these “well-meaning” arguments at face value I think we should look at what Scripture says in Hebrews 11.6:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

The first question must be, “What is ‘faith’ ?” Look to the preceding chapter, Hebrews 10.39. The author,
writing to Christians, says, “But we are . . . of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” This discourse then continues into chapter 11 and so we must conclude that ‘faith’ here is saving faith, namely, faith which believes “God raised [Christ] from the dead” (Romans 10.9), faith which justifies (Romans 3.28), faith through which grace saves us (Ephesians 2.8). Thus, we are being told that without saving faith, and so salvation and a regenerate heart, no man may please God!

So what? Well, this means that those who would argue that people are pleasing God by their good deeds, people like Oprah or Angelina Jolie or whoever, and yet deny Christ or the necessity of believing in him, are wrong. That means that people who claim a person can be saved because they lived a life that was pleasing to god outside of faith are wrong. It is faith, and being raised to a living hope by God (1 Peter 1.3), which puts us in a position to please God and not remain as “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2.3) as we all sure are without Christ.

This is such a prominent error among people but we must stand firm that no man is able to please God apart from being reborn through faith in Christ.

A Gift or a Work?- A Question on the Genesis of a Believer’s Faith

July 25, 2008

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” -Ephesians 2.8-9

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . . For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” -Romans 3.23-24,28

It has been my experience that any good debate between a Calvinists and an Arminian will eventually reach a point at which the question of where our faith comes from is brought up. This is a common ground, as all (non-hyper) Calvinists and all (non-Pelagian) Arminians will agree that faith is a necessity of receiving salvation. However, the rub becomes, particularly for Calvinists, if our faith in necessary then where does it come from? Is it a work of ours that we must choose to exercise or is it a gift from God procured by Christ’s death on the Cross and irresistible imparted to all of the elect?

For my part I will be arguing to the later statement, that as faith is a necessity for a person to be saved, that faith is actually bought by Christ on the Cross and is gifted to all those whom are among the elect and who shall be irresistible called. In order to defend this position I will borrow from my good buddy John Owen and the wonderful argument which he sat forth in his book The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

First, we will again state that without faith it is utterly impossible that anyone should attain salvation (Hebrews 11.6, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” ; Mark 16.16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” ).

Next, we see that Jesus Christ, according to his name, achieves for those whom he died a perfect salvation (Matthew 1.21, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” ). This salvation earns for them eternal redemption (Hebrews 9.12, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” ), and saves them as they come to God through him (Hebrews 7.25, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” ).

Therefore, for these reasons, it must be that faith is among those promises which are to be found in Christ (2 Corinthians 1.20, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” ).

Impressions from the Word- Jeremiah 19 and 20

July 24, 2008

“Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind- therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.” (19.4-6)

Wow! The judgment of the Lord is strong. But it is also just. Notice how God lays out their sins before them. It is the same as Matthew 25.41-46. We are never condemned or punished without merit. We can do nothing to gain God’s favor, not because it is so unattainable, but because we are so depraved. What things would God lay out as reasons for slaughtering me? That is why I repent and pray with David, “Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities!” (Psalm 51.9).

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, behold, I am bringing upon this city and upon all its towns all the disaster that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their neck, refusing to hear my words.” (19.15)

It seems like a characteristic of all those who had the truth and yet were punished is that they refused “to hear [God's] words.” This is why the battle over the authority of Scripture is so important. Ahhhh! I just want to scream. people find so many ways to avoid submitting to God’s commands. You have to trust the Bible. I hear people declaring, “It’s all about personal spiritual experience.” Even Billy Graham! Where is this from? This has never been God’s means! We cannot bend or flux on the way God has always behaved because we’re afraid to tell Larry King that without Christ he IS going to hell! Stand firm on the truth as revealed (2 Thessalonians 2.15)! Use the Scriptures to teach, exhort, rebuke, train, and protect (2 Timothy 3.16, Titus 1.9). It is our weapon, don’t be afraid to use it (Ephesians 6.17)!

“I have become a laughingstock all the day, everyone mocks me.” (20.7b)

This is the most common persecution a Christian will face in America. People calling us fools, mocking our lifestyles and convictions. I’ve noticed myself becoming more aware and offended by this. Not just for myself but for the flippancy with which people speak of God. If they only knew.

“If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (20.9)

I am compelled to speak of you God, even when I know that ridicule is all that awaits. What you have revealed to me, the grace you have alotted me is so great that I can’t help but scream it out. God, I pray that the truth about you so fills my body that its effulgence bursts out me pores and radiates to all whom I encounter. I cannot stand to see people swimming to hell in rivers of deceit when I know the truth which has been afforded me. God, I love you. I thank you. Equip me to shout your truth in every way to everyone everywhere you take me!

“But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me.” (20.11)

I am not alone and it is no weak God who protects me. It is a dread warrior, an ultimate soldier, a terrifying fighter who provides my security. It is the same warrior who will slay all evil at the returning (Revelation 19). Why should I be afraid? Who can stand against my God?

Christ’s Purpose in Coming and Coming Again- A Look at Hebrews 9.28

July 22, 2008

“So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9.28 )

Why did Jesus come to Earth? Where is he now? Is he coming back? These are some of the biggest questions which people through all ranges of Christianity ask. They want to understand, need to understand, who Jesus is and what he’s done and plans to do. Of course, it would be arrogant (and dangerous) to say that any one verse explains all of this to us, but in my readings I have come across a passage which I think says a lot to us on this issue, especially in light of some of the current popular Christologies in our culture.

The whole of Hebrews 9 is an amazing chapter and is a very keen place which I would direct people to who want to understand better what the Old Testament sacrificial system was about and how it pertains to Christ’s workings on the Cross. However, the very last verse of that chapter is what I want to key on, verse 28. I believe that in this verse God is revealing to us through his inspired word a clear (though by no means comprehensive) picture of what Christ did and what he still intends to do.

“Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many.” Who “offered” him? He offered himself (vv.14,25-26)! And how does Christ’s offering of himself correspond with Isaiah 53.10 (“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.“)? So, it was Christ offering himself and the Father executing the sacrifice!

Then did God send Christ specifically to die? Many people today will say that Christ came as our example to show us how to live and that that was his sole purpose in being brought to earth; that the Cross was an example of submission but was unnecessary for God to use in the forgiveness of sins. Yet what does it say: “will appear a second time, not to deal with sin . . . “ So if in the second appearance it is emphasized that he won’t be coming to deal with sin, it would seem logical to deduce that the emphasis of his first coming, the incarnation, was in order to deal with sin. And where do we see sin being dealt with? On the Cross (Isaiah 53.5, Romans 4.25, Colossians 2.13-14, 1 Peter 3.18)!

But what about the second coming: “[Christ] will appear a second time . . . to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” Thus when Christ returns it will be in glory to claim what is his and to save them from this dying world and to make them glorified with him forever in the New Jerusalem where God’s presence will forever dwell (Revelation 19-22).

This is great news! Christ came to deal with sin and will be coming again to gather those that belong to him for eternal fellowship with the one true God at the end of time! Amazing! Thank you!

Impressions from the Word- Jeremiah 17 and 18

July 20, 2008

“Thus says the LORD:’Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD.’” (17.5)

So many thoughts: Those who say “I believe in the goodness of people to do XYZ”; those who look for political power to change the world; myself in anxiety over various concerns in my life. It is so hard not to turn in on ourselves for strength, yet God is so clear that we must avoid it. Curious to think what this means for those that believe they choose God and that their actions guarantee their salvation?

“He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (17.8 )

Clearly my blessings are not on account of anything earthly. For even if the whole world is against me I shall not be withered. If I trust in the Lord then I may continue to do great things in his name, regardless of the world around me.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” (17.9a)

This is always the first thing we deny. When our trust turns to human strength our first flaw lies in the fact that we consider man to be capable of anything. But he’s not. He’s sick and desperately in need of a physician.

“Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.” (17.14)

What is healing or salvation that is ineffectual? But God is always effectual. He heals, he saves, he changes. Permanently. Our inheritance is protected forever by his strength (1 Peter 1.5). “And I shall never, be the same again!”

“If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.” (18.7-10)

God is sovereign over the rise and fall of nations. However he makes it clear that it is the nations responsibility to be sanctified and observe his commands. If we continue to deny him how can we keep expecting protection and blessing?

“But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’” (18.12)

This is so true of all of us. When I sin against the clear direction of the Spirit to do otherwise then I am tacitly assenting to this declaration. I act as if I think God’s punishment is an idle threat, that he will simply forgive me afterwards (or that it is okay since it’s already forgiven). Yet God desires obedience and I know his threat of judgment is real. I need his power to avoid responding in this way.

“I will show them my back, not my face, in the day of their calamity.” (18.17b)

Again, a statement we must long not to hear. We always assume that “God is on our side,” but we never stop to think that he may turn his face away from us!

Impressions from the Word- Jeremiah 15 and 16

July 19, 2008

“Send them out of my sight, and let them go!” (15.1b)

God will not always dwell with us if we continue to disobey. This is the danger both corporately and individually. This is why we shouldn’t continue in sin so grace should abound (Romans 6.1). I know that this fear long tormented my soul. We must understand this so we don’t continue to live in the arrogance of our sins, assuming God won’t afflict us.

“I am weary of relenting.” (15.6b)

Wow! I hope to never hear this!

“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” (15.16)

I hope everyday to be able to receive and internalize God’s Word to have faith in what I’ve heard through it, and delight in all that’s been revealed. Let me never have a heart which rejects your word, no matter how hard, but help me always stand on the sufficiency of your voice.

“And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the LORD.” (15.20)

Fed on God’s Word I will be made to stand firm for his purpose on earth. God will protect me. Though the world may hate me God will deliver me. All I need do is stay faithful to his word. This must be the passion and desire of my heart everyday, stepping out in courage that in the end God may make me more than a conquerer (Romans 8.37).

“And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the LORD pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the LORD our God?’ 11then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the LORD, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me.” (16.10-12)

God’s decree and reasoning are clear. We are not stricken without course. How arrogant is it to have his warning before us and not care. There must be change in the land. People must fall to their knees before God, starting with myself, before God brings us to our knees through suffering and loss. We must be about making God’s name known and working so that his Spirit may be unleashed on the nations through us. I pray that God may use me to start reform in the church. Show me God what needs cleansed so that you can use me in such a manner. Break me so that I may be used to break others!

“Can man make for himself gods? Such are not gods!” (16.20)

We cannot make gods, through we try. All that ever comes out are vein worthless idols. Help me not to make idols.

” . . . and they shall know that my name is the LORD.” (16.21b)

God won’t leave any stone unturned. Everyone shall know that he is Lord. That he alone has authority. The attitude today is for none to have authority, but thankfully one day God will make it known to all that he has always ruled. How much better it will be on that day if we were to recognize his Lordship beforehand.

Be Killing Sin Always!- John Owen on Mortifying Sins

July 18, 2008

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” -Romans 8.13

If you have been reading my recent posts on Jeremiah and others you may have noticed occasional references to John Owen and the idea of “mortifying sins.” These thoughts have been coming out of an amazing book I read recently by Owen titled Of the Mortification of Sins in Believers. The words in this treatise really cut to the center of my idea of how a Christian should view the handling of their own forgiven sins. The phrases and ideas, which came from the mid-17th century, were incredibly pertinent to me here in the early 21st century. It truly is a wonder how God-filled works have this ability!

Because of the effect this book has had on me I would first like to recommend it to you guys and then lay out some quotes which I found particularly strong. The book, which is available in various forms, I would like to recommend as a part of the volume Overcoming Sin & Temptation, which contains two other Owen works on sin as well, and was compiled and notated by Justin Taylor and Kelly M. Kapic a few years back. Many people will complain about the difficulty of Owen’s writings, but if you are ever to read him, this volume would certainly be the best place for you to go. The editors did an excellent job of smoothing language and providing helpful footnotes to ease the reader through various rough spots.

Now, onto some quotes:

Unless a man be a believer- that is, one that is truly ingrafted into Christ- he can never mortify any one sin.

This is very challenging. So frequently we see our friends in need of help with some sort of addiction or harmful lifestyle choices and we want to help. However, the truth of the matter is that unless that person is a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ they stand no chance of ever truly killing off that sin.

There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.

This is so easy to forget and so often denied these days, but is there any honest argument which shows it to not be true? Of course not. Thus, we must be convinced and humbled by this amazing reality.

Do you think he will ease you of that which perplexes you, that you may be at liberty to that which no less grieves him? No. God says, ‘Here is one, if he could be rid of this lust I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this or he is lost.’

The fact that God sometimes leaves difficult sins with us in order to further our sanctification and obedience to him cannot be denied. There are many smaller sins which I have noticed as a result of the battle I have fought with the larger ones, that I probably would have just glossed over otherwise.

Such a man as opposes nothing to the seduction of sin and lust in his heart but fear of shame among men or hell from God, is sufficiently resolved to do the sin if there were no punishment attending it.

Ooo, this hurts! What is my motivation to avoid a sin? Is it my desire to be obedient to God or is it my desire to avoid the adverse consequences of my actions? This seems such an easy answer, but in practice it is so hard. I have to be focused always on maintaining the right motivation in my adherence to God’s commandments.

“Lust is such an inmate as, if it can plead time and some prescription, will not easily be ejected. As it never dies of itself, so if it be not daily killed it will always gather strength.

This gets to the heart of the issue. If there is a sin which I still struggle with, I must be in the habit of daily killing it because otherwise it won’t just go away but will only grow stronger with each moment spent ignoring it. When the first inkling comes to sin I must be prepared to kill it or else soon my flesh will grow weary of fighting the temptation and would rather give in than be obedient. Be killing sin or else it will be killing me!