Sunday, December 31, 2017

GOOD WORKS


GOOD WORKS
(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 16)
(Excerpted from my eBook Holding Fast Our Confession)

Introduction

One of the major stumbling blocks, (humanly speaking), preventing non-Christians from repenting and believing in the Gospel lies in the idea of good works. It’s widely taught among non-Christians that man is inherently good. And so it is believed that if man is good at heart, then he is able to do good works. And so it is widely believed that “good-hearted” people are able to produce good works.

But, the question we are seeking to answer in the following is this: How are we to define good works? What makes a work that we do a good work? Who gets to decide a good work from a bad work? Well, in the following we are talking about good works as they are defined by God in His Word.

This is important because, for instance, some people think that legalized abortion is a good thing. Some people think that legalized homosexuality is a good thing. Some folk think that abstaining from meat on Friday is a good thing. Some think that rattling off Hail Mary’s on a set of rosary beads is a good thing. Therefore we need to define good works in terms of what the Bible says.

Good Works Reviewed

Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” So we see then, that God has shown man what is good. He wants man to be just in all his dealings with others. And He wants man to be merciful in all his undertakings. And He wants man to humble himself before God.

Jesus calls these three things the “weightier matters of the law.” For He says in Matthew 23:23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”

So we see that Jesus is saying (along with His Spirit-inspired Prophet Micah) that the Law of God defines for us what are good works. For doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God in Micah, is the same as the justice, mercy, and faith that Jesus speaks of. But notice that though Jesus regards these scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites, He does acknowledge that they have at least been doing some good. Notice that the scribes and the Pharisees have been scrupulously paying their tithes. “These you ought to have done,” says Jesus, “without leaving the others undone.”

So, there’s no dispute, even non-Christians are able to do certain outward good works. But, keep in mind that only those things that God in His Word has revealed as good works are good works.

Now, Jesus said the following to the scribes and Pharisees as recorded in Matthew 15:7-9, “Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” We see that drawing near to God, honouring God, and worshipping God, may be defined as good works because they are according to the commandments of God. And we see that there is something else that poses as good works, but, is according to the commandments of men, such as the scribes and Pharisees. Therefore, what might seem like a good work according to man might not necessarily be a good work according to God.

To illustrate this further, consider, for instance, the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector in Luke 18. The Pharisee said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess” Luke 18:11&12. To be sure, we see here the Pharisee boast of his own self-righteousness. He is the cockerel strutting around the farmyard crowing away. He is the peacock showing off his tail feathers. However, there’s no reason given that we should doubt that he was not – in the broad sense of the words – an extortioner, or unjust, or an adulterer.

So again, we must concede that even this Pharisee, of all people, was able to do some outward good works. But the problem lies with his heart – the very core of his being. This Pharisee was certainly not walking humbly before God as Micah says he ought. Rather he was exalting or puffing up himself before God. He was like one of those wee fish that you catch off the pier at Hervey Bay in Queensland. It bites your yabby on the hook and when you reel it up it puffs itself up like a balloon! That’s what the scribes and the Pharisees were like – they puffed themselves up. They puffed themselves up with their own version of good works.

The Pharisee was thinking that the good works he was doing were pleasing to God. He thought that what he was doing was what God was after. He thought he was without sin before God. The Pharisee was exalting himself. He was most unlike the tax collector he had sinned against by slandering him. That tax collector’s prayer was, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” He was humbling himself.

So we see then that good works can be done only by those who have a right heart attitude – like the tax collector. If you don’t have a right heart attitude toward God all your works are as filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6). But only God can give a person the heart attitude that is needed to do good works as they are laid out in Scripture.

That is exactly what God promises to do for His elect: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” Ezekiel 36:26&27. This new heart and new spirit is simply a soft heart and a humble spirit. Therefore only those who have been given a new heart and a new spirit by God can truly do good works according to God’s definition of good works.

These good works are summarized in the Ten Commandments, which is a summary of God’s Moral Law. The Moral law is summarized again in the words: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength ... you shall love your neighbour as yourself” Mark 12:30&31.

Having reviewed what good works are according to the Bible, let’s look at some aberrations of good works, i.e., good works according to the commandments of men.

Good Works Reversed

There are some folk in the church even today who, like the Pharisee in the Parable, turn Biblical good works into sin. They make the good works as described in the Bible to be the exact reverse of what they really are. For there are people in the churches today who, like that Pharisee in the parable, believe they are without sin, i.e., sinless. They believe that every work they do is a good work. We call them “Sinless Perfectionists.” These belong to the “Holiness Movement.” They are the “Higher Life,” “Second Blessing” people.

Though this kind of teaching is in the Protestant Church, it comes from Rome, i.e., from the Romish Church. Here’s how: the Church of Rome believes in works of supererogation. The word supererogation means “more than is demanded.” Rome believes that some people are able to do more than God demands in His Word.

If you think back to the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector you’ll see that that Pharisee believed in this doctrine too. Keep in mind that he thought he was not like other men, i.e., sinners. He believed he was without sin. And he says, “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” God’s Law, for example, says in Leviticus 16:29 & 31 that a man should fast once a year on a certain month. But this man fasted twice a week. In this he was doing way more than was demanded by God in His Law!

GI Williamson comments on the Roman Catholic doctrine of works of supererogation,

This teaching is that sinful men, having received divine grace, are capable of doing, not merely all their duty, but more besides. The Baltimore Catechism (Art 1125) speaks of the “superabundant satisfaction of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the saints.” This “superabundant satisfaction” is defined as “that which they gained during their lifetime but did not need, and which the Church applies to their fellow-members of the communion of the saints.” It is this superabundance of works of merit which fills the “treasury of merits,” from which the less fortunate may draw. (The Westminster Confession of Faith For Study Classes, p. 122).

Have you got that? Rome believes that some people are so sinless to start with, that any works they do can be stored up as credit points for others. It’s kind of like getting “Fly Buy” points every time you use your credit card; with the added bonus that your credit points may be shared with others!

It was this false teaching about “works of merit” that led to the Reformation of the Lord’s Church at the time of Martin Luther. For the “indulgences” that Luther so intensely disliked was the Church at the time dipping into the so-called “treasury of merits” to bestow credit upon people stuck in (fictitious) Purgatory!

But you wouldn’t have a “treasury of merits” if you properly understood that no one apart from Christ is without sin! “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23. “For we all stumble in many things” James 3:2. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” 1 John 1:8-10.

So, even to this day men are deluding themselves into thinking that there are some people who are able to perfectly keep God’s perfect commandments this side of glory. But we must always remember that we still have the residue of sin within us – even after receiving divine grace. It’s as Paul says to the Philippians, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected…” Philippians 3:12a.

But God has revealed to us in His Word what good works are. Good works are only such as God has commanded, nothing more, and nothing less. There is no store of surplus merit from which men, such as the Pope of Rome, may draw and bestow upon weak believers to make up for their deficiencies. This is a complete misunderstanding of the merits of Christ in the Gospel.

It’s Christ’s righteousness that God by His grace bestows on His elect as part of the free gift of salvation. His death on the cross paid the price we owe for our filthy rags, otherwise known as sins. Included in the filthy rags are man’s good works, some of which have already been mentioned. But, if anyone is saved, he is saved by the good works of Jesus Christ alone, and not by any saint living or dead.

It is Almighty God alone who bestows Christ’s merits upon whomever He has chosen in eternity past for salvation. Therefore we need to watch out for aberrations of the Biblical doctrine of good works. We mustn’t reverse the doctrine of goods works as laid out in the Bible. We mustn’t put the cart before the horse. It’s salvation first, good works second, not the other way around. And even after salvation our good works are still tainted by sin, as pure water is tainted when passed through a dirty pipe.

I fear that the only thing some people are storing up is the wrath of God against all ungodliness! We need to hold fast to the Biblical teaching that salvation is by grace alone – not good works. Good works come after we have been saved and not a moment before. Like streams of living water good works spring from those who have been regenerated and therefore have been declared righteous by God’s grace alone.

We are saved unto good works, not because of our good works. Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Therefore Biblical good works done in obedience to God’s commandments are the fruits and evidence of a true and living faith.

As the writer to the Hebrews says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him” Hebrews 11:6a. Therefore you need the free gift of saving faith before you can produce good works. It’s as Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” John 15:5.

Without Christ indwelling us by His Spirit we can do no good works (at least as God defines good works). But those who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit are now able to do true good works. And the added blessing is that God is pleased to reward these good works done in the Spirit!

Good Works Rewarded

Jesus says in His Sermon on the Mount, “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” Matthew 6:16-18.

So we see in these verses that God rewards good works done in the right spirit. Therefore only those who have had their heart and spirit renewed by God are able to do good works that will be rewarded by God.

Man-centred good works bring only man-centred rewards. But God-centred good works bring rewards from God. But the point is, that without Christ, i.e., without His Spirit working in you and through you, you are not able to do any good works in God’s eyes. Therefore it is Christ in you who is doing the good works through you.

Therefore the rewards you receive for your good works belong to Jesus Christ. This is one of the ways in which Jesus shares His blessings with you. In other words, it’s Christ’s obedience that God is blessing or rewarding. Christ is working that obedience through those whom He savingly indwells by His Spirit. Therefore our good works done in Christ are the fruit and evidence that His Spirit indwells us. Thus it is the Spirit who works the good works through the person He has regenerated.

Good works come, e.g., in the form of expressions of thankfulness or gratitude to God. Non-Christians think that they will be saved if they try to keep God’s Law. But Christians try to keep His Commandments out of gratitude to God for already having saved them. And as they find themselves more and more keeping God’s Laws as the Spirit of Christ enables them, they become more assured of their salvation. And as you become assured of your salvation you begin to experience the peace that transcends all understanding.

This peace is an inner peace that comes from knowing that it is well with your soul. This is one of the rewards God supplies to those who stir up themselves to avail themselves of the means of grace God has supplied for the building up of faith.

If any Christian neglects prayer, the study of God’s Word, and the Sacraments he will be unsure of his own salvation – at least he ought to be! Again, God rewards those who diligently seek Him. And those who diligently seek God are an encouragement to their fellow believers. For just as those who knew Paul the Apostle before his conversion were built up in the faith through watching him after his conversion, so Christians who grow in grace build up other believers.

When we see the fruits of the Spirit develop in fellow believers the Gospel of Christ begins to sparkle all the more. Even non-Christians shut their mouths when they see the transforming power of the Gospel in the lives of people they know. In this, even non-Christians inadvertently glorify God. Therefore we ought to stir up ourselves unto good works as they are laid out in Scripture.

All Christians ought to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself. It’s because fallen man is not able to do this perfectly that we know that salvation is by grace alone. And those rewards God gives us for our good works done by us after He saves us are simply grace upon grace.

It’s as Jesus says in Luke 17:10, “When you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’”

Conclusion

Diligent study of God’s Word is the only way we will learn what are the good works God wants us to do. And a proper understanding of the Gospel message will prevent us from transforming our good works into filthy rags. For in the Gospel is revealed the most humble Man there ever was, is, and will be. Obedience, that is good works of obedience to God, are explicitly revealed and expressed in the life and death of Jesus Christ. He is the only One who has ever kept God’s Commandments perfectly even unto death. God has rewarded Him openly and will continue to reward Him openly for His good works. For every blessing that God gives you is God rewarding Christ openly. For the good works that any Christian does are done in, and by, and through Christ.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Philippians 2: 5-11.

Friday, December 29, 2017

REPENTANCE UNTO LIFE


REPENTANCE UNTO LIFE
(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 15)
(Excerpted from my eBook: HOLDING FAST OUR CONFESSION -  https://www.amazon.com/HOLDING-FAST-CONFESSION-Cullan-McKinlay-ebook/dp/B006ZSV90Q/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Introduction

Some two thousand years ago something wonderful happened. To be sure the most wonderful thing that happened two thousand years ago was the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. There would be no Good News if Jesus Christ were still stuck in a tomb somewhere. But, on account of His being raised from the dead, the Good News is being spread. And that’s the wonderful thing that I want to draw to your attention in the following.

Since the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ the Good News of God’s grace is no longer restricted to the one little nation as it was before Christ’s resurrection. Now the Good News is to go out to all nations. For the Lord’s Apostle under inspiration of the Holy Spirit says in Acts 17:30&31, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has ordained. He has given assurance of this by raising Him from the dead.”

So we see then that “all men everywhere” are to repent. Does “all men everywhere” exclude anyone? No! Therefore, every person in every nation is to repent. Now, you may ask: Where’s the Good News in this? What’s so good about the fact that God has commanded everyone everywhere to repent? Well, the Good news in this is found in Acts 11:18, “When they [i.e., the Hebrew people Peter was talking to] heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life.’”

That’s the aspect of the Good News, i.e., the Gospel we’re looking at. God commands all people everywhere to repent. But, as we can see, God has granted also to the non-Hebrews, (i.e., the Gentile nations) what He has commanded. Therefore, repentance unto life is part of the Good News to all the nations. And as such, even repentance is an evangelical or a Gospel grace.

In other words, repentance unto life, like saving faith is a gift of God. And that gift is wrapped up in the Person and works of His Son. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The Nature of Repentance

Repentance is an evangelical grace related to faith. You can’t have true faith without having true repentance. Therefore repentance unto life and saving faith are glue on glue. Like love and marriage going together like a horse and carriage, you can’t have one without the other.

When Jesus came into His ministry He preached the Good News among the Hebrews. Mark 1:14&15 says, “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’”

So we see that the Lord expects people to repent and believe in the Gospel. And, He expects preachers of the Gospel to proclaim repentance as He did. For there is no greater preacher of the Gospel than Jesus Christ – it’s His Gospel. Therefore repentance must be preached if people are to know what to do to be saved.

Now, we’ve already noted the fact that the Gospel is not just for the Hebrew people of Jesus’ day. We’ve already noted that God has commanded all people everywhere to repent. And we’ve already noted that God has granted the Gentiles repentance. Therefore we can see that the grace of God has come upon all men, not just Old Testament Hebrews. So, we need to define repentance if we are to know what we are to do. Well, repentance is about receiving a gift from God.

Repentance is about receiving everlasting life from God on His Son’s account. Keep in mind that in our unregenerate state we have turned our back on God. If you have your back to God then everything you think, say, and do is tainted by sin. In other words, your works are not done in the light of God, but rather in the shadow of your sin. If God is the Light, and your back is to that Light, then everything you do is done in the shadows. Your sin, if you will, is having your back turned God.

Don’t you see this kind of thing when someone wishes to disagree with a speaker? The protestor stands with his or her back to the speaker to demonstrate his or her disagreement with the speaker and what the speaker is saying. Scripture makes it plain that all mankind has turned its collective back on God. Well, repentance is a turning back to God – a returning to God.

Repentance includes a change of mind, a change of heart, to have a new desire. Repentance is the realisation that you have been wrong about God and the things of God. Repentance is the realisation that God and what He is saying is right. Therefore repentance is about pirouetting. It’s about turning from your sins. It’s about turning away from your sins to face God. And since facing God is the last thing fallen man wants to do, we can see that repentance unto life is an evangelical grace.

We see in 2 Timothy 2:25 that in humility a servant of the Lord is to be “correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance.” It is God who enables the sinner to turn from his sins and face Him. And He does this by the Holy Spirit working with the Word in the sinner’s heart. In other words, repentance unto life, like saving faith, is the result of the Spirit’s work of regeneration.

Now, repentance involves a true sense of sin. To be sure, there are all sorts of people that are remorseful about things they’ve done. Two that spring to mind in the Bible are Esau and Judas Iscariot. Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a free meal ticket. And Judas Iscariot sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Truth be known, these acts of Esau and Judas were a turning their backs on God. But, afterwards they began to grieve over what they had done. However, their remorse apparently wasn’t true repentance of the kind we speak.

True repentance is not about grieving over the harm you’ve done yourself. True repentance is not about moping over the fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into. True repentance is about God, not you. True repentance is about you saying with King David after he realised the greatness of his sin with Bathsheba, “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight” Psalm 51:3&4b.

We see that David was aware of his sin. And we see that David was aware of who he had sinned against. Therefore true repentance includes knowledge of what sin is, and knowledge of the One who declares what sin is.

Sin is thinking, saying, and doing anything contrary to God’s Moral Law, as summarised in the Ten Commandments. And, as we know, God wrote His Moral Law on mankind’s collective heart when He made us. Therefore, every reasoning adult has a basic concept of right and wrong. But, when God by His grace grants a person true repentance, that person knows he has sinned against God, and therefore seeks God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

True repentance, therefore, grasps the mercy that God has provided in Jesus Christ. That is what the Gospel is – it’s the proclamation of the mercy of God found only in Jesus Christ. Therefore every preacher of the true Gospel is obligated to preach repentance, because people need to repent and believe in the Gospel if they are to ever be forgiven their sins.

Collective fallen humanity is like the disobedient child who holds his breath to get his own way. Well, repentance is surfacing for air! True repentance unto life is surfacing to humbly ask God for air. But truth be known, fallen man would rather die than surface and ask God for air. The Bible teaches us that this means that man is dead in his trespasses and his sins. It means that he will not, and therefore cannot, come to God for the breath of life. So God the Father and God the Son save the elect by sending them the ‘Breath’ of God.

It is the Holy Spirit therefore who brings the gift of repentance to the individual and the nations. Therefore true repentance is the reaction of the person into whose nostrils the Spirit of Christ has breathed new life. The gift of repentance, so to speak, is akin to God bringing back to life those wicked Egyptians who perished in the Red Sea while pursuing Moses and the Israelites. The gift of repentance, if you will, is akin to God bringing back to life the wicked who died in the great Flood of Noah’s day.

God, some two thousand years ago granted repentance to the non-Hebrew Gentile nations, (Acts 11:18). That’s why God has been bringing wicked people, such as you and me, back to life. The nature of repentance is that it is an evangelical grace

The Necessity of Repentance

Though no man can be saved without repentance, repentance does not save. Repentance is not the ground or basis for our salvation. Nor is repentance the cause of our salvation. Our salvation is based totally on the grace of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” Ephesians 2:8&9.

So, even though repentance is necessary for salvation, it’s not your repentance that saves you. So, what then is it that saves you? It’s the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that saves you. And that is what is being proclaimed in the Gospel. His life was lived to keep perfectly the Ten Commandments of God on behalf of those to whom God would in time grant true repentance. And His death was to pay for the breaking of the Ten Commandments of those to whom God would grant true repentance. And His resurrection was to justify God granting them true repentance. For how could God grant anyone true repentance if Jesus Christ’s body is mouldering in a tomb?

Where would the justice of God be if there was an innocent Man dead in a grave? Are you getting this? The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 6:23. Did Jesus ever sin? No? Then how could God leave Him dead in a tomb? For death is the wages for sin. And how could He give the gift of eternal life to others if His Son’s body lay a-mouldering in the grave? Therefore, it’s on account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that God grants us repentance unto life.

And repentance unto life is necessary for our salvation, because true repentance is our turning from death to life. And since we cannot bring ourselves back to life, we see that it is God who grants repentance. Check the history of the world. Has there been anyone anywhere who has brought himself back to life after being dead and buried? There has only ever been one Man who has done this. He’s the One who said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” John 2:19. How could Jesus say this? And even more to the point, how could He do this? Well, it was because He was without sin that He could say and do this.

We can’t say and do this because sin is what has killed us. But it was God who killed Jesus, even though He was murdered by wicked hands. In other words, it wasn’t our sins that killed Jesus on the cross. Rather, it was God who poured out His fiery wrath on Jesus on the cross that killed Jesus. But, the Good News is that all our sins were consumed by Jesus on the cross. Therefore, because the sins of the world have been taken away by Jesus Christ on the cross, God is now at liberty to grant repentance to whosoever He chooses (i.e., has chosen in eternity past). And we’ve heard already that God has chosen to grant repentance to the nations. And we’ve heard that repentance is necessary for salvation.

So, here’s how it all works: It was necessary that God raise Jesus from the dead. Why? It was necessary that God raise Jesus from the dead because He was righteous, i.e., without sin. Likewise, it is necessary that God grant repentance to those who had their sins taken away by Christ. Think about it: God declared Jesus Christ righteous by raising Him from the dead. By raising Him from the dead God was declaring that He was satisfied that all Christ’s works were perfect, i.e., in keeping with His Law.

When we are justified we too are declared righteous by God. Of course we are declared righteous by God upon the same righteous works that belong to Jesus. (This, of course, impacts on our future resurrection on the Last Day). But here’s the point, it’s because we are righteous that God cannot leave us dead in our trespasses and sins awaiting physical death. Death is the wages of sin, but death cannot hold the righteous, as we see with Jesus Christ. Therefore, repentance which is the fruit of regeneration, is God’s way of turning from death to life those for whom Christ died; i.e., those who have been declared righteous.

Repentance is God’s way of lifting you out of the tomb of sin. Repentance is akin to Daniel being safely lifted out of the lion’s den. It’s akin to the Lord lifting the Prodigal’s head out of the pig trough to return to his father. Repentance is turning from sin to righteousness. It’s turning from darkness to light. It’s turning from Hell to Heaven. It’s turning from self to God. It’s turning from death to life. It’s turning from everlasting death to everlasting life.

Repentance is a turning away from all danger. Therefore rejection of repentance is to destroy oneself, for repentance is necessary for salvation.

The Nurture of Repentance

Those who are truly repentant hate their sins. They sense sin to be something that clings to you, like coal dust to a miner. Therefore, the repentant sinner seeks cleansing for his sins. And he seeks it daily – he surfaces from the coal mine daily. He can just about smell sin clinging to him, like the smell of a dog that has been rolling itself on a dead animal.

To be sure, the Christian must be careful not to become obsessed with his own sinfulness. Otherwise he may be in danger of denying the mercy God has granted him in Jesus Christ. However, this doesn’t mean the Christian ought to be slack in his repentance. For true repentance requires thoroughness both general and particular.

General repentance is acknowledging the fact that you are a sinner by nature and then repenting of it. Even non-Christians are willing to acknowledge that they are less than perfect. “To err is human” and all of that. But Christians are not to be content with a general repentance. But rather we are to repent of our particular sins particularly. The Lord lifted little Zacchaeus out of the pit of his sin. He was thief, but when God by His grace, regenerated him, he paid back fourfold those whom he had robbed.

This paying back the folk he’d wronged is particular repentance. It’s an illustration of true repentance, i.e., repentance unto life. Therefore true repentance is nurtured by righting past wrongs where possible. To be sure, the toothpaste cannot always be put back into the tube. Nor can the lid of Pandora’s Box be closed after being opened. Nor can the cat be put back in the bag once let out. Nor can the horse be placed back into the barn after it has bolted. Nor can the tin of worms be resealed after opening. So, damage done is damage done.

But we should know that, just as there is no sin so small that it doesn’t deserve everlasting destruction, neither is there any sin so great that it can bring condemnation on the truly penitent. Therefore we must not torment ourselves with our past sins that cannot be remedied by us. Rather, once we’ve confessed our sins to God we ought to believe He has forgiven them. We must not keep on digging up old skeletons in the closet. Repent of them and believe the mercy of God in the Gospel.

Now there might be opportunity for you to make a public confession to other believers for wrongs you’ve committed against them. You ought to be willing to, and to actually confess your sins to those you’ve sinned against, whether individuals, or even the church itself. In other words, reconcile yourself to your brother or sister in Christ. Or if it’s the church you’ve sinned against, seek reconciliation with the elders, or Presbytery or whatever – whoever you’ve sinned against. We ought to do these things because restitution is evidence of the reality of repentance.

And if anyone comes to you all repentant, seeking your forgiveness, receive them in love. As Jesus says in Luke 17:3&4, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” We’ve already noted that it is God who grants repentance. True repentance is a sign of God’s forgiveness. Therefore we ought to forgive those whom God has forgiven.

Nurture repentance through the study of God’s Word and prayer. That way you’ll learn more and more what needs to be repented of.

Conclusion

Let us be truly thankful that God has granted us repentance. For, this means that our repentance is true repentance. It means that our repentance is more than just remorse. It is true that Martin Luther once said that we need to repent even of our repentance (for even our repentance is tainted by our sin). But God is the One who has granted it. Therefore God is the One who is working repentance in us.

And if God is the One working repentance in the world, then there is hope indeed for the world. The Lord has been pleased to pour out the Spirit of grace and supplication (as the prophet Zechariah puts it), that we may look on Him who has been pierced, that we may “mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” Zechariah 12:10.

So, don’t delay, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” today!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

THE QUIET WATERS BY


The Quiet Waters By (a continuation of Jesus for the Layman)

We’ve just considered (above) something of who Jesus is as a Person. We have noted that the Bible teaches that Jesus is one divine Person with two natures forever. As Man He can identify with our sufferings.[1] And as God He can help and even heal us.[2]Then Jesus said, ‘Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’”[3]

Now, they say that music soothes the savage beast.[4] Songs remind us of good times/bad times. Having been a Christian now for many years I find that hymns tend to come to mind in times of trouble. Though the R.E.M. song “Everybody Hurts” did help me to get through a particularly difficult period. Here are some of the lyrics:

When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, well hang on.
Don’t let yourself go, everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes.
Sometimes everything is wrong. Now it’s time to sing along.
When your day is night alone, (hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go, (hold on)
When you think you've had too much of this life, well hang on.
Everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends.
Everybody hurts. Don't throw your hand. Oh, no. Don’t throw your hand.[5]

Whenever I was about to teach the two-day ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) Course, that song would invariably start playing in my head. However, at best, the song only tells us not to throw in our hand but to hold on by taking comfort in your friends because everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes. Like I say, the song helped me through one of the darkest periods in my life. I am thankful to the song and its authors for that. However, it was Jesus who sustained me and healed me. He removed all the bitterness and anger I was experiencing at that time, bitterness and anger towards those who were seeking the demise of me, my family and my livelihood!

The following hymn (especially the refrain) was also included in the “music loop’ that constantly played in my head as I walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free! 
Refrain:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.[6]

It is Jesus alone who brings us comfort, true and lasting comfort. The beauty of it is that we encounter Him (who is the Word) in His Word the Bible. No visions or voices are required. He simply speaks to us in the quietness of our heart. He speaks to us when we meditate and ruminate on His Word. However, we must acknowledge that it is His Word as we talk to Him. How will we know that it is not an imposter if we listen to something or someone other than God speaking in His Word? Therefore, to ensure you have the correct Jesus you must test everything against His written Word, i.e., the sixty-six books of the Bible.  And remember that “It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him.[7]

As you seek to draw near to Him keep the words of The Shepherd’s Psalm, Psalm 23 in mind, “He leadeth me beside the still waters.” An intimate encounter with Jesus could take place anywhere. However, a troubled heart and a busy mind can be calmed and stilled simply by pondering the quiet flow of a river.  



[1] Therefore, since we have a great High Priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet He did not sin.” Hebrews 4:14-15.
[2] At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.” Luke 7:21.
[3] Matthew 11:28. The New Living Translation of the Bible.
[4] “‘Music has Charms to soothe a savage Breast.’ The phrase was coined by the Playwright/Poet William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, 1697: ACT I. SCENE I. A Room of State.” (Internet)
[5] Bill Berry, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Michael Mills.
[6] Hymn by Helen H. Lemmel (1864-1961).
[7] Hebrews 11:6. New Living Translation.

Friday, December 22, 2017

GOD THE WORD


God the Word ( a continuation of Jesus for the Layman)

Jesus is the Son of God. But is He God the Son? After He was resurrected and before He had ascended back to the Father Jesus said these words to His disciples, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The term “Holy Ghost” is simply another way of saying “Holy Spirit.” We speak of the Father as being the first Person in the Godhead (or “Trinity”[1]), the Son as the second Person, and the Spirit being the third Person. The Son, the second or middle Person in the Trinity is also called the Word.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” John 1:1-3;14.

So we see then that it was not the Father or the Spirit who became a human being. It was only the Son or Word who became a human being. He was like us in every way apart from our sin. However, keep in mind that the Word never stopped being God. The eternal Son of God simply clothed Himself in flesh, as in body, soul and spirit. When Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary,[2] who was a virgin at the time, it was the Creator entering His creation as a human being.

The humanity of Jesus, like any other human being, began at the very moment of His conception. That is when the Word became flesh. However, He never stopped being the eternal Word of God. God the Son is the eternal Son of God the Father from all eternity. But Jesus only began to exist in time at the precise moment of His conception in Mary’s womb. Jesus, therefore, is God and Man in one Divine Person forever. In other words, because Jesus has two natures, the divine and the human, God and Man meet and were forever reconciled in Him when God resurrected Him from the dead. Jesus can never ever die again!

The Good News, for that is what “Gospel” means, is about the triune God reconciling us to Himself by, in and through His Son Jesus Christ. We love the simplicity of the Gospel whereby Jesus Christ is the Saviour of sinners – that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). But we also love the profundity of the Gospel – that it’s on account of Jesus being a Divine Person that His salvation is of infinite worth and His work on earth goes out into eternity.

Every Christmas when we sing Christmas carols Charles Wesley the hymnist reminds us that he got it right:

Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
Christ is born in Bethlehem
Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!
Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King!”


Growing up in Balloch, Loch Lomond had its benefits. As youths we got to swim in Loch Lomond every “summer.” Yes, the water could be quite frigid at times! Not quite as exotic as say pearl diving we used to dive off Balloch Pier whenever the Maid of the Loch paddle steamer that docked there was out on one of its excursions. Instead of pearl containing clams we used to retrieve plates and glasses that had been thrown overboard.

Speaking of pearls, Jesus says, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” Matthew 7:6. Casting pearls before swine can refer to things like explaining the deeper things of God to those who won’t appreciate them. But, if you’ve read this far it can be assumed that you are interested in the deeper things of God. So let’s dive deeper, not for old dinner plates, but for precious pearls.

God made man in His own image and likeness. But this image and likeness of God is not exhaustive. Unlike man who is finite, God is infinite. Therefore, God is not the image and likeness of man – which would be to confuse or mix our created human nature with His eternally uncreated and unchanging Divine nature. God does not absorb anything in or of nature. Nor does creation absorb anything in or of God. God transcends matter.

The eternal Second Person of the Trinity, the Word, became flesh in time but continued unchanged as God. Christ’s incarnation, resurrection, and ascension prove that the divine and human are and will remain two distinct natures forever. Christ’s human nature with its passions (pain, anguish of soul, hunger, thirst etc.), are forever distinct from His Divine nature. Yet God knows these passions in the same way He knows good and evil (Genesis 3:22), but experiences none of these because He is without passions in and of Himself.

Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.[3] He is a Divine Person. Neither His divine nor human nature changed at His crucifixion. Jesus did not become a sinner on the cross. He became a sin-offering, and as such, received God’s out poured fiery wrath. But Jesus suffered only in His human nature which remained distinct from His divine nature.

Was God pleased, or angry with Christ on the cross? One might as well ask whether Christ was angry or pleased with Himself on the cross? That is the question! Was there a conflict between His two natures? Was His Divine nature angry at His human nature – as God poured out His anger upon Him as He bore our sins? And was His human nature angry at His divine nature for the suffering caused? All paradoxes between the Divine and human (even God and creation) are resolved by keeping the two natures of Christ distinct. Confuse them and both the nature of God and man begin to change: Man becomes God and God becomes man. But either way both disappear like the metaphorical snake that swallowed its own tail!

In Christ God (the Word) and man are one in unity but not in substance. The properties of both natures may be ascribed to the One Person, i.e., Jesus Christ. But the nature of His Divinity must not be ascribed to the nature of His humanity, nor vice versa. Thus the Man Jesus Christ’s anger (overturning tables etc.) may very well be an expression of what is understood to be God’s anger.

However, because all revelation of God is not exhaustive and is only analogous, one sees in the Man Christ Jesus’ anger more a revelation of God’s Holy nature than of any supposed human passion of anger. Christ’s anger is revelation of God’s holiness, not God’s anger. To say that God was both pleased and angry at the same time when Christ hung on the cross is to speak metaphorically of the holiness and righteousness of God. For God revealed who and what He is at the cross. But we must not confuse God’s anger or His pleasure with human passions. The nature of God who made the heavens, the earth, and all that are in them was not changed by His creation nor by Christ’s cross.

All creation is revelation of who and what God is: even Hell itself! All creation therefore, though solid and real, is a metaphor of God. Christ is the ultimate revelation of God, for He is the express image of His person. Christ’s human nature is what God would be like if He were clothed in flesh. His humanity is not God, but is united to God forever. God’s anger at Christ’s cross therefore is not revelation of an emotion of God akin to man’s anger, but rather it is the expression, the revelation of His pure and holy nature which is infinite in being.

Jesus is humanity fully clothed and in its right mind.


[1] The word Trinity is not found in the Bible, but we use it to describe the Godhead.
[2] Luke 1:34-35.
[3] Hebrew 13:8.