Caleb followed the LORD his God fully (Joshua 14)

POST OVERVIEW. A look at the life of Caleb, a biblical hero who followed the LORD his God fully. Caleb was a man whose faith was constantly on display in his actions.

Caleb is a Bible hero. He appears in only three scenes in the Scriptures, but his force of character and his evident faith cause him to stand out as a man of God and as a strong role model for us. His faith in the LORD and his trust in the word of the LORD was constantly on bold display.

CALEB AT KADESH

Caleb is one of the twelve spies sent by Moses to report on the land of Canaan. As they travel through the land, all twelve spies saw the descendants of Anak (giants) living in Hebron and all twelve spies saw that many of the cities of the land were fortified with high walls. When the spies return to Moses, ten of them are terrified of the descendants of Anak they saw in the land and they instill fear in all the people by telling of the power of the Anakim. The ten fearful spies also warn of the Amalekites and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Canaanites living in the land. Their conclusion? “They are too strong for us” (Num. 13:31). The spies and all the people overtly doubt the truth of God’s word and they question His ability to carry out what He has declared He will do. Their words and their actions reveal that they have no faith in the LORD.

We must recall that those who walk by sight and who live by what makes sense to their fallen reasoning always have a ready excuse for not trusting the LORD. There is always a “but” or a “however” or a “nevertheless” that justifies why they should not move ahead or should avoid the risk. Their god is small and the threats are big. “Never mind that God is with us and that He has promised to bless those who trust in Him. He can’t help us out against this obstacle.”

But Caleb was a man of an entirely different character. Six times the Bible declares that Caleb “followed the LORD his God fully” (Num. 14:24; 32:12; Deut. 1:36; Joshua 14:8, 9, 14). This means that if the LORD said it, Caleb obeyed it without question. He accepted the LORD’s word as true and reliable. Thus, his faith in the LORD was constantly on bold display. No matter what men said, no matter what his eyes told him, no matter what his reasoning or his experience suggested, he followed the LORD fully. The LORD’s word was his trusted guide. If the LORD had spoken about a subject, that immediately became Caleb’s truth. The LORD’s word was not to be questioned but was to be fully accepted.

“Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven.” – Psalm 119:89

Caleb walked by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Yes, Caleb saw the sons of Anak in Hebron and he knew that there were risks in going against them, but he was eager to move ahead nevertheless. “Yes, there are dangers and obstacles but our God answers prayer and our God is with us and our God reigns. Let’s move forward!”

Everything about Caleb’s words and actions manifest his strong trust in the LORD. “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it” (Num. 13:30). Caleb was confident because he was sure of what God could do and he trusted that God would do what He had promised.

“If the LORD is pleased with us then He will bring us into this land and give it to us” (Num. 14:8). “Only do not rebel against the LORD, and do not fear the people of the land. The LORD is with us; do not fear them” (14:9). Caleb was assured that the LORD was faithful and the LORD could be trusted. So Caleb followed the LORD his God fully. And so Caleb is commended by the LORD for his steadfast trust in Him.

CALEB ON THE PLAINS OF MOAB

Caleb is mentioned very briefly in Numbers 34 as Israel is on the plains of Moab preparing to invade the land of Canaan. Though only a brief mention, this mention is significant.

Recall that, forty years before, when Israel was at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran, the LORD had told Moses to send out as spies “a man from each of their fathers’ tribes, every one a leader among them” (Num. 13:2). Caleb of the tribe of Judah had been one of those leaders (Num. 13:6). When Israel gathers on the plains of Moab, forty years have passed and the entire unbelieving generation that came out of Egypt has died in the wilderness for their unbelief (Num. 14:28-35; confirm Hebrews 3:7-4:11). Again the LORD commands Moses to “take one leader of every tribe to apportion the land” (Num. 34:18). The first leader He mentions is “of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh” (34:19).

That’s right. The same Caleb who was the chosen leader of Judah as Israel came out of Egypt is still the leader of Judah forty years later as Israel prepares to enter Canaan. Caleb was a leader of men and the LORD twice appointed him to a role of leadership.

CALEB IN CANAAN

Finally, we see Caleb after the conquest of the land of Canaan, after his fellow spy Joshua has defeated thirty-one kings (Joshua 12:24). Caleb speaks to Joshua and reminds him of the LORD’s word concerning the inheritance that will go to Caleb, namely, Hebron. Caleb demands his reward, the inheritance that the LORD has promised to him forty-five years before. “Give me Hebron.”

Of course, Caleb wants Hebron. Forty-five years before, when the twelve spies first traveled into Canaan, even then Caleb had seen Hebron and wanted it for his own (Num. 13:22). Note that Hebron is the only place where the spies had seen the descendants of the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, but for the ten faithless spies, these giants grew in size and strength as their fears grew. But for Caleb, these giants were never a threat, because the LORD was with him and the LORD would vanquish them. The most fearsome of the Anakim is nothing before the LORD. And now Caleb was claiming his reward. For forty-five years he had waited to take Hebron away from the Anakim and now, at eighty-five years of age, Caleb is ready to move in.

The faithless spies would not even enter the land because of their fear of the sons of Anak in Hebron, but Caleb dreamed of Hebron for forty-five years because of his desire to destroy the sons of Anak in Hebron.

Caleb is a hero because his faith in the LORD was constantly on display. He regarded the foolish fears of faithless men as so much noise to be ignored. The LORD had commanded him to go up and take Hebron. Caleb was not going to disobey and forfeit the blessing the LORD had promised him.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/26/2022                 #604

Identifying as a disciple rather than a Christian (Part 2)

POST OVERVIEW. The second article about why it is preferable for the follower of Jesus Christ to think of themselves and to identify themselves as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as a “Christian.” Post #601 (12/18/2022) had discussed the strategic advantages of “disciple of Jesus” in evangelism. This post talks about its advantages in self-concept or self-identity.

In my previous post on this topic (Post #601 on 12/18/2022), I had argued that, for the follower of Jesus Christ, the identity of “disciple of Jesus” is preferable to the more common identity of “Christian” for the reason that “disciple of Jesus” has greater strategic value in evangelism. (See Post #601 for those comments.) In this post, I will consider how “disciple of Jesus” is preferable for strengthening the believer’s own self-concept and self-identity.

A DISCIPLE IS A STRONGER IDENTITY

There was a time in this country when identifying as a Christian carried weight. The Christian was a person of the Bible. He carried a Bible and he believed what it said. He went to church and he prayed. He lived a simple life and he had principles and strict moral guidelines in his life, and he did not mind if that drew ridicule or if that made him seem odd to others. “Christian” meant that this man was a follower of Jesus and he was serious about it. When someone was declared to be a “Christian,” there was a cultural understanding of what that meant. The word “Christian” had substance.

“CHRISTIAN” HAS BECOME VAGUE AND UNDEFINED

Needless to say, those days are no more. The identity of “Christian” has gradually lost its definition and the idea of a “Christian” in America has come to have a very broad range of meanings. More than that, the confusion of what is a “Christian” exists for those who hear the word and for those who use the word to describe themselves. The word carries ambiguity and subjectivity and finding a working definition for a “Christian” is hard to do.

This subjectivity and ambiguity creates an identity crisis for the follower of Jesus Christ, and can especially be a problem for the new believer. For example, when the new believer excitedly tells his parents or his fraternity buddies or a friend at the gym that he has become a Christian, he is likely to get a puzzled response or a response that reveals that the hearer is between unimpressed and bored with this news. The new believer has passed from death to life and has experienced the most profound change of life that is possible for a human being, but, because he uses the word “Christian,” his hearers are blasé. They have known others who claimed to be “Christians” and there was nothing different about their lives. “Oh, here we go again! Another phase or fad.” What is the one who has recently come to Christ to do? His life has been radically altered and he knows that he has been born again and has become a “Christian.” At least, that’s the word everyone at the church uses. “Praise God! I am now a Christian!” But no one else seems to be nearly as excited as he is.

Now, I am not going to suggest that simply changing a believer’s self-identity from “Christian” to “disciple of Jesus” is going to immediately remove all confusion and is going to force everyone else to see that a profound change has taken place, but it can be very helpful for the believer himself. If I think of myself as a “Christian,” then I have to explain to myself how I am different from those other “Christians” who are ignorant of the Scriptures and who openly question its truths, whose lives bear no fruit of repentance, who do not believe in the virgin birth or in the resurrection of Christ, who infrequently attend a dead, apostate church, and who have never told a single soul about their alleged faith in Jesus and about the coming judgment. Perhaps the truly born-again Christian can add adjectives to his identity, like a real “Christian” or a true “Christian” or a really true, sincere, born-again “Christian” to make a distinction between a genuine follower of Jesus and one of the counterfeits, but another solution might be to see yourself as a “disciple of Jesus.”

SELF-IDENTITY AS “DISCIPLE OF JESUS”

There are definite advantages to this identity of “disciple of Jesus” which help remove much of the ambiguity and subjectivity created by the identity of “Christian.”

First, there is the word “disciple” itself. The Greek word translated “disciple” means a learner who follows a particular teacher. Further, the life of a disciple is a life of discipline, an intentional way of behaving that learns from and imitates the master. The disciple is devoted to imitating the master to become like the master. This concept of disciple fits very well with the concept of a New Testament follower of Jesus.

THE DISCIPLE IN THE GREAT COMMISSION

Observe also that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) calls upon the church to “make disciples” of all nations. The one who identifies as a “disciple of Jesus” can immediately see themselves as a fulfillment of the Great Commission of our Lord. According to these two crucial verses, the church “makes disciples” (evangelism), the church baptizes disciples, and then the church teaches disciples to observe His commands, and the church does this until the end of the age. The follower of Jesus can see that the “disciple of Jesus” is the central player in the kingdom of God on earth. With this identity, ambiguity and subjectivity are removed.

We had mentioned before that any disciple is associated with a specific teacher or master. Thus, the key question for one who claims to be a disciple becomes, “Who is the master you are following and imitating?” The believer whose identity is “disciple of Jesus” directly associates himself with the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is none other than the King of kings and the Lord of lords. I am a disciple of Him who came from heaven to earth to be God in human flesh. I am a chosen and beloved disciple of the Prince of peace.

THE “DISCIPLE OF JESUS” HAS A PURPOSE AND A PATH

Finally, the identity of “disciple of Jesus” gives the follower of Christ a purpose for their life and a path to walk through life all the way to the end.

For the disciple of Jesus, every promise of God is Yes and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20). His purpose is to do all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). For the disciple of Jesus, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). The disciple takes up his cross daily and follows Jesus (Luke 9:23).

His path is to intentionally grow in holiness, in obedience, and in usefulness as long as the Lord gives him breath; to fight the good fight, to finish the course, to keep the faith (2 Tim. 4:7); to press toward the goal for the prize (Phil. 3:14).

These are the joys of the one who identifies as a disciple of Jesus.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/24/2022                 #603

How to vanquish fear of man in evangelism

POST OVERVIEW. Consistently listed among the obstacles to evangelism and the hindrances to speaking about the Lord Jesus in the world is the fear of man. This article argues that the way to vanquish the “fear of man” is by developing a fiery zeal for Christ.

A RECURRING OBSTACLE TO EVANGELISM

Often when a church conducts training on evangelism to consider how the church can be more effective in the tasks of proclaiming the gospel and of being witnesses for Jesus, the subject “fear of man” comes up. The trainer asks the question, “What are some reasons that we fail to evangelize?” and usually the first or second response from the class is, “Fear of man.” There is then an acknowledgement from class and trainer alike that “fear of man” is indeed a problem and the class moves on. But here I want to address this fear so that we can defeat it.

DEFEATING THE FEAR OF MAN

What we are discussing in this post is this idea of “the fear of man” in evangelism and how we can overcome this obstacle so that the name of Jesus comes up easily in our talks with unbelievers and “many will see and fear and trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:3).

To do that, I will follow four steps:

  1. Define the “fear of man”
  2. Acknowledging the sin and repenting of the sin
  3. Paul as our role model for zeal
  4. Exhortation to be bold

DEFINING “FEAR OF MAN”

We begin, then, by defining “fear of man.” [NOTE: I will abbreviate this FoM.] FoM is a feeling that manifests itself in timid actions. FoM is that tension that seems to rise up in our throat and suddenly choke off bold words about the sin of man and the glory of our Savior. FoM is also responsible when we decide the other person is “not ready” for the gospel or to hear about Jesus. When we are face to face with someone who is on our prayer list and we continue to talk about the trivial rather than the eternal, FoM may be to blame. There are many other examples of ways that FoM can thwart our evangelism, but basically, FoM has won the day anytime you and I are convicted by the Holy Spirit that we have not been faithful to use a gospel opportunity.

ACKNOWLEDGING THE SIN AND REPENTING OF THE SIN

We must acknowledge that fear of man is a sin, and therefore is an offense against our holy God. FoM effectively exalts frail, mortal sinners above the Lord Jesus, because we fear man’s rejection or ridicule more than we love the Lord and obey His commands (John 14:21). We have been commanded to proclaim the gospel to all the nations. If we don’t because we are fearful of what men might say or think, then we have elevated man above God. We should, therefore, repent from this sin of fearing man.

I have found that a helpful pattern of repentance is recognize, confess, and repent. Recognize that you were silent about the gospel or about Jesus when you know that the Holy Spirit was prompting you to speak. Recognition leads to confession of the sin. You agree with the Lord that you have willfully disobeyed and have been silent when you know that you were to speak. Having confessed the sin, you express the desire to change and to live a more obedient life. You repent of your silence or your cowardice, or you repent because you were unprepared when the Lord presented you with a gospel opportunity. In repentance, you turn away from the sin and you turn toward the obedient behavior. You pray for boldness and courage and confident obedience (Eph. 6:19-20; Acts 5:41; Col. 4:5-6; Rev. 2:10) and continue to press toward the prize with renewed vigor.

The point is that FoM that silences or softens my witness is sin and so should be treated as any other sin. We should quickly establish a plan of repentance from that sin so that it does not occur again. Put to death (Col. 3:5) the “fear of man” in any and every way that you can.

PAUL AS OUR EXAMPLE FOR ZEAL

When it comes to zealously proclaiming the gospel, Paul is our example. There was nothing that could prevent Paul from gospel proclamation. In his ministry, he had every opportunity to shrink back from telling about Jesus and he never did. (Acts 9 in Damascus – brand-new convert threatened with death; Acts 14 in Derbe and Lystra – stoned for preaching the gospel; Acts 17 in Athens – philosophers to impress; Acts 24 before Felix – preached righteousness and the coming judgment to the man who could set him free; Acts 26 before Agrippa and Festus – preached Christ before the king and the governor)

Consider this verse: “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). Here is a classic Pauline statement that speaks directly into our current discussion. Paul was motivated by his fear of the Lord, and this compelled him to persuade men to believe the gospel. In other words, the apostle did not have a fear OF men, as though men were a threat to him, but Paul had a fear FOR men, that they would spend eternity in hell. Because Paul was zealous in his devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, FoM had no opportunity for a foothold. Rather, when the glory of Christ and the fear of the Lord are the blaring twin trumpets in our ears, the FoM fades into the background as so much white noise.

This focus on the fear of the Lord gave Paul a zeal for the gospel. Like Paul, we should develop a zeal for Christ that cannot be silenced even by threats of death. Paul said, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). For Paul, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). “For the love of Christ compels us” (2 Cor. 5:14). We also read that the apostle had as his controlling ambition to be pleasing to the Lord (2 Cor. 5:9). His fear of the Lord, his desire to please the Lord, and his love for the Lord worked together to create a fiery zeal for the gospel that could not be quenched. Thus, Paul provides for us an example to follow.

EXHORTATIONS TO PROCLAIM JESUS AND HIS GOSPEL

The Scriptures give us many exhortations to proclaim the gospel. The disciple of Jesus is to be a fisher of men (Matt. 4:19), an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), a sower of the Word (Matt. 13:3-8), and a witness for Jesus (Acts 1:8) to the remotest part of the earth. We are to “Tell of His glory among the nations” (Ps. 96:3), “Make known His deeds among the peoples” (Isaiah 12:4), and “Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day” (Ps. 96:2). The disciple of Jesus is to compel, to beg, to persuade, to exhort, to urge, to reason with, and to testify to unbelievers to believe in Christ and to receive the salvation that He offers to sinners.

As those who “have been chosen of God, holy and beloved” (Col. 3:12), we put to death the sin of the fear of man as we simultaneously fan into flame our passion for the gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria            rmb                 12/21/2022                 #602

Identifying as a disciple rather than a Christian (Part 1)

POST OVERVIEW. The first of a couple of articles about why it is preferable for the follower of Jesus Christ to think of themselves and to identify themselves as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as a “Christian.”

The basic idea of the next several posts is this: in my opinion, it is preferable for the follower of Jesus Christ to identify to the outside world as a “disciple of Jesus” rather than as a “Christian.”

Now, before I begin to justify this statement, I need to make perfectly clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the appellation of “Christian.” It is without question that I am a Christian. I am a born-again, water-baptized, Bible-carrying, church-attending, Holy Spirit-filled, heaven-bound Christian. For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. I will declare “Jesus Christ is Lord” in any circumstance regardless of the consequences. Even the New Testament three times uses the word “Christian,” so there is nothing wrong with the word. Certainly, it is completely legitimate to call yourself a Christian.

But, while it is legitimate to identify as a Christian, it is not the most strategic or helpful way for the follower of Jesus Christ to identify themselves. There are three reasons that I will present for why the identity “disciple of Jesus” is preferable to “Christian.”

  1. “Disciple of Jesus” is more useful for evangelism.
  2. “Disciple of Jesus” is more helpful for my own concept of myself
  3. “Disciple of Jesus” distinguishes our faith from the religious use of “Christian”

“DISCIPLE” MORE USEFUL FOR EVANGELISM

The great task of the church of Jesus Christ is to introduce Jesus to those who are outside the church, to those who have never heard the good news or perhaps have never even heard the name of Jesus. To accomplish this Great Commission of making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20) requires that we first establish meaningful contact with the people we are trying to tell about Jesus. In America, making meaningful contact with unbelievers is increasingly difficult because our modern culture has widened the gap between those who hold to a moral standard and those who do not. What was a gap has become a huge chasm. The days when most Americans respected biblical morals are long gone, as everyone can attest. My observation is that most unbelievers under the age of thirty-five or so seem to think that there is no right or wrong about anything. This moral collapse has had an impact on the way that the word “Christian” is perceived.

“CHRISTIAN” IDENTITY IS NOT AS STRATEGIC

To an American unbeliever, “Christian” generally has no definite or predictable meaning and is more likely to communicate a political agenda than it is to communicate something about Jesus. My impression is that most of those in America who fall outside the reach of the evangelical church, which is an increasing majority of people, make no connection between “Christian” and the Bible or Jesus. I would say that most people under the age of thirty-five know as much about “Muslim” as they know about “Christian.”

What this means is that, if I identify or present myself to those I am trying to influence for Christ as a “Christian,” at best I have communicated nothing meaningful and I may have instead prematurely exposed my position and thus raised the other person’s defenses. “Oh! This guy is a ‘Christian.’ Take evasive maneuvers!” In my evangelism strategy, I want to introduce Jesus or the Bible or some aspect of my testimony to the unbeliever long before and rather than present myself as a “Christian.” In America, among unbelievers the word “Christian” rarely opens doors and potentially creates barriers to the gospel, and so is an unwise identity when we consider those whom we hope to reach.

The point is that, when the disciple of Jesus is considering how to impact his sphere of influence for the glory of Jesus, identifying as a “Christian” is a weak strategy. And we must think strategically! Jesus has sent us out as sheep in the midst of wolves and we are therefore to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16). A wise sheep thinks strategically.

“DISCIPLE OF JESUS” IDENTITY

On the other hand, the identity “disciple of Jesus” is an uncommon and unexpected expression. Since that is the case, this identity has much less baggage with it and most unbelievers do not automatically have a negative response. That is one advantage of “disciple of Jesus.” But another advantage is that, with this identity, the name of Jesus has entered the dialog. In evangelism, one of the key objectives is to guide the dialog such that Jesus enters the discussion and, with “disciple of Jesus,” there He is! If the unbeliever is now antagonistic, he is antagonistic because of Jesus. If he is indifferent, he is indifferent to Jesus. This idea of a response to Jesus carries more weight than a response to the name “Christian.” Also, any discussion that includes Jesus is automatically of more substance and is more serious. When Jesus “enters the room,” so to speak, trivial banter quickly subsides. The King is here, and we must deal with Him. If I present myself as a “disciple of Jesus,” my King has entered the room. Now, since His name has already been mentioned, it can be mentioned again and we can talk about who He is and what He has accomplished. Thus, the identity of “disciple of Jesus” has many advantages over the identity “Christian.”

Having considered the advantages of the identity “disciple of Jesus” in our evangelism in this post, in our next post we will think about why “disciple of Jesus” is preferred over “Christian” first, in our own self-concept and second, in distinguishing our faith in Jesus from religions.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/18/2022                 #601

He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Psalm 130:8)

POST OVERVIEW. A detailed exegesis of Psalm 130:8 with the objective of discovering the identity of “Israel,” the entity whom the LORD promises to “redeem from all his iniquities.”

Psalm 130 begins with the psalmist in the lowest of the depths, crying to the LORD in his iniquities, but the psalm finishes with the joyous shout of the redeemed. “Israel” hopes in the LORD because of His lovingkindness (Hebrew “hesed”) and His abundant redemption (130:7). The crescendo occurs in the last verse when the LORD’s promise is proclaimed: “He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (130:8). The LORD has heard the cry of His servant and has granted him redemption from all his iniquities. By His mercy and His lovingkindness, the LORD has pulled His penitent servant “Israel” from the misery of guilt to the joy of full redemption. This is certainly salvation language, and it is certain that the “Israel” of verse 8 is saved.

INTERPRETIVE CHALLENGE

As we reflect on this last verse of Psalm 130, we are faced with an interesting interpretive challenge. For while the psalmist begins as one person crying to the LORD for forgiveness (“Out of the depths I have cried,” “hear my voice,” “my supplications,” “I wait,” “I hope”), he concludes the psalm as a member of the group “Israel” exhorting all “Israel” to hope in the LORD and communicating to “Israel” the promise that the LORD “will redeem ‘Israel’ from all his iniquities.”

THE INTERPRETIVE CHALLENGE STATED. (Short form) “Who is the ‘Israel’ of verse 8?” (Expanded form) Since it is clear that, in Psalm 130:8, “Israel” is promised redemption from all his iniquities, and by definition, “redemption from all iniquities” means salvation, it is theologically important to clearly identify who this “Israel” is. Who is in this group “Israel” who will be redeemed from all their iniquities?

THREE POSSIBLE IDENTITIES FOR ISRAEL

Beginning our interpretive task, then, I would maintain that, in the Bible, there are three possible identities for “Israel.” First, “Israel” could refer to Jacob, the man who wrestled with God and with man and prevailed (Gen. 32:28). But second, “Israel” could also refer to the nation made up of the twelve tribes of Israel. That is, this could be the ethnic group known as the Hebrews, the physical descendants of the patriarch Jacob. The third option would be that this “Israel” refers to all the elect, to all those chosen by God for salvation before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5; see also Rom. 8:29-30; 9:8, 23-24).

So first, does this “Israel,” refer to the patriarch Jacob, who was named Israel? No, it does not. The exhortation in verse 7 to “hope in the LORD” makes no sense if it is made to a man who had been dead hundreds of years when this psalm was penned.

Next, could this refer to national Israel, to the ethnic group known as the Hebrews? No, it could not. While it is true that some of the Hebrews in the Bible were redeemed from their iniquities, the biblical record in both Old and New Testaments is very clear that the majority of people in national Israel perished. Just one example among many is in Numbers 14 when, except for Caleb and Joshua, the entire multitude of the sons of Israel coming out of Egypt rebelled against the LORD and therefore died in the wilderness (see also Psalm 95). But in addition to those Hebrews who perished as recorded in the pages of Scripture, virtually all Jewish people (ethnic, national Israel; Jews) who have lived in the last two millennia have not been redeemed but have died in unbelief. In no way, then, can the “Israel” of Psalm 130:8 refer to national, ethnic Israel.

“ISRAEL” IN PSALM 130:8 REFERS TO THE ELECT

Is it possible, then, that the “Israel” in Psalm 130:8 is referring to the elect? Yes, I think it is. In fact, I think “Israel” must refer to God’s elect, to those whom God has chosen for redemption (salvation) in eternity past. “Israel” must refer to God’s elect because only these people fit the words of the verse.

Consider first that Israel, as an entire group, is exhorted to “hope in the LORD” (130:7a). This hope is not the world’s baseless “hope” that somehow, despite all appearances to the contrary, everything will work itself out for my personal happiness. Rather, biblical hope is the conviction that the LORD who loves me will certainly fulfill all His promises to me, and so I can trust in Him as I wait for Him to work out His will. But remember that “God causes all things to work together for good (only) for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Those whom God calls are certainly His elect (Rom. 8:30).

Notice also that the basis of Israel’s hope (130:7a) is the LORD’s lovingkindness (130:7b). Now, the LORD’s lovingkindness is His covenant love given to His chosen people, and this in the sense that these chosen people are forever His. Those who have by faith received the LORD’s lovingkindness have a reason to hope, because all His promises are given for them and they are all “yes” (2 Cor. 1:20). But all these terms, of “covenant love” and “promises” and “hope,” are poured out in the hearts of His elect through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).

It is also clear that “will redeem” is equivalent to “will save.” The LORD will save (all) Israel from all his iniquities (modified 130:8). It follows that, if Israel is saved from all his iniquities, then Israel is also forgiven of all his iniquities. But consider this, that in the Bible, there is only one group of people in which every member of the group is forgiven of all their iniquities, and that group is the elect. Those whom God has chosen will come to faith in Christ and will be forgiven of all their iniquities.

CONCLUSION. Based on these considerations, our conclusion is that “Israel” in Psalm 130:8 is referring to the elect, to those chosen by God for salvation before the foundation of the world (Ephesian 1:4). In this instance, “Israel” is the name for God’s elect.

PROFOUND IMPLICATIONS OF THIS INTERPRETATION

A moment’s reflection will make clear that there are far-reaching implications and applications from this discovery. That, in at least some instances in the Scriptures, the word “Israel” can refer to the elect of God, to those chosen by God for salvation in eternity past, gives a new dimension especially to prophetic passages in the Old Testament. We will explore some of these ideas and implications in a follow-up post in the near future.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/15/2022                 #600

Revisiting imprecatory psalms and imprecation

POST OVERVIEW. Another consideration of the imprecatory psalms and the other acts of imprecation in the Old Testament. This article once again evaluates whether imprecation of enemies is still a weapon in the disciple’s armory and, if not, why not. Other posts on this same topic are Posts #500 (3/8/2022), #503 (3/11), #502 (3/15), #505 (3/18), #509 (3/30), and #514 (4/6) back in March and April of this year, and Post #563 (8/26/2022).

DEFINITION OF IMPRECATION

The first thing we need to do in this revisiting of imprecation is define what we mean. In the Bible, “imprecation” is when a believer calls on God to curse or destroy his enemies. So, in the “imprecatory psalms,” the psalmist (often David) is in distress and his life is being threatened by enemies, and in response, the psalmist cries out to the Lord to give him relief by cursing or punishing or judging the psalmist’s enemies. The question that needs to be answered with regard to imprecation is, “After the first advent of the Lord Jesus, is the believer still allowed to imprecate (call down curses on) his enemies, or has that forever changed with the coming of Jesus?” At the end of my Post #514 (4/7/2022), I wrote this conclusion:

“And so we conclude our study of the imprecatory psalms. We have seen that these psalms which called down curses on the enemies of the righteous are no longer useful to the disciple of Jesus. Jesus Himself commands His people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, which renders an imprecatory psalm obsolete. But also, since we are to be wise ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), we realize that imprecating others is a poor strategy for sowing the gospel.”

In a later post on this topic of imprecation (#563, 8/26/2022), I concluded:

“Thus, the sanctioned New Testament response to persecution and affliction appears to preclude any retaliation, revenge, or imprecation of enemies. We would thus conclude that the disciple of Jesus is allowed to lament the suffering and to groan underneath it, and to long for the day when God will judge the wicked and set all injustice right but is not to imprecate his enemies. Rather, he is to trust the Lord with the administration of all justice and is to endure the suffering in the strength that Christ supplies.”

STILL MORE THOUGHTS ON IMPRECATION

All my study of imprecation has consistently led me to the conclusion that the disciple of Jesus is not to curse or to ask God to curse his enemies, but is rather to endure the persecution and the suffering. This is clear and incontrovertible. This is what the New Testament teaches.

THE FINAL QUESTION TO SETTLE THE MATTER: It seems to me, however, that the discovery of this New Testament doctrine requires a further step to fully settle the matter. That is, why is the disciple of Jesus not permitted to call down the LORD’s curses on his enemies when the Old Testament saints could do this?

As we explore this question, we begin by acknowledging that the solution is somehow tied to Christ and His death on the cross. The challenge, then, is to discern how Christ’s death on the cross has silenced the imprecatory psalms and removed them from the believer’s arsenal. The Lord no longer hears the believer’s imprecatory prayers because Jesus Christ has died and rendered all our imprecation of earthly enemies trivial by comparison. In the ultimate act of injustice, Jesus has died and yet our Lord “uttered no threats nor was there any deceit in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:23).

Not only has our Lord demonstrated for us that imprecation is no more, for He uttered no threats in His death (1 Peter 2:23), but He has also commanded His disciples to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27-30). Thus, the imprecatory psalms are obsolete, like the day of atonement and the cities of refuge. These psalms are part of the old covenant when the LORD would demonstrate His power by vanquishing His peoples’ enemies and when His people would call upon Him to rescue them physically. But under the new covenant, Jesus the Messiah has come and has already rescued His people. “It is finished” (John 19:30). Now that our Lord has accomplished His atoning work on the cross and has been raised from the dead as first fruits of all those who will rise on the last day, physical threat and physical death have lost their sting (Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 Cor. 15:54-55; etc.). Because of the resurrection, the disciple of Jesus no longer fears those who kill the body (Matt. 10:28). Instead, we love and pray for our enemies because our enemies may be of the elect (like Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9). One of my persecutors today could be worshiping the Lord Jesus with me next Sunday.

Under the old covenant, enemies were hated (Hinted in Matt. 5:43; explicitly stated in imprecatory psalms). The sons of Israel often asked the Lord to destroy their enemies and to rescue them from physical danger. But in the new covenant, the Lord Jesus has now vanquished sin, our greatest enemy, and He has rescued us from death. Because of Jesus’ victory on our behalf, we no longer hate our enemies, but instead we proclaim to them our message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20).  With the giving of the Great Commission, the disciple of Christ is no longer focused on sustaining his own physical life but has instead fixed his eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) for the purpose of proclaiming the good news to friend and foe alike.

ENJOYING THE IMPRECATORY PSALMS

But now, on this side of the cross, we can enjoy the imprecatory psalms because they point forward to that time when our great Savior would render all our imprecation meaningless and unnecessary. As the day of atonement (Leviticus 16) and the suffering servant (Isaiah 53) pointed unerringly to Christ in His first advent, so the imprecatory psalms also point to Christ as the One who, by His death on the cross, will rescue us from the most fearsome of all our enemies, sin and death, and will thus set us free to love our enemies and plead with them to come to faith in the Lord Jesus. We can enjoy these psalms because they remind us that Christ has died and risen from the dead and has thus rendered all cursing of enemies obsolete.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/12/2022                 #599

Lessons and applications from Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24)

POST OVERVIEW. In the last post (#597, 12/7/2022), we had studied the passage about Simon the magician in Acts 8:9-24. From that study we will observe a couple of lessons and also make a couple of applications.

In the most recent post (#597, 12/7/2022), we had studied the passage in Acts 8 about the false faith of Simon the magician and his baptism by Philip the evangelist. We saw that, despite his claim of belief in Jesus, Simon never truly believed. We also determined that Philip’s baptism of Simon based on his profession of faith was the appropriate thing to do, even though Simon’s profession was false.

In this post, we will extend our study into lessons learned and applications made.

LESSONS FROM SIMON MAGUS

What do we learn from this situation with Simon the magician?

First, this passage makes it unambiguously clear that baptism does not save. The proof is irrefutable: Simon the magician was baptized and yet he was not saved. A review of this passage should serve to silence those who hold to baptism as the means of salvation rather than as a marking of those who have believed and are saved.

Second, we learn that it is possible for a sincere minister of the gospel to baptize an unbeliever unintentionally. The New Testament teaches that a person is baptized upon their profession of faith in Jesus. It is possible, however, that the person’s professed belief is not genuine. Our study passage shows that Philip, already identified as a “man of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3, 5), a sincere minister of the gospel who is identified in Scripture as an evangelist (Acts 21:8), baptized Simon the magician based on his profession of belief. The pattern in Acts, and so the practice in the church age, is that a person’s profession of faith, of declaring Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3), is assumed to be sincere and a person is baptized upon profession of faith.

By the way, it is interesting to note that the apostle Peter does not rebuke or correct Philip for baptizing Simon Magus. If Philip had done something that was wrong, then it is certain that, at this infant stage of the church, the Holy Spirit would have prompted Peter to correct that error so that the error was not repeated throughout the life of the church. The fact that Peter does not correct Philip in any way indicates that Philip’s baptism of Simon based on his profession of faith was entirely appropriate. The fault and guilt lay entirely with Simon because he had essentially lied about his belief (see also Acts 5:3, 4).

APPLICATIONS

As we think about this episode with Simon the magician, we need to ask the question, “How does the church today avoid this situation of baptizing unbelievers?” Ultimately, the possibility of baptizing someone based on a false profession of faith cannot be removed. There are no apostles around today who have the gift to discern genuine faith from false. In the absence of this apostolic discernment, however, the church can take steps to try to ensure that a candidate for baptism is a genuine believer. For example, the person’s profession of faith can be examined carefully by wise elders to test the authenticity of their profession. Also, if the person has been a professing believer for some time, the persons interviewing the candidate for baptism can look for “the fruit of repentance” (Matt. 3:8; see also Luke 13:6-9; John 15:2) since their conversion. If after this investigation, the candidate’s profession of faith appears genuine, then baptism is done.

So, it is possible for even the most careful pastor to unintentionally baptize a person because the person made profession of a faith they did not possess. But this event is not a cause of undue concern, and that for two reasons.

THE CHURCH’S CLEANSING BY CHURCH DISCIPLINE

First, the church does have a remedy for this situation. It is difficult for the person who is an “unsheep” to remain undetected in the flock forever. This is because every baptized believer is to bear fruit as a disciple of Jesus. The Spirit-sealed disciple says no to sin and yes to righteousness. He worships, he witnesses, he grows in his faith. So if, over time, it is discovered that a professing believer is not exhibiting the fruit of repentance, but is instead evidencing the fruit of unrighteousness, the church will respond and confront this problem. If the sinning church member does not change and does not repent of his unrighteousness, eventually the church will exercise discipline and will remove this one from the flock (Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5) because the person’s unrepentance is counted as evidence of unbelief.

THE LORD’S PERFECT CLEANSING AT THE AND OF THE AGE

But second, there is an even more compelling reason that the unintentional baptism of an unbeliever is not a problem. The one who makes sure that His true church is composed only of genuine believers is the Lord Himself. If there are “unsheep” in the earthly flock, they are known to the Lord and will be removed by the Lord. The following are Scriptures that attest to this truth.  

The Lord knows those who are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). No matter how cleverly those who are not true believers disguise themselves, the Lord will find them out because He knows those who are His and those who are not.

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own, and My own know Me” (John 10:14). Jesus plainly declares that He knows His sheep. Only His true sheep will be saved from the judgment. (Consider John 10:26 – “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep.”)

In the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43), Jesus teaches that there will be true believers (wheat) and unbelievers (tares) in His visible church until the end of the age. Then, at the end of the age, He will throw the unbelievers into the furnace of fire (13:42). Again we see that those who make false profession on earth do not deceive the Lord of heaven.

The parable of the dragnet is similar to the parable of the wheat and the tares. In this parable (Matt. 13:47-50), Jesus tells us that the dragnet of the gospel brings in both “good fish” (true believers) and “bad fish” (false), but at the end of the age, the Lord will take out the wicked from among the righteous and will throw them into the furnace of fire.

These Scriptures make clear that, even though man or the devil may sow those who are false in the field of the visible church (Matthew 13:38-39), the Lord is the One who reigns over His church and He will ensure that, at the last day, His bride has no wrinkle or spot.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/08/2022                 #598

The case of Simon the magician (Acts 8:9-24)

POST OVERVIEW. A study of Acts 8:9-24 and the episode involving Simon the magician. We consider the implications of Simon’s professed belief and subsequent baptism despite his unbelief.

In Acts 8:5-24, we read how Philip preaches “the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (8:12) in Samaria and, as a result, some of the Samaritans believe and are baptized. This is exciting news, indeed, but this event also presents to us a couple of situations which can be misinterpreted and thus cause doctrinal confusion. The first situation involves Simon the magician and his professed belief and baptism and the second situation relates to the Samaritans receiving the Holy Spirit well after they had believed in Jesus and been saved. We will carefully examine these two situations in an attempt to remove this potential confusion.

GENERAL THOUGHTS ON INTERPRETING ACTS

Before we begin looking at Simon the magician, we should note that there are several considerations to keep in mind as we study the book of Acts. First, Acts portrays a time of great transition in redemptive history. At this time, the Jew-Gentile divide is firmly in place; there are still people who have believed in “the baptism of John;” the gospel is spreading first to the Jews, then to the Samaritans, and finally to the Gentiles; and the apostles are the authority in this new gospel movement. The fact that this is a time of transition constrains our interpretations of the individual episodes in Acts.

Second, because things are in transition, we must repeatedly ask the question, “Is this event merely descriptive or is it also prescriptive?” Luke is an excellent historian and includes many details of these events in Acts. His accounts are very descriptive of what occurred. The bigger question, however, is whether this description is also the way things should occur. That is, is this event a prescription for what should happen in all churches or with all believers throughout the church age till Jesus returns? In other words, is this episode in Acts describing for us what is normal in the church? Carefully answering these questions helps keep our interpretations on solid ground.

Third, in the early chapters of Acts as the gospel is spreading from Jerusalem to Samaria to the Gentiles (“remotest parts of the earth” in Acts 1:8), each new group of believers must be folded into the church in the same way. The pattern is established at Pentecost (Acts 2), where those who believe are baptized and, upon apostolic confirmation, they receive the Holy Spirit. What happened at Pentecost with the first fruits of the Jews happened again in Samaria (our current study in Acts 8) as the Samaritans, a mixed race of Jew and Gentile, are brought into the fold, and finally this happened (as we will see later on) when the first Gentiles come to saving faith in Christ (Cornelius in Acts 10). This process of apostolic confirmation and incorporation in the Body was unique in redemptive history, but its occurrence can cause confusion for readers of Acts.

With that as background, let’s begin our study of Simon the magician (Acts 8:9-24).

SIMON HIMSELF BELIEVED AND WAS BAPTIZED

The first situation we will address involves Simon the magician (“Simon Magus”). This Simon is a curious character. Before Philip came to Samaria preaching the gospel, Simon “was astonishing the people of Samaria” with his magical tricks (Acts 8:9). But when Philip performs miraculous signs and preaches the good news, the people give their attention to him, believe in the name of Jesus, and are baptized. The potential difficulty arises when the Scripture says, “Even Simon himself believed” and was baptized (8:13). To this point in Acts, when anyone believed and was baptized, it meant that they had been saved. Belief in the good news followed by baptism was the formula for salvation. But with Simon the magician, it becomes apparent that, despite his professed belief and his subsequent baptism, he is not a genuine believer but is still “in the bondage of iniquity” (8:23). How do we explain this?

PROFESSED BELIEF AND BAPTISM

To understand this situation, It is necessary to examine both professed belief and baptism to see what is happening here.

Our doctrine teaches us that water baptism does not save a person. We could say that “Baptism marks a person as saved, but it is not the means by which a person is saved.”

But we must go further. We can say “Baptism marks a person as saved” because their baptism is based on that person’s profession of faith (belief, trust) in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that faith and salvation precede baptism. “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). In all examples of baptism in the New Testament, salvation by faith precedes baptism. Therefore, we can conclude that a person is baptized because they have professed Jesus Christ as Lord and are therefore assumed to be saved.

So then, as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Philip appropriately baptized the Samaritans based on their profession of belief in the Lord Jesus. He assumed that their profession of faith was genuine, so he baptized them. In the same way, he also baptized Simon the magician based on Simon’s false profession of faith. But Philip was not an apostle, so he did not have the apostolic gift that allowed him to discern a false profession.

APOSTOLIC DISCERNMENT

In Acts and during the apostolic period, one of the gifts of the apostles was the ability to discern genuine faith. When the three thousand believed on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the apostle Peter was there to confirm the faith of those believers. But Peter was not there in Samaria when the gospel was proclaimed by Philip and so he could not confirm that these Samaritans had actually believed in Jesus and should now be included in the church. The Samaritans, including Simon the magician, had professed belief in Jesus, but without apostolic sanction, it was not certain that they possessed belief in Jesus.

Peter went down to Samaria for the purpose of putting his apostolic stamp on this move of the Spirit of God. In this instance, the apostle Peter was able to discern that Simon’s profession of belief was false. The Scripture makes clear that Simon had not truly believed in the Lord Jesus and was not saved, and so Peter exposed his unbelief and did not lay hands on him.

Having looked at Simon’s unbelief and his baptism and having determined what is happening in this passage, we also want to consider what lessons can learn and what applications we can draw from this study. The next post will take that next step.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 12/07/2022                 #597

Reading “Revelation” #5 – More principles and guidelines

POST OVERVIEW. One of a series of posts giving principles for reading and interpreting Revelation chapters 4-20, which is the most difficult section of the book. This fifth post of the series continues with the general principles and guidelines of interpretation begun in the previous post (#594). Previous posts in series: Post #590 (11/21), Post #592 (11/26), Post #593 (11/28), Post #594 (11/29).

SERIES DESCRIPTION. The book of Revelation is probably the most difficult book of the Bible to interpret correctly, and the main difficulties of the book are in chapters 4-20. Because of these interpretive difficulties and because many Bible teachers have offered conflicting and bewildering ideas about what the various passages of Revelation 4-20 mean, many earnest believers know just enough about the book of Revelation to be confused and intimidated by it. To clear up some of this confusion, in October 2021, I published my book, The Last Act of the Drama: a guide to the end times.

Now, a year later and before the 2nd edition of that book, I want to offer to readers of this beautiful prophecy a series of posts giving principles and guidelines for how to understand and interpret Revelation so that the book becomes a delight instead of a burden.

Interpreting the complex visions of Revelation 4-20 is made more manageable when the reader understands both the purposes for the book of Revelation and principles for navigating the text. In post #593 (11/28/2022), we had explored four purposes for Revelation, and in post #594 (11/29), we had considered some principles for approaching Revelation. In this post, we will continue our look at general principles for understanding the book.

PRINCIPLES – CONTINUED

PRINCIPLE. To understand the prophecy of Revelation, the reader should be quite familiar and comfortable with reading and understanding all biblical prophecy. One reason that many readers have difficulty with Revelation is that they are unfamiliar with the genre of biblical prophecy. While historical narratives (gospels and Acts) and the epistles (Romans through Jude) are understood literally, the book of Revelation is biblical prophecy and so is heavy on symbolism and figurative meanings and must be approached using a different lens. Because of the complexity of handling prophecy, I recommend that the student of Revelation should have read the Old Testament prophets Isaiah through Malachi several times before they study Revelation 4-20. If you have little knowledge of how to understand biblical prophecy, it is unlikely that you will successfully navigate the deep waters of Revelation.

Before we leave this point, I need to make a comment. It goes without saying that any believer can read Revelation at any time in their journey with the Lord. The beauty of the imagery and the power of the visions will edify any disciple. I am simply saying that, if you would study the book, you would be well-served to read and reread the Old Testament prophets and understand the genre of biblical prophecy.

PRINCIPLE. Biblical prophecy like Revelation typically presents events and characters figuratively and symbolically. Therefore, the default should be to interpret the text figuratively. For example, in Revelation, numbers are often symbolic. Symbolic numbers include 12, 7, 144,000, one thousand, and 666. Colors are symbolic, especially white, red, and black. Babylon is symbolic for all worldly and sensual wickedness. Other examples are the two witnesses (11:3ff), the woman of Revelation 12, the mark of the beast (13:16, 17; etc.),

Because so much of Revelation is marked by figurative and symbolic language, a key interpretive skill is discerning the meaning of these figures and symbols such that the interpretation makes sense in its context, is consistent with the rest of Scripture, and is consistent with the other passages in Revelation.

The principle here is that Revelation is to be interpreted figuratively.

GUIDELINE. Revelation is placed at the end of the canon because it is a summary of all that has gone before and is a tying together of any loose ends in the Scripture. As such, the student of Revelation will encounter a thorough test of biblical knowledge. This means that, before we interpret a passage or event in Revelation as new, we need to answer the question, “Haven’t we seen this (event or character) before?” Errors in interpreting Revelation can be avoided if the student remembers that there is little that is new in this final book of the Bible. Instead of new things, Revelation is usually presenting to us the final manifestations of things that we have seen before.

Soli Deo gloria                 rmb                 12/5/2022                   #596

When a saint goes home (2 Timothy 4:7)

POST OVERVIEW. Thoughts on the contrast between the death of a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and the death of one who does not know Christ.

This morning seemed like every other morning. I had early coffee at Starbucks with a friend, then talked to another friend on the phone, and finally had a fairly long phone conversation with my brother. So, the morning was proceeding as Fridays do. But this Friday was different. This Friday, a dear saint, a member of our church went home to be with Jesus. Edye was 93 years old and had been a member of Oakhurst Baptist Church since the 1950’s. She was in church almost every Sunday and it was always encouraging for me to see her singing all the words to every song. I enjoyed being able to hear about her trust in the Lord developed over a lifetime of walking with Him, so I tried to talk to her almost every Sunday. I will miss her and will look forward to seeing her again in heaven.

As I think about life and death and the human condition, I again marvel at the wonder of Christ’s salvation. For the natural man is lost and in darkness and has a natural terror of death (Hebrews 2:14-15). While all of God’s creatures die, man is the only creature who is aware that he will surely die. And why does man die? Man dies because man sins. Ever since Adam sinned in the garden, man has been born guilty and bent toward sin and this sin has two immense consequences.

TWO CONSEQUENCES OF SIN

First, man’s own sinfulness is registered deep in his soul so that man is aware of his sin and guilt in his subconscious. He may vigorously ignore and deny his sin and declare his innocence with his mouth, but the guilt within remains, like a deep undressed wound, festering and growing more foul. The conscience will continue to convict regardless of how loudly the voice denies. So, the first consequence of sin is that the natural man feels within him a deep sense of guilt and shame.

But while the first consequence of sin is, indeed, miserable, the second is far more serious and threatening. The Bible declares that a man’s sin brings him under God’s wrath and condemnation. The Scripture testifies that God will pour out His wrath on our ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). When Ezekiel declares, “The soul that sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4), the prophet is speaking of eternal death, of a destination in the lake of fire as a result of God’s judgment of our sin. Our sin separates us from God and hides His face from us (Isaiah 59:1-2) so that we forfeit His mercy and receive instead His displeasure and judgment. It is from this second consequence of sin, from God’s wrath and judgment, that we must be saved.

WHY ARE SOME NOT MISERABLE AND AFRAID?

Now we return to the wonder of Christ’s salvation. For while the natural man is miserable because of his deep, subconscious sense of guilt and shame for his sin and is, at the same time, terrified at the thought of his own death because he is subconsciously aware of God’s wrath and judgment, Edye, our recently deceased sister, evidenced neither of these in her life. Instead, she talked easily of her inevitable physical death and had no fear of that event whatsoever. Edye’s health was slowly fading as she journeyed through her low 90’s, but her joy was undiminished and she was optimistic about life and the future. She smiled and laughed easily and enjoyed being around her church family. How do we make sense of this paradox? Why is it that, when Edye was obviously so close to death, she continued to live with joy and not terror?

EDYE’S ANSWER

There is a one-word answer to this question: Jesus. Edye had met the Lord Jesus Christ and had long ago trusted Him for salvation and had walked with Him for more than six decades. When she trusted Christ, He had taken away her sin and had thus taken away her guilt and shame. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Edye’s Savior had given her forgiveness for all her sins and so she had peace with God through Jesus (Romans 5:1).

Edye believed that Jesus accomplished the work He was given to do (John 17:4), that He had faithfully lived a sinless life and had willingly given up His life as an atoning sacrifice on the cross. When He died, all the work of redemption was fully accomplished. Thus, Jesus could cry out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). By faith Edye trusted Christ for her salvation and thus her guilt was taken away.

Edye entered the hospital on Thursday afternoon and by Friday morning she had entered eternity. But for her there was no last minute struggle for a few more heartbeats, a few more breaths. When it was time for her to go to be with her Lord, Edye simply yielded her spirit and died. Why? Because she had accomplished her works the Lord had given her to do (Eph. 2:10) and there was nothing left for her to do. She had fought the good fight and finished the race (2 Tim. 4:7), and now the reward was hers (4:8). Christ had bought her with His blood and she had lived for Him and so now Edye joins the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). Yes, Edye will be missed, but we who believe in Jesus will see her again in heaven.

BUT FOR THE UNBELIEVER THERE IS NO PEACE

One final thought should be mentioned. For the believer, for the one who has trusted Christ as Lord and Savior, the end of this life presents no terror. It is a known fact that all must face death, but Christ has taken away from His disciples any fear. He has given me works to do and He determines when my work is done. He has risen from the dead and so I know that I will be raised with a glorified body on the last day. I know that the Lord delights in me, so I look forward to seeing Him face to face and receiving my crown of reward from Him. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21), so I joyfully anticipate the day of my death. Work done, works accomplished, faith kept, I enter into the joy of my Master. On that day, I will be able to commit my spirit into His hands.

But for the unbeliever, death holds great dread. There is no peace with God, so there is no reason to assume that you are going to “a better place.” Without a God-given purpose for your life, there can be no end to your labors, because you can never know if you have done enough. Since you do not know what awaits beyond the grave, there is a desperate desire for life to continue, even when life has lost all purpose and pleasure. So is the prospect of death for the one without Christ.

But there is still time to embrace Christ. As long as you have breath, you can bow the knee to Jesus and receive His salvation. “Behold, today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). The Lord is mighty to save. “For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Right now you can do what Edye did sixty years ago. Repent, and believe in Jesus.

SDG                 rmb                 12/02/2022                 #595