Thoughts on baptism from Matthew 28:19-20 – Part 1

“Buried unto death in Christ, rise again to walk in newness of life.” – my pastor when I was baptized thirty-one years ago at the age of thirty-one.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Jesus Christ giving the Great Commission to His church in Matthew 28:19-20.

Yesterday morning, our church celebrated the baptism of three new disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. One was a lady in her early thirties who had lived an immoral life before Christ. In her testimony, she herself compared herself to the “woman at the well” in John 4. But then she met Jesus, and had professed faith in Him, and had now found a good church where she could grow in her relationship with Jesus and could be taught what it means to be an obedient disciple of Jesus. As a testimony to her faith in Christ, she was baptized into Christ, and also baptized into His body, the church, where she will be nurtured and grow.

The next person baptized was ethnically Vietnamese. He was a young man 17 years old who had been raised in a Bible-believing home where Christ was honored as Lord. His parents were strong believers and had taught their son that he must personally place his faith in Jesus. And so, there came a day when this young man repented of his sins and placed his faith in Jesus. Now, as a testimony of his faith in Jesus, he was baptized into Christ, and also baptized into His body, the church, where he will be nurtured and grow.

The third person baptized was a Chinese man in his thirties. He had been born in northern China and, five years ago, had come to the United States to earn his PhD. When he came to this country, he was under tremendous stress. He and his wife had a newborn and there were issues with his visa and his job was stressful. As a result, he had almost experienced an emotional breakdown. At that time, he had met some Christians from our church and had begun to hear about Jesus. He committed to read the Bible from cover to cover to find out about Christianity. Then there came the day when he told his friend, “I believe in Jesus.” And so, in obedience to the command of Jesus, he was baptized into Christ, and also baptized into His body, the church, where he will be nurtured and grow.

These three stories are very different and are about three very different people. Externally they are about as different as people can be. Their journeys varied widely, as the Lord drew them to Himself (John 6:44). But the destination was the same. They were journeying toward Jesus and toward the salvation that Jesus offers to anyone who will repent of their sin and believe in Him.

THE BEAUTY OF THE GREAT COMMISSION

This is the beauty that is contained in the Great Commission which Jesus has given to His church. A person is far from God, living their life separated from Him by their sins (Isaiah 59:2; Ephesians 4:17-19). They may be living in open rebellion against God, or they may be outwardly “good” people who simply do not believe in Jesus, or they may be people who have never heard of Jesus and so remain ignorant of their sin and ignorant of His salvation. But regardless of why they are lost, and regardless of where they are in their wanderings, the path to salvation is clear and is the same.

First, a follower of Jesus proclaims to the sinner the gospel of salvation and tells the sinner of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, at some point, the sinner’s ears are opened so that he hears the gospel and trusts in Jesus Christ for salvation. Now the sinner has passed from death to life (John 5:24) and has been born again (John 3:3, 5), and has been saved (Acts 16:31). Thus, the sinner has become a disciple of the Lord Jesus.

Now that this person is a disciple of Jesus, what happens next? He is to be publicly baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit as a testimony of his new faith in Jesus. This is explicitly stated in Matthew 28:19, and there is absolutely no ambiguity. And the disciple is to join themselves with a local church where she can be taught “all things that the Lord commanded us.” The proper place for every disciple of the Lord Jesus is the local church. The church is where the new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) grows into a mature and obedient and reproducing believer.

The beauty of this transformed life was pictured for us Sunday in our church when these three disciples testified to their faith in Jesus and told of their journey to Him. From different directions they had entered through the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14) of faith in the Lord Jesus, and they had been publicly baptized into Christ, and now they were in the place of nurturing and teaching where they would grow into “oaks of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:3). This is such a beautiful picture of what Jesus came to do, “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) by bringing them to faith and then placing them in healthy local churches.

TWO DIFFERENT VIEWS AND PRACTICES

Having talked about the biblical picture of what happens when a person comes to faith in Christ, I wanted to talk about two different views and practices that occur in many churches which do not correspond to the teaching of the Great Commission, and which thus result in great confusion in even identifying disciples and determining if they are obeying what Jesus commanded. The first practice that I will discuss is Paedobaptism, which is the practice of many Protestant churches of sprinkling infants with a little bit of water and calling that baptism. The second practice that we will explore is what I will call “revivalism.” Revivalism is a particular practice of evangelism which assumes that, when an “evangelist” proclaims a standard message, there will be instantaneous conversions, which will be punctuated by “praying the sinner’s prayer” and thus guaranteeing the sinner an eternity in heaven.

I will expand on these ideas in two future articles.

SDG                 rmb                 12/20/2021                 #471

The angel of the LORD went out (Isaiah 37:36)

INTRODUCTION: This post is about a pompous Assyrian king who blasphemes and reproaches the LORD, and who then encounters the angel of the LORD. Those who blaspheme and reproach the LORD will, sooner or later, have to deal with the angel of the LORD.

In Isaiah 36-37, we find Isaiah’s account of the failed Assyrian invasion of Judah by Sennacherib, the Assyrian king. Or rather, “the great king,” as he calls himself. (This incident is recorded three times in the Old Testament: here in Isaiah, and also in the two history books of 2 Kings 18-19 and in 2 Chronicles 32.) The biblical narrative has a stunning conclusion as what seemed to be certain victory is switched into a crushing defeat.

When Sennacherib king of Assyria sends his spokesman, Rabshakeh, to meet King Hezekiah’s officials, the Assyrians are overflowing with confidence and contempt. Their army has rolled down from Nineveh in conquest and has reached as far as Jerusalem with little resistance. Kingdoms with their pagan gods have fallen like dominoes, and Sennacherib sees no reason Judah and Jerusalem will be any different. Yes, it is true that the Assyrians have heard of the God of Israel, the LORD, but the king of Assyria views YHWH as no different than the gods of wood and stone. Why would anyone have confidence or put their trust in a God you cannot see? And so, Sennacherib sends Rabshakeh to terrify Judah and to blaspheme the LORD and to urge Hezekiah to surrender. Clearly, Sennacherib is the great king.

THE TAUNTS AND THE BLASPHEMIES

As Rabshakeh meets Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah by the upper pool (Isaiah 36:2), his intimidation guns are blazing. The Assyrian spokesman is skilled at taunt and blasphemy.

“What is this confidence?” (36:4). You are outnumbered and you will be overwhelmed. Face it, you are doomed. You have no reason for any confidence.

“On whom do you rely?” (36:5). Look around you. There is no one who can rescue you from the great king of Assyria. Do not rely on your army or on the cleverness of your king. And surely you are not relying on the LORD to protect you!

“We trust in the LORD our God” (36:7). You have got to be kidding! Where do you see the LORD? And besides, the LORD is the one who told us to come up against Judah in the first place, and now you are trusting Him to protect you from the great king? No way!

“Do not let Hezekiah deceive you” (36:14). He thinks that his God is going to help you, but he is dreaming, and he is trying to deceive you. You don’t have a chance.

“Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD” (36:15). You would be foolish to trust in the LORD. If you let Hezekiah trick you and deceive you, the great king of Assyria will come into Jerusalem and kill you. The LORD is not to be trusted.

“Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you saying, ‘The LORD will deliver us (36:18).’” None of the other gods have been able to deliver their people, so why would you think that YHWH will help you. The LORD is just like the other gods. He is powerless and useless, but Sennacherib is the great king. Give up, for the LORD cannot help you.

Rabshakeh has already crossed the line and his doom is already sealed. Certainly, the LORD has heard enough from this blasphemer about his pipsqueak king, But Rabshakeh has more reproach and contempt to pour out.

“Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you, saying, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria (37:10).’ Did the gods of those (pagan) nations deliver them?” (37:12). Now not only is Rabshakeh saying that the LORD cannot defend Jerusalem against the king of Assyria, but he is also accusing the LORD of deceiving His people. He blasphemes God by accusing the God who cannot lie of deception. Rabshakeh declares trust in the LORD to be foolish and compares the LORD to the powerless pagan gods of the nations.

Up to this point, the LORD has been patient and has allowed the Assyrians to rant and to blaspheme against Him, but when Hezekiah prays to the LORD and asks Him to “deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, LORD, are God” (37:20), the LORD moves in power to destroy the upstart king.

“For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake” (Isaiah 37:35).

THE ANGEL OF THE LORD WENT OUT

The LORD will not long tolerate blasphemies against His name or open contempt from evil people. He will bring a just recompense and He will bring it swiftly. Sennacherib’s arrogant blasphemy against the LORD has sealed his destiny. Like the proud questioning of Pharaoh before him (Exodus 5:2) and like the blasphemous rants of the beast at the end of the age (Daniel 7:8, 11, 25; 11:36; Revelation 13:5, 6), so Sennacherib has reproached and blasphemed the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 37:23). Therefore, as the LORD destroyed Pharaoh for his arrogance, and as He will destroy the beast for his blasphemies (2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 19:20), so the LORD recompenses Sennacherib for his arrogance and his raging against the LORD (Isaiah 37:28-29).

“Then it happened that night that the angel of the LORD went out” (2 Kings 19:35). We have met the angel of the LORD before in the Old Testament. He spoke to Hagar and to Abraham. He met Joshua as he was preparing to conquer Jericho. He spoke to Gideon and to Manoah. He fed Elijah when the prophet was discouraged. And now, “the angel of the LORD went out.” He is the mysterious figure who seems to be God, although He also appears to be somehow separate from God. He speaks as the LORD, with all the authority of the LORD, yet He somehow is not the LORD. And here we see “that the angel of the LORD went out.” With all the authority and power of the LORD, He rises up to take vengeance (Psalm 94:1-2) on the Assyrians. It is one against the entire Assyrian army, and the Assyrians are vastly outmatched. The angel of the LORD brings divine judgment on Sennacherib for his arrogance and his blasphemies against the living God. “The angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians” (Isaiah 37:36). With his armies decimated and himself humiliated, Sennacherib returns to Nineveh where he is killed by his own sons in a pagan temple. So much for the great king of Assyria.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

In our walk through this world, the believer can feel attacked by the world and overwhelmed by the perceived forces arrayed against us. There are times when, like Hezekiah, the voices of evil people and the whispers of doubts in our head can threaten to undo us, and our faith can waver. In those times, remember God’s power. Remember that you are the Lord’s delight and that He has promised to be your shield and defender. Remember that He is with you like a dread champion (Jeremiah 20:11). Remember that, like Hezekiah, you can call upon the Lord, and He will hear you. Remember that “He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11). We are given this story to remind us that the LORD, He is God (1 Kings 18:39), and He is always with us. When the Rabshakehs in your life begin to taunt and blaspheme the living God, turn to the LORD and cry out to Him.

SDG                 rmb                 12/9/2021                   #467

Because of the covenant (Genesis 18 and 19) – Part 1

But because there was a covenant . . .

I have been spending time lately in Genesis looking at the life of Abraham, the father of faith, and this week I have been in chapters 15 through 19, which focus on the LORD’s covenant with Abraham. This post will be more like a series of observations than my usual study which presents my observations and then applies them.

THE COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM IS “MADE” BASED ON HIS FAITH

The covenant with Abraham begins in an unusual way. After Abraham expresses his faith; that is, after he “believes God, and it is credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6), the LORD has Abraham prepare a number of sacrificial animals and then causes him to fall into a deep sleep (15:12). While Abraham slept, the LORD “made” a covenant with him (15:18-21).

Why does the LORD make His covenant with Abraham while Abraham is asleep? The point of this seems to be to emphasize that this covenant between the LORD and Abraham is completely dependent on the LORD’s will and activity. Because Abraham has believed God (faith in 15:6), he is going to be the recipient of the benefits of this covenant, even though he is completely passive in making the covenant. Because of his faith, Abraham has full possession of this covenant with the LORD. By faith, he is now in covenant with the living God.

THE COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM IS “ESTABLISHED

Moving forward to Genesis 17, now the LORD “establishes” His covenant with Abraham. While the covenant was “made” (cut) when Abraham was asleep (15:18), in Genesis 17 the LORD appears to him while he is wide awake to “establish” His covenant. In Genesis 17, the word “covenant” appears eleven times. When Genesis 17 has ended, there is no doubt that the covenant has been established. It is public.

It needs to be stressed here that all the benefits of this covenant accrue to the passive participant. Abraham gets all the blessings. He receives all the promises. The sole requirement for Abraham is that he must keep the covenant by circumcising all his male descendants. That’s it. He will be a father of a multitude of nations (17:4, 5), and all he is obligated to do is to make sure that his “seed” are identified by circumcision.

All of this is really an introduction to my main observations.

THE LORD COMES DOWN TO ABRAHAM

In Genesis 18, Abraham has a face-to-face conversation with the LORD that lasts throughout the chapter. Let’s be clear on what occurs here. An ordinary flesh and blood human being has a time of peaceful fellowship with the LORD of the universe. Now ordinarily, when the LORD comes down, He comes in fire and smoke and whirlwind. When He came down on Mount Sinai, the entire top of the mountain was engulfed in flames and black smoke. When the LORD comes down, there is terror and judgment, like when He came down on the first Passover and killed all the firstborn of the Egyptians. But because Abraham has a covenant with the LORD, they enjoy a meal together and have pleasant fellowship. Because of the covenant, there is peace and friendship between the holy God and the ordinary saint.

I need to put a bookmark here, but next time we will look at this covenant relationship in greater depth and see how the covenant between the LORD and Abraham determines many of the amazing events in Genesis 19 and the destruction of Sodom.

SDG

The two witnesses and Christ’s ministry – Part 2

This is the second post on the interpretation of Revelation 11:3-12 about the two witnesses. Yesterday (Nov. 1), I presented an exegesis of this passage that revealed the meaning of the events at the end of the age. In this post, I want to demonstrate how the persecution of these “two witnesses” (the faithful church) at the end of the age parallels the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus in His earthly ministry.

PARALLELS BETWEEN THE FAITHFUL CHURCH AND THE MINISTRY OF JESUS

In Revelation 11:3-6

The two witnesses, representing the faithful church, “will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth” (Rev. 11:3). Notice first that the duration of their prophesying is about three and a half years. Second, the expression “clothed in sackcloth” speaks about the pain and the difficulty of their ministry. The church will prophesy at the end of the age[i] in the face of persecution and opposition. The world will be actively antagonistic to their message and will hate the witnesses (see Rev. 11:10).

From His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist to His ascension to heaven following His resurrection, the duration of Jesus’ earthly ministry was about three years. Also, from His rejection at Nazareth to His opposition by the Pharisees and religious leaders to His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, Jesus’ ministry was conducted in the face of persecution and opposition. The world hated Jesus (John 15:18) and was actively antagonistic to His message.

In Revelation 11:7

When the two witnesses, representing the faithful church, “have finished their testimony” (see Acts 1:8; Matthew 24:14), “the beast will make war with them and overcome them (see Rev. 13:7; 16:14; 20:8) and kill them.” When the faithful church has accomplished the mission given to her by her King, then the beast will be allowed to overcome and kill the church.

When Jesus had accomplished the work of redemption that the Father had given Him to do (John 17:4), when His time had come (see John 12:23; 13:1), only then were Jesus’ enemies allowed to rise up against Him and kill Him.

In Revelation 11:9

After the two witnesses (the faithful church) are killed, “those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days” (11:9).

After Jesus died on the cross, He was buried and “the Son of Man was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).

In Revelation 11:10

When the dead bodies of the two witnesses lie in the street, “those who dwell on the earth rejoice over them and celebrate.” The world is glad to finally be rid of the faithful church.

Speaking of His death, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice” (John 16:20).

In Revelation 11:11

After the defeat at the hands of the beast, the faithful church will be resurrected in glory. “But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet.” As was explained in the earlier post, this is the Resurrection at the end of the age.

As is proclaimed many times in the New Testament as the main message of the New Testament, after three days, Jesus was raised from the dead in His glorious resurrection.

In Revelation 11:12

After their Resurrection, the faithful church ascends from the earth to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). “And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” Then they went up into heaven in the cloud” (Rev. 11:12).

Forty days after His resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven while His disciples watched. “And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).

SUMMARY

What we have seen in this exploration of Revelation 11:3-12 is that the ministry of the faithful church at the end of the age, “the two witnesses” of this passage, unfolds in a very similar way to the earthly ministry of Jesus the Messiah. The ministries of both face opposition and hostility. Thinly veiled hatred from the world eventually erupts in violence and destruction. Christ is crucified, while the faithful church is annihilated, and the world rejoices in apparent victory. Then comes the Resurrection and the ascension, and defeat of the Messiah and of His church is immediately turned into victory.

SDG                 rmb                 11/02/2021                 #450


Maintain your zeal all the way to the end

I have been reading through J. C. Ryle’s book Practical Religion and have recently finished the chapter on “Zeal.” In his usual direct style, Ryle convincingly presents the case that the only way to run the Christian race is to run with effortful zeal. He presents example after example, both biblical and historical, that demonstrate that those who make a difference for Christ live with an abandoned zeal for the things of Christ. Theirs is an unclouded gaze that is set toward heaven which sees life as a brief window of time to be spent in undistracted devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35).

This resonates with me. In our age of distraction and dissipation and dissolution, where it seems that all in our society is intentionally designed to obscure Christ and to lure people into the wasting of their lives, the believer needs to be spurred to action and encouraged to press on with zeal. We are those who are convinced that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He is King of kings and Lord of lords, that He is worthy of all praise, and that He is coming back soon to judge the living and the dead. He is the One who has died on the cross and He is the One who has been raised from the dead, and He is the One who now rules and reigns. We proclaim His name and call the nations to bow down to Him. We are those who declare, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Therefore, in a world that is hostile to everything that I have just stated, the believer must be diligent to maintain his zeal without wavering.

Below are some of my own random thoughts on this subject.

My prayer – “Lord, let me never let up on the throttle! Let me never coast. Lord, fill me with Your Spirit so that I am useful until the day that I draw my last breath. Give me undimmed zeal. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

There is danger in coasting in the Christian race, even for a little while, and coasting poses a significant threat to your future usefulness. Reasons:

  • There is not one biblical reason to choose to coast, so any decision to ease up on your zeal is a decision against the Scripture. The Scripture speaks to the contrary and expects the believer to “die at their post.”
  • Because the flesh still indwells us, we are unwise to consciously reduce our zeal and “give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:27). Zeal for Christ suppresses the flesh, but reduced zeal gives the flesh breathing room. If given the chance, the flesh will kill your zeal for Christ and for His service and will turn you into a harmless pew-warmer.
  • The Lord rewards zeal, but He often withdraws His hand from those who desire to coast, and once His hand is removed, He rarely replaces it.
  • Human nature is such that when we decide to reduce our effort, even for a short while, it is difficult to get back on the track. This is seen in many human endeavors, but especially in our pressing toward the goal for Christ. The danger is that once we get accustomed to coasting, we find that our zeal has been lost. Once effort is reduced, we suddenly develop an aversion for work and an affinity for ease.

THE SCRIPTURE SPEAKS OF ZEAL

The Scriptures speak to this issue.

Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Since God has prepared for us good works to carry out, we need to be zealous for good works to be sure that we do all the works that God has prepared for us.

Titus 2:14 – Jesus “gave Himself for us to purify for Himself a people zealous for good deeds.” According to this Scripture, Jesus Christ gave Himself to establish a people zealous for good deeds. This was not the only reason He gave Himself up on the cross, but it is certainly one reason. If Jesus died so that I would be a man zealous for good deeds, how can I be otherwise? My very identity is tied to my zeal. If I am not zealous for good deeds, where does that leave me with Christ?

Matthew 25:15 – The Lord gives to His people a certain number of talents, “each according to his own ability.” The thing is that you don’t know how many talents He has given you. You may live under the assumption that you are a one-talent person and so live with that level of zeal and effort, when, in fact, He may have given you five talents. He may expect much more from you than your effort produces. Therefore, better to spend all your energy for the greatest impact.

Nehemiah 6:3 – Nehemiah was building the wall of Jerusalem, which was certainly the work of his lifetime. To rebuild the wall of Jerusalem was the reason Nehemiah was created, and he knew that. So, when his enemies Tobiah and Sanballat invited him to come have dinner with them, he smells a rat and declines their invitation. But notice what Nehemiah says to them. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” Nehemiah would not be distracted from his life’s work. In the same way, we should seek our “great work,” that work for which the Lord created us, and then live spending ourselves for that work.

2 Corinthians 12:15 – “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls.” Paul’s zeal for Christ manifested itself in the unrestrained outpouring of himself for other believers. Whatever he had and whatever he was, he eagerly poured out for the blessing and the encouragement of others.

Isaiah 6:8 – “Here am I. Send me.” In this scene, the prophet sees a vision of the Lord in the temple, lofty and exalted, and he is ruined. In the misery of his sin, he cries out to the Lord for mercy and the seraphim takes away his sin with a burning coal. It is then, after his sin is cleansed, that Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord calling for laborers to go. “Here am I. Send me.” In the zeal of his cleansing, and in his joy for now being in fellowship with the Lord, Isaiah gives the Lord a blank check for his future service to the Lord. The prophet gives no conditions to his service, and no limitations. Anywhere, anytime, for however long, he is available to be sent. And this is the normal zeal for the believer. We have been cleansed of a terminal stain and have been placed in the service of the Lord. With zeal, therefore, we give ourselves away to the Lord for as long as He sees fit to use us.

Philippians 1:21 – “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” No comment is required to understand the zeal in this statement.

2 Timothy 4:6-7 – “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” The apostle Paul is drawing near to the end of his life. Shortly, the Roman guards will lead him away to his place of execution and his faithfulness will be sealed by his death. But Paul’s zeal has had its full expression. He will have been poured out. There will be nothing left. He has held nothing back in reserve. All will have been expended for Christ. This chosen instrument will have accomplished the work he was given to do. At some point in his journey, Paul realized that zeal is only for this life. It is only now that you can pour yourself out for Christ. Only in this fallen world can you be exhausted and expended, so Paul decided to be exhausted and expended for his Savior.

Let us imitate Paul’s zeal.

SDG                 rmb                 8/6/2021                     #427

The Daily Disciplines – The practice of Trust

To walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. To walk as Jesus walked. To please the Lord in all that we do. To be holy, as the Lord is holy.

These are the heartfelt desires of the follower of Jesus Christ. When a person first believes in the Lord and begins their walk of sanctification, these ideals can seem completely out of reach. We know who we are, and we know the former blackness of our hearts. We know how we used to love sin and hate righteousness. But now the Lord has changed us, and we have been set free by the Son of God (John 8:36), and now, through Christ, we former slaves of sin have been made slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18). As slaves of righteousness, we are hungry to find the means for making the necessary changes to display a new holiness.

I have found several “daily disciplines” to be helpful for enhancing my own progress in sanctification. These practices operate in concert with the ordinary means of grace, like Bible reading and church attendance and fellowship, to help me walk more like Jesus. I hope to post six short blogs about these disciplines.

THE DAILY DISCIPLINES – TRUST

Trust in the Lord is obviously central to the life of the believer. Faith and trust are virtually synonymous, so a believer without a deep trust in the Lord is highly suspect, to say the least. Having trusted the Lord for salvation, the disciple now trusts the Lord implicitly for everything.

The basis for this trust is the Lord’s commitment to the believer and His promise of faithfulness. Once the sinner believes in the Lord Jesus for salvation, that sinner becomes a saint and is adopted into God’s household as a child (John 1:12). The birthright of the twice born is that they have become a child of the King. As a child, they have access to all the King’s protection and all the King’s promises. The child trusts the Lord; He is their help and their shield (Psalm 115:11). The sinner was an orphan, wandering without direction or purpose or inheritance or father in the world, but now the child comes to the Father’s table as an heir. As an orphan, they feared the present and they feared the future, but now they can look to God their Father, who defends their present and has guaranteed their eternal future. They no longer fear what the nations (orphans) fear because the Lord God is their Father. “What can mere man do to me (Psalm 56:4)?” “Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear. Though war arise against me, in spite of this I shall be confident (Psalm 27:3).” “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:13-14).”

Knowing about our Father’s faithfulness, we walk in trust. Our entire attitude is controlled by a settled trust in the power and the faithfulness of our God. He is the sovereign ruler of the universe, with supreme power and authority over all that takes place, and His children are the apple of His eye (Psalm 17:8). “If God be for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?” And so, we move forward in trust, knowing that He watches over us and knowing that He is actively “causing all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).”

The disciple of Jesus trusts in the Lord, and therefore, cannot be shaken (Psalm 112:6). The disciple abides in the shadow of the Almighty, who is his refuge and his fortress (Psalm 91). The believer trusts in the Lord because the Lord is forever trustworthy. Because the disciple goes through life trusting the Lord, peace follows him wherever he goes.

“Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness (Psalm 37:3).”

SDG                 rmb                 5/28/2021 #408

Justified by faith and justified by works (James 2:14-26)

“Does the Bible teach that we are justified by faith alone, or does the Bible teach that we are justified by our works?” This question was one of the central issues of the Protestant Reformation and remains the main dividing line between evangelical Christians and Catholics. “Justification by faith alone” is a non-negotiable doctrine of the Christian faith because it is a central teaching of the New Testament. On the other hand, a major doctrine of Catholicism is that the Catholic is saved by faith and works. This teaching was firmly established as Catholic doctrine at the Council of Trent and is still the doctrine of the Catholic Church today. Thus, the two positions contradict one another. Justification is either by faith alone or it is by faith and human works, but both positions cannot be true.

A PROBLEM PASSAGE?

And this brings us to a passage in the New Testament book of “James” that seems to create a conundrum, because James explicitly states in James 2:24,

“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

Now, it is a fact that the overwhelming majority of New Testament teachings on justification explicitly state that justification is by faith. “Works” are either expressly rejected within the passage or are prohibited by the context of the passage. (A list of these passages is given at the end of this article.) But now we see that this passage in James 2 seems to declare that justification is by works. In light of this verse and this passage, Catholics say that their doctrine of justification by faith plus works has biblical warrant.

Is this the case? Do Paul and James contradict one another in the fundamental doctrine of justification? Is there a contradiction in the New Testament, indeed, a major contradiction? Is the Bible ambiguous on how a sinner is justified? We will need to investigate this passage in James 2:14-26 to see if these things are so.

TWO DIFFERENT QUESTIONS

First, the good news is that there is no contradiction in the Bible’s teaching on justification. The Bible is the Holy-Spirit inspired, God-breathed infallible word of the living God and, as such, has no contradictions. The Bible is the Christian’s final source for all matters of faith and practice and is trustworthy. Therefore, we know from the outset that Paul and James do not contradict one another. But, having said that, we must nevertheless carefully consider this passage in James 2 and see why there is no contradiction with the rest of the New Testament.

Second, a reading of James 2:14-26 will reveal that James is addressing the situation where the person in view already has faith. James’ teaching in this passage requires that the person under consideration already professes faith in Jesus. In fact, the entire passage is predicated on a claim of saving faith. So, in this passage James is not addressing the question, “How does a person receive salvation?” Rather, this passage addresses the question, “Is the faith that you claim you have received a saving faith that manifests itself in works keeping with salvation?” The answers to these two questions cannot contradict each other because they answer two entirely different questions.

JAMES AND PAUL ON JUSTIFICATION

Paul’s teaching on justification is almost entirely focused on answering the first question above, “How is a sinner justified unto salvation?” Paul consistently and repeatedly answers that question with, “The sinner is justified by faith (alone).”

By contrast, in James 2:14-26, James is dealing with the second question; namely, “How is the faith that you claim justified (proven)?” James answers that question with, “The claim of faith must be justified (proven) by your works.” So, it may be said that James is, indeed, teaching “justification by works.” James is teaching that saving faith is “justified” by a changed life full of “works,” full of evidence that you are saved.

With that understanding as a background, the difficulties of James 2:14-26 disappear, and the passage flows easily.

INTERPRETING THE PASSAGE

  • 2:14-17 – James gives an example of faith without works. “What use is that (2:16)?” The expected answer is, “It’s not worth anything!” “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead.” A works-less faith is dead.
  • 2:18 – The difficulty of a claim of faith is that anyone can make such a claim. It may be a justified claim, or it may be an empty claim, but there is no way to tell based on the claim alone. Ah, but show me your godly works, and show me your obedience, and show me your fruit in keeping with repentance, and I will believe your claim of faith.
  • 2:19 – You can make a claim of faith and the demons can make a claim of faith, but if your claim is not justified by visible godly works, your claim will net you a demon’s reward.
  • 2:20 – James is now going to give illustrations of those who were justified by saving faith, because “faith without works is useless.”
  • 2:21-23 – Abraham proved the immensity of his faith by obediently being willing to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. The faith that had justified Abraham and that was reckoned to him as righteousness many years before (Genesis 15:6); that faith was justified and perfected when Abraham offered up Isaac on Moriah.
  • You see that Abraham was justified by faith, but Abraham’s faith was justified by his works.
  • 2:24 – “You see that a man is justified by works and not by (a claim of) faith alone.”
  • 2:25 – Even Rahab the harlot proved that she had saving faith because she risked her life by sending the spies out by another way. In this way, her invisible saving faith was made visible. So, she was justified by her works.
  • 2:26 – James concludes his argument, “Faith without works is dead.”

APPLICATION

            The first application of this teaching is to assure the believer that James and Paul are not at odds and the Bible is not unclear about justification. James and Paul are addressing two different questions and are using “justification” in two different ways.

            The second application would be as a possible Bible study opportunity for one of your Catholic friends. If your friend was willing to listen to this teaching from James AND also listen to the teaching on justification by faith unto salvation, you may be able to use this as an evangelistic opportunity.

            SDG                 rmb                 4/26/2021

It is faith alone that saves, but the faith that saves is not alone.

“Justification by faith” verses or passages:
Romans 3:22, 24, 28, 30; 4:2-6; 5:1; 9:30-33; Galatians 2:16, 21; 3:6, 8, 11; Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 11:6, 7, 17-19; 1 Peter 1:5, 9

The danger of dead works (Hebrews 6:1-8)

There is a persistent theme that runs subtly through the chapters of the book of Hebrews, and this theme reveals the author’s purpose for writing the letter.

WHAT IS THE THEME?

The theme is that it is possible to have a religion of useless, futile rituals, which appear on the outside to evidence true faith, without having any faith at all. In other words, it is possible to fool yourself and to fool others by your religious activity, while remaining dead in your sins and performing dead religious works.

FORMERLY A PEOPLE OF DEAD WORKS

The recipients of this letter appear to have been predominantly Jewish, based on the letter’s detailed references to the history of Israel and based on in-depth discussions of the priestly duties prescribed by the Law and of the minute details of the tabernacle. Now, if this deduction is correct, then it means that most of the recipients of this letter formerly practiced the Jewish religion and thus performed ritualistic dead works as good members of the Jewish community. Formerly, then, performing useless dead works maintained your good standing in the Jewish community.

But now the gospel has come, and now all people everywhere are called to forsake their useless religious works, repent of their sins, and place their faith in Jesus, the Messiah. If they believe in Jesus, they will be saved (Romans 10:9-10, 13). Then they are to walk in good works (Ephesians 2:10).

SWAPPING OLD DEAD WORKS FOR NEW ONES

Now we refer back to the theme that runs through the letter and see how this would apply here. Since these people are accustomed to performing rituals as part of their (Jewish) religion, and since this new “religion” of following Jesus, the Messiah, is based on the Hebrew Scriptures, it is possible for some of the people to assume that this is just a new religion with new dead works. Now, instead of circumcision and Sabbath and Passover, we do the new works of baptism and resurrection day and the Lord’s Supper. Now we talk about Jesus more than we talk about Moses, and we sing different songs, and the sermons have different subjects for their messages, but basically, we are just swapping out the old set of dead works for a new set of dead works. “What am I missing?”

THE THEME LEADS TO THE PURPOSE OF THE LETTER

If you have followed me so far, then this question should have sent chills up your spine. “What are you missing?” What you are missing is that this new Way is the only way to escape the wrath of God, and the only way that you can enter this salvation is through faith. So, what you are missing is faith! Faith is everything! No, we are not just swapping out a set of Jewish dead works for a set of “Christian dead works!”

These thoughts express the author’s concerns and define the purpose of the letter. The author seems to be a teacher or a pastor in the community to which he is writing, who has been separated from them, and it is possible that he is in prison (Hebrews 13:19, 23). In any case, his purpose in writing is to warn those who are just going through dead works that they are in peril, and to spur them to genuine faith in Jesus. He exalts Christ as our great High Priest and as greater than Moses, and as greater than angels, and he warns that if you do not come to faith in Jesus, you will never enter God’s rest.

THE DANGER OF DEAD WORKS

In light of this purpose and in light of the danger of dead works, I wanted to share some thoughts that occurred to me regarding Hebrews 5:11-14; 6:1-8.

In Hebrews 5:11-12, the author rebukes the people about their ongoing immaturity.

it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

The warning is that a perpetual immaturity suggests a sobering diagnosis of dead religion. A perpetual immaturity puts you on a trajectory that ends in dead works and apostasy. Some of these professing believers should have been teaching the word, and yet they are still on milk and not solid food. The analogy would say that the child is running in the playground but has yet to be weaned off milk. Spiritual milk is what spiritual babes need (1 Peter 2:2), but if you have been in the fellowship for a decade and you are still on milk, there is reason for serious concern.

Do you know people who have supposedly been in Christ for decades and yet still barely drink milk? They are in great peril. In the Scriptures, there does not appear to be a good excuse for ongoing immaturity. The believer is always supposed to be in the process of spiritual growth. Paul had not attained spiritual maturity (Philippians 3:12-13), but he pressed on toward the goal (3:14). Paul thus gives us two lessons: none of us has yet attained full maturity, and therefore, we are always to be growing toward greater maturity.

There are other dangers of dead works and other thoughts that I have on this subject, but I will save those for another day.

SDG                 rmb                 4/9/2021

Man, the fearful creature (Isaiah 41:10)

Man is a fearful creature. Although he was originally created to enjoy fellowship with God and to walk with Him, today we know that the human being is a fearful creature. Ever since Adam and Eve rebelled against God and sinned in the garden, all mankind has known fear as the most basic of all emotions. We feel all alone in a hostile world where death is a constant threat and an inevitable eventuality, and we are exceedingly small facing challenges that are enormous.

THE SOURCE OF OUR FEAR

The source of our fear is our sin against the God who created us and to whom we are accountable. Adam and Eve had enjoyed sweet fellowship with God until they ate the forbidden fruit, and fear followed immediately after their sin. In their guilt and shame, they hid from God, and we, as the children of Adam, have been doing that ever since. Through Adam, all sinned (Romans 5:12), and so also through Adam all of us know the fear that comes from our guilt. Whether we know it or not, we sense that we deserve God’s judgment and punishment, and so we put on our own personal fig leaves and we go into hiding.

WE RUN AWAY, BUT THE LORD PURSUES

And what does the living God do in response to our sin and our hiding? We have broken His commandments and we have run away from any fellowship or relationship with Him. How does the Lord respond to our sin and fear? Remarkably, the Lord pursues us. As we turn the pages of Scripture, we encounter a God who pursues the sinner, any sinner, and offers that sinner reconciliation and restoration and relationship. In response to our running away in guilt and fear, the Lord commands us to “fear not”

“Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

There is no human solution to the problems of guilt and fear. Your guilt is because you have sinned against the Holy One, the living God, and your fear is ultimately a fear of God and His terrifying judgment of your sin. And yet the God whom you have offended is the very one who pursues you to offer His forgiveness and His strength.

The Bible is full of commands from the Lord for His children to “fear not.” And why is it appropriate for the one who has been reconciled to God and who has been forgiven by God to no longer fear?

“But now thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are Mine.’” Isaiah 43:1

It is inappropriate to fear when the LORD the Creator of the universe, has redeemed you. The One who formed you and called you to Himself in Jesus Christ is the One who is always for you and is ever at your right hand. So, fear not! Claim your freedom from fear that is the right and blessing of the twice born, of all those who confess Jesus as Lord!

“I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered my from all my fears.” – Psalm 34:4

How can the psalmist be delivered from all his fears? Because the LORD, the all-powerful One, is his God! When the living God is your protector, there is no reason for fear.

THE LORD GOD, THE CONQUEROR

But not only is the Bible full of exhortations to “fear not,” but the Bible is also full of examples of our God overwhelmingly conquering adversaries and enemies against seemingly impossible odds. The children of Israel were backed up against the Red Sea and the most powerful army in the world was bearing down on them. Then the LORD split the Red Sea so Israel could walk through on dry ground and the Egyptian army was drowned. Gideon had 300 men and some pitchers and lanterns and trumpets, yet 150,000 Midianites were defeated by the 300. David had nothing but a slingshot and confidence in the LORD, and the giant Goliath was struck down and his head taken off. Jerusalem and King Hezekiah were under siege from the Assyrians, who had conquered all the other countries around the nation of Judah and had boasted that they would destroy Jerusalem as well. Then the angel of the LORD struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians in one night, and the contest was over.

In the most glorious example of all, one Man was called upon to endure the agonies of the cross so that He could bear the full wrath of God against sin and could defeat death by rising from the dead. One solitary Man was pitted against the sin of the world and the horrors of death, and on Sunday morning sin and death lay vanquished at Jesus’ feet.

These examples show us that the God who pursues us for reconciliation is worthy of our confidence and trust.

JESUS SPEAKS ON WORRY

In one section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells His disciples of the futility and folly of worry. Five times in Matthew 6:25-34 our Lord mentions worry and instructs us why it does not make any sense. In simplest terms, what is the reason the disciple of Jesus should not worry? It is because you have a heavenly Father. Simple as that. Your heavenly Father is in control of all things. He feeds the birds and clothes the flowers of the field, and He is completely aware of your physical needs. You have a heavenly Father who knows you and loves you. What could you possibly be worried about?

SDG                 rmb                 3/30/2021

The danger of emotions unrecognized and unexpressed

“Emotions are good.” This is a statement that it has taken me decades to affirm. When I was much younger, I was even more cognitive than I am now, because I viewed emotion, all emotion, with suspicion. Emotions were associated with pain, and the best way to avoid the pain from emotions was to smother them.

But slowly, step-by-step I have learned that, if I want to be a healthy human being, then I must become comfortable with my emotions. In fact, my emotions tell me where I am hurting and what I am feeling so that I can address those hurts. And I have learned something of how to express my emotions to others so that they can know what is going on with me.

“Emotions are good.” How do I know that is true? Jesus Christ, the perfect God-Man, had emotions. Of course, His emotions were expressed in sinless perfection, expressed exactly as God had intended when He first created man, but Jesus had emotions. So, emotions are good. Also, we read of human emotions throughout the Bible, and especially expressed in the book of psalms. Psalms is God’s great sanctioning of emotions, as He not only allows them, but He also gives us many expressions of them. In this beautiful book of poetry and praise and prayer, we find models for pouring out all sorts of emotions in God-approved ways.

THE DANGER OF EMOTIONS UNRECOGNIZED AND UNEXPRESSED

The more I have learned about emotions, the more convinced I am that the danger is not in emotions felt and inappropriately expressed, but rather in emotions that are unrecognized and, therefore, unexpressed. These unrecognized emotions are the ones that will build up and will manifest themselves in sinful actions. I think that anger is usually not so much an emotion as it is the sinful manifestation of other unrecognized and unexpressed emotions. When I cannot recognize or express what I am feeling, my frustration builds up inside me and is eventually vented as anger. But I am not feeling anger, at least not as the basic emotion. Rather, I am feeling sadness or disappointment or loneliness or rejection or, the most common and most basic of all emotions, fear, but I don’t know how to identify these feelings, much less communicate them with others, and so the feelings erupt as outbursts of anger, an “emotion” that we fallen humans are all able to express.

FEAR, THE ORIGINAL EMOTION

The most basic of all emotions is fear. Fear is the original emotion, the feeling expressed by Adam and Eve against the LORD God the moment sin entered the world. In their guilt and shame, they rightly feared God and hid from His presence (Genesis 3:8). The LORD God had told Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die (Genesis 2:17).” Now they had eaten, and fear was the natural consequence of their disobedience.

And fear is still the original emotion, the basic emotion. As Adam sinned and feared, so we children of Adam all experience sin and fear. As fallen people, our default is fear. And why would we not fear? The world is a vast and hostile place full of strangers who are against me. The world is complex, and I am simple. The world is dangerous and threatening, with the constant possibility of loss and, eventually, death. And I am all alone in this world. The only rational response to this situation is to feel fear. Really, how could this ever change?

FEAR VANQUISHED

Then we read in Psalm 34:4 – “I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” The psalmist claims that he was delivered from all his fears. Is this just poetic hyperbole? No! Fear is an inside job. Fear is always subjective. Therefore, my fear is always my responsibility. But how was the psalmist delivered from all his fears? When he realized that the LORD has answered him, he also realized that there was no longer a reason for fear. If the LORD is with you, you can be confident. I may or may not be delivered from my objective dangers, but I am no longer a slave of fear, because the LORD is with me.

In 1 John 4:18, the Word says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” There is something about knowing the Lord that directly addresses my fear. If I have grown in my relationship with the Lord such that I know His power and I know His love for me, then my perfected love will cast out my fear.

We read in Isaiah 43:1, “But now thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are Mine!’” Why is the child of God not to fear? Because the LORD, the Creator of heaven and earth, has redeemed you and called you by name. You are His! Fear is no longer acceptable, because the One who ordains all things and who has created all things, the sovereign LORD has personally redeemed you and called you by name. There is nothing to fear.

The One who has written the script of history and who now, through His providence, divinely directs all the action on the stage according to His will, is also the One who loves me with an everlasting love and who has promised to guide me safely to heaven to spend eternity with Him. My God has sovereignly ordained all the events of my life and He has, through my faith in the Lord Jesus, become my Abba, Father. I have become His beloved adopted son. Therefore, I will continue to walk in faith. He has delivered me from all my fears.

SDG                 rmb                 3/24/2021 #380