Hearing trumpets, they will not understand (Rev. 8-9)

This post on Revelation chapters 8 and 9 is based on material from my upcoming book, The Last Act of the Drama: A disciple’s guide to the end-times. Let me know if you find it interesting. rmb

THE TRUMPETS FOR THE UNRIGHTEOUS

The trumpet warnings blare loudly at the very end of the age, announcing that judgment is coming soon and urging the unrighteous to repent and to turn from their wickedness and to call out to the Lord. This is the scene that we see unfolding in Revelation 8-9, as, through the trumpets, the Lord again demonstrates that He “endures with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22).” The Lord sends out His final warnings to the earth in the form of the trumpets, loudly proclaiming a warning to those who are perishing so that they may see their peril and repent, because “the Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11).” As the LORD spoke to Cain about sin crouching at his door and then spoke through Noah to the ancient world about the soon-coming judgment of the flood; and as He spoke through the Law and the prophets and through His Son Jesus, and as He has spoken through the church for two millennia, so He will speak for a final time at the end of the age through the trumpet warnings with the message that the unrighteous must repent and must call upon the Lord for salvation.

BUT FOR THE RIGHTEOUS?

For the unrighteous, then, the trumpets warn of a coming awful recompense, but for the righteous, these same trumpets are signs which promise a soon-coming reward. The disastrous foretastes of the final judgment on those in the world reveal to believers that the Lord is near (Matthew 24:33; Philippians 4:5), and that soon their faith will be sight, and that their waiting and their perseverance will be over.

The righteous will see and will recognize the trumpet warnings for what they are, but they themselves will largely be unaffected by the trumpets. The disasters will occur almost entirely among the unrighteous, while those who love the Lord Jesus will cry out, “Maranatha (1 Corinthians 16:22)! Come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20).” The trumpets announce to the righteous that the Rider on the white horse (Revelation 19:11-21) will soon mount His steed and will bare His flashing sword and will come to gather all His people to Himself into heaven forever. The glorious day will soon arrive!

HAVE EYES BUT CANNOT SEE, EARS BUT CANNOT HEAR

The unrighteous have eyes to see the same disasters and have ears to hear the same wailings of misery and destruction, but they will not see, and they will not hear (Isaiah 6:9-10). Their sin and their wickedness have rendered their eyes blind and their ears deaf. As the trumpet warnings grow increasingly severe, so the willful blindness and rebellion of the unrighteous increases correspondingly. They will, therefore, ignore and deny the urgings for repentance and will continue in their headlong pursuit of wickedness (Revelation 9:20-21). And with the sounding of the seventh trumpet (Revelation 11:15-18), the opportunity for repentance will forever be lost . Their end is judgment and the lake of fire.

SDG                 rmb                 5/12/2021

Is it reform or repentance? (Psalm 51)

How can a person change? Is it possible for people to truly change and to stop behaviors that are destructive or immoral and begin actions that are edifying and helpful and holy? In this article we will attempt to answer these and other related questions.

GUILT, ADMITTING WRONG, AND REFORM

There is no power in the guilt that comes from a pricked conscience. When a person does something wicked or disobedient, their conscience accuses them of wrong (Romans 2:15) and there follows a momentary pang of guilt. But that guilt is quickly suppressed and forgotten so that the sinful behavior can continue uninterrupted. The sinner appreciates the comfort of a seared conscience.

Ah, but there is power in the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11). Rather than merely a passing pang of guilt, this conviction of the Holy Spirit is persistent. Conviction is not easily dismissed. It urges a significant response. Rather than being suppressed, the conviction demands that the underlying sin be dealt with.

There is no power in merely admitting that you did something wrong. Indeed, admitting wicked acts can be done with defiance and evil pride. “whose glory is in their shame (Philippians 3:19).” The most deceitful of hearts can admit that something they did would be considered wrong by some.

Ah, but there is power in seeing my sin as sin and then confessing my sin to the Lord. I acknowledge my sin as rebellion before the Lord (Psalm 32:3-6). Confessing my sin means telling the Lord that what I did was sin. I confess that I have rebelled against the living God.

Against You, You only have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight (Psalm 51:4).

REFORM AND REPENTANCE

And now we come to the heart of the matter. For guilt and admission of wrong, or conviction and confession are merely preliminaries, because the goal is changed behavior. For changes in behavior, we have two tools: reform and repentance. There is no power in reform, but there is great power in repentance.

Reform is an attempt at behavior modification while the rebel inside remains. Attempts at reform assume that changing the external behavior means the person has changed. But reform of a person’s external behavior while their “inner man” remains enslaved to sin is an exercise in futility. The modified behavior conflicts with the fundamental nature of the rebel. The rebel inside detests the new behavior and despises those who constrain his sin. He longs to return to the freedom of his slavery to sin.

The rebel still loves the old behavior but pretends to like different, “better” behavior for some selfish reason. Thus, the rebel strives to reform their external behavior while their heart still loves rebellion. The new behavior lasts as long as the rebel can endure the repugnant modifications and can suppress their cravings for the old ways, but sooner or later, the rebel emerges. The internal conflict is too great, the love of sin is too powerful, and the reforms are the casualty. “The dog returns to its own vomit” and “The pig returns to wallowing in the mire.” The rebel returns to the comfort of his rebellion, and once again, reform is exposed as useless, as a vain attempt to prevent the rebel’s headlong sprint to their own destruction. Reform fails because the rebel remains. But reform is the best you can hope for if you are working with a rebel.

Repentance is different. Repentance is unavailable to the rebel, because repentance is founded on the existence of a heartfelt desire for permanent change, and the rebel’s deceitful heart of stone only desires sin. Ah, but if we change the rebel into a saint, from a slave of sin into a slave of righteousness, then instead of the uselessness of reform, there is the power of repentance. The shackles of sin have been shattered and have been replaced with a hunger and thirst for righteousness. The person has been changed, so they are free to change.

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:36

The Son has set the rebel free, so now the former rebel detests their old behavior and puts their old behavior to death (Colossians 3:5) by repentance. There is great power in repentance, in actively hating the sins that I see in my life, and confessing them, and then changing my behavior and turning from those sins. I have been set free, so I can change! The power of repentance is in asking the Lord to remove these loathsome sins from my life. “Make me more like Jesus, O Lord! Help me to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel! Help me to walk as Jesus walked.” Repentance is the powerful tool that allows the changed person to change.

SDG                 rmb                 5/6/2021

The Helper is to your advantage (John 16:7-11)

“There is no way that Your going away is to our advantage!” This is not in the biblical text, but I suspect that more than one of Jesus’ disciples had this thought when the Lord told them, in John 16:7-11, that He was going away to the Father.

But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me10 and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

Once again, we are in the Upper Room as Jesus is giving His disciples final instructions and preparing them for what is to come. In a few hours, Jesus will be arrested, tried as a criminal, scourged, and crucified, and thus He will accomplish the work He was given to do (John 17:4). But now He has a couple of last hours to spend with His apostles. One of the most important teachings of this discourse is Jesus’ teaching here on the Holy Spirit.

SENDING THE HELPER

Jesus has told His disciples that He is going to the Father (John 16:5), “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away.” Before the disciples break out in a panic, Jesus explains that He is going to send the Helper to them (16:7). Who is this Helper? They have already learned about this Helper, the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). He is a member of the Trinity, fully God and worthy to be worshiped. But more than that, Jesus introduces Him as the Helper. That means that one of His primary roles is that of helping the followers of the Lord Jesus. And, while Jesus, because He had taken on a body of flesh, was localized in one place at one time, the Holy Spirit can be in multiple places. Thus, the Helper can be helping believers in far-flung places at the same time. Jesus must go, but He will send the Helper to them.

CONVICT THE WORLD

The primary area in which the Helper will help the disciples is in the area of fulfilling the mission that Jesus will give them. After His resurrection, but before He ascends to heaven, the risen and victorious Lord Jesus commissions His church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and to be His witnesses in all the earth (Acts 1:8). Their primary “weapon” is the gospel, but their source of power is the Holy Spirit. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you (Acts 1:8).” And so, the weak and mortal and often-fearful disciples of Jesus go out into the world empowered by the divine Holy Spirit. And what will the Helper, the Holy Spirit, do? “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8).” The Holy Spirit, then, is the One who works in the hearts and minds of unbelievers to bring a sense of guilt on the ungodly. He will convince the wicked of their fault, and He will show the unrighteous their sin. The church proclaims, but the Helper brings conviction. This is a huge advantage.

CONCERNING SIN

“concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me (16:9).”

Fallen man is sinful by nature and by choice. The natural man is a slave of sin (John 8:34) and he loves the darkness and hates the Light (John 3:19-20). For the world, sin is enjoyable, and the world does not mind evil at all. Those who do not believe in Jesus have no one and nothing to convict them of sin, and so they continue in their wickedness.

But there are some among the ungodly, some who do not believe in Jesus whom the Father is calling and drawing (John 6:44), and for these, the Helper begins convicting them concerning sin. The Helper, the Holy Spirit, is speaking to their mind and to their heart and changing their view of sin. For these whom the Helper is convicting, sin is gradually losing its pleasure. Because of the Holy Spirit’s conviction, sin begins to look less appealing and more disgusting. Eventually, under the Holy Spirit’s conviction, those who did not believe in Jesus repent of their sin and forsake their sin and believe in Jesus. This is a huge advantage.

CONCERNING RIGHTEOUSNESS

“concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me (16:10).”

For the duration of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the world had a vivid display of perfect righteousness. Wherever Jesus was, there righteousness was displayed. And when Jesus was around, the unrighteousness of everyone else in the world was painfully evident. When Jesus was there, you were automatically convicted of your unrighteousness by comparison. But Jesus is going to the Father, and who will convict the world of their unrighteousness now?

The Helper is the Person who convicts the world of unrighteousness now that Jesus has gone to heaven. The Holy Spirit speaks to the minds and hearts of the unrighteous and convicts them. “Your words are vile.” “Your thoughts are wicked.” “All you care about is you.” “You know that you just lied to her.” “God condemns your hatred.” There is no longer conviction by comparison; now there is direct conviction from the Helper. And this is a big advantage.

CONCERNING JUDGMENT

“concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged (16:11).”

When Jesus was on earth, he warned the world concerning the final judgment and urged people to repent of their sin and to believe in Him. His message of coming judgment was clear, even though most hearers ignored His warnings. But now Jesus is going to the Father. Who is going to convict the world about the perils of the coming judgment?

Jesus has not left the world without a witness but has called His church to proclaim the gospel and to warn the world of the judgment to come. The church now has the responsibility to warn the world of coming judgment, and the Helper is the one who brings conviction on the world when the church proclaims. The final judgment of the world should bring fear into the hearts of all unrepentant sinners, but the world scoffs and mocks (Genesis 19:14; 2 Peter 3:3-7). But while most of the world scoffs and mocks, the Helper convicts some in the world of the peril of the final judgment. Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, some will begin to hear and to fear. Some will cry out for salvation (Acts 16:30). Some will be cut to the quick (Acts 2:37). Some will heed the warning and will flee from the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7). This is the conviction of the Helper, and it is a huge advantage.

SDG                 rmb                 4/28/2021

The danger of merely tasting Christ (Hebrews 6:4-6)

In a recent post (April 9), we began a consideration of Hebrew 6:1-8, a passage that talks about the danger of “tasting” all the truths of the gospel and hearing all the glories of Christ without ever coming to true faith in Christ. This post will continue in that vein.

A SUMMARY OF HEBREWS 6:4-6

The best way to understand Hebrews 6:4-6 is as a strong warning about the danger of hearing the gospel of salvation and yet never actually coming to faith in Jesus. The author suspects that some in the fellowship are still unsaved because they remain on the fence, considering the claims of Christ but refusing to make a full commitment to Jesus. Here in this passage, the author warns that, if you delay long over the call to faith, and if you persist in refusing Him who calls, then there may come a time when your heart will grow cold and when the gospel no longer compels you to respond. If you merely taste the things of Christ without confessing Him as Lord and Savior, you may know that experience where “it is impossible to renew you again to repentance (6:6).” At that place, your eternal doom is forever sealed. Tasting Christ without trusting Christ will be regretted forever in hell. So, this is a very sober passage.

TASTING, BUT NOT BELIEVING – HEBREWS 6:4-6

The full gospel had come to the readers of this letter. “God had testified to the gospel by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit (2:4).” They had been called to enter God’s rest (3:7-4:13). They had heard the message about Jesus, their great High Priest (4:14-5:10). The gospel had been proclaimed such that they had heard the truth about Christ and about His salvation. How had they responded?

“For in the case of those who had once been enlightened (6:4)

These had heard the gospel proclaimed, probably many times. Upon hearing it, they had been enlightened. They had become aware that Jesus, the Son of God from heaven, had come and died on the cross, and risen on the third day. But, having heard the gospel, they have not believed the gospel and called on the Lord. (Romans 10:13-14) They are enlightened, but still unbelieving.

“and have tasted of the heavenly gift (6:4)

The “heavenly gift” is the gift of the One who came from heaven. The heavenly gift is Christ Himself. But Christ is not merely to be tasted but is to be received as Lord and Savior (John 1:12). “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves (John 6:53).” A tasting can never save. You must love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength (Matthew 22:37).

“and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit (6:4)”

I do not know what it mean to be a “partaker” of the Holy Spirit I know what it means to be sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Word teaches about being indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). There are certainly gifts of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). These verses describe a vital, saving relationship with the Holy Spirit, but being a “partaker” talks about an association or a familiarity, but does not speak of a saving relationship. The true believer is empowered and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, not merely a “partaker” of Him.

“and have tasted the good word of God

These people had been in the assembly of the church and they had heard the pastors and the elders teach the Bible, and they had been moved. “Ah, surely here is power and truth! Yes, these men can preach!” They had enjoyed the Bible teaching, but they had not been changed by the Word. They tasted the Word, but they did not embrace the Word. If the Word did not agree with their opinions or desires, they just tuned it out or rejected it. A taste of the good word of God will not cleanse a filthy heart or open blind eyes.

“and have tasted the powers of the age to come

There were some people in the church who has seen signs and wonders and miracles (2:4) performed before their very eyes. They had tasted the powers of the age to come, but their interest in Christ remained lukewarm. 

Yes, they had been exposed to everything about the glory of God and the salvation offered in the Lord Jesus Christ. They had heard it all, and yet they remained unconverted. They still had not unreservedly run to Jesus. They had not bowed the knee to the Jesus and confessed Him as Lord. They were comfortable with these ideas and enjoyed associating with those in the church, but nevertheless they remained once-born.

THE DANGER OF MERELY TASTING

There is a danger in continuing to taste of salvation without coming all the way to full repentance. Today the word of the gospel may have an appeal and there is in your heart a curiosity about Christ, maybe even an attraction to Christ. You enjoy being in the company of believers and the Bible is an interesting book. You even had the thought, “You know, maybe I’ll become a Christian today.” You are tasting Christ, but you are not trusting in Christ.

For in the case of those who have tasted “and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” – Hebrews 6:6

But the danger of merely tasting Christ without embracing Christ as Lord and Savior is that one day, suddenly, you “have fallen away.” Suddenly, one day the gospel is foolishness to you. In a moment, your curiosity about Jesus has vanished like smoke. All of a sudden, you despise the people in the church and the Bible is a dead book. Your heart has gone from lukewarm to ice cold. You “have fallen away” and the collapse is both irreversible and complete.

Most chilling of all, your eternal destiny is now sealed, for if you “have fallen away, it is impossible to renew you again to repentance.” You are doomed to be damned. Repentance is now impossible. Hebrews 10:26-27 gives this warning:

If you have fallen away “after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

You have heard the gospel and have heard of the offer of salvation in Christ, but you delayed too long, and now the offer has been forever withdrawn. Now all that awaits you is a “terrifying expectation of judgment.”

SEVEREST WARNING POSSIBLE

Because of the eternal danger of falling away, the author of this letter is giving the severest warning possible. If you fall away, the opportunity for repentance is eternally lost. If you fall away, you can never be saved. Therefore, come to Christ now!

“Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart (Hebrews 4:7).” Act now! Come to faith in Jesus now! The Lord will not call forever. There is an urgency to your response.

Do not hesitate until the call of the Holy Spirit has ceased. Then you will be like Esau, who trifled with the blessing too long, and then finally could not obtain it for any price (Hebrews 12:17). The gospel was proclaimed to you, but you refused to respond. Now your heart is cold, and the gospel is foolishness. The moment is forever lost, and it is impossible to renew you again to repentance (Hebrews 6:6).

When you sense the attraction of the gospel, when you feel the draw of the Holy Spirit, then cry out to Christ for salvation. Be like Bartimaeus, who knew that eternity hung in the balance (Mark 10:46-52). Jesus Christ is passing by! Call to Him now. Hesitate and He will be gone, and you will never have this opportunity again.

Do not be those who receive (meaning, “hear”) the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1). “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation (6:2).” Do not be among those who heard the good news but did not heed the good news (Romans 10:16). You have heard the message. What will you do? “Be saved from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40)!”

SDG                 rmb                 4/19/2021

Crippled in both feet (2 Samuel 9:3)

When I was younger, it was a lot easier for me to believe that people were a pretty noble lot and that, if a person applied themselves and made the effort, then life would turn out pretty well. But as I have gotten older and have seen so many of my own best efforts amount to nothing as plans disappear like mist, and as I have watched those with promising beginnings become mired in mediocrity, I have wondered if maybe I overestimated our nobility. Maybe the truth is that we are broken and crippled in both feet and need someone to lift us up out of our futile existence.

MEPHIBOSHETH, THE CRIPPLE

In 2 Samuel 9 we are introduced to Mephibosheth. It is an odd name that he was given. His name in Hebrew means “dispeller of shame,” which is ironic because Mephibosheth’s life is marked by brokenness and shame. When we meet him in this story, “he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel in Lo-debar (9:4).” The most noticeable feature of Mephibosheth is that he is crippled in both feet (9:3).

“How did he become crippled?” you ask. Mephibosheth was the grandson of the king of Israel, King Saul. One day when he was five years old, the report came that his father Jonathan and his grandfather Saul had been killed in battle. His nurse took him up and fled, and in her haste, Mephibosheth fell. He fell and became crippled. In one day, Mephibosheth became crippled and orphaned. When he was five years old, all reasonable prospects for a happy future were irreversibly shattered. His father was killed, his legs were crippled, and the nurse he trusted failed him. And so, eventually, he drags himself out to Lo-debar, into the house of Machir the son of Ammiel. There in this dusty, backwater town, he ekes out his existence; forgotten, crippled, and orphaned. Helpless. Hopeless. End of story.

But it is not the end of the story, because there is an anointed king, King David, who is seeking for Mephibosheth. From his house in Jerusalem, King David “sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar (9:5).” David calls Mephibosheth by name (Isaiah 43:1) and, for no reason other than to show him kindness, the king makes promises to Mephibosheth, extravagant and astonishing promises of kindness and of lands and of a place at the king’s table where Mephibosheth can eat regularly as one of the king’s sons. In one day, Mephibosheth exchanged the miseries of Lo-debar for the glories of Jerusalem, and the house of Machir for the house of the king.

How does Mephibosheth respond? First, he “fell on his face and prostrated himself” before King David. What else would a person do when entering the presence of the king? Then Mephibosheth confesses his own unworthiness to receive such mercy and kindness. “Why do ‘you regard a dead dog like me?’” This is not self-loathing or self-pity, but an acknowledgement by Mephibosheth that he deserves none of David’s kindness. All he can bring to the king is his homage and unworthiness.

Through David’s kindness, Mephibosheth, who once was living in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel in Lo-debar, crippled in both feet, now lived in Jerusalem and he ate at the king’s table regularly as one of the king’s sons. Oh, and he was lame in both feet.

THE GOSPEL IN THE STORY OF MEPHIBOSHETH

As fascinating as this story of Mephibosheth is, it is the “normal” story of everyone who has trusted in Jesus the Messiah. The sober truth is that we are all broken from birth. All of us are victims of the fall, ruined because of the sin of Adam. We are figuratively hiding out in Lo-debar, waiting for someone who can be a “dispeller of our shame.” All our reasonable prospects for a happy future have been shattered or have evaporated. Like Mephibosheth, we are forgotten, crippled, and orphaned. Helpless. Hopeless. It feels like the end of story.

Then one day, we hear about an anointed king, King Jesus, the Son of David, who is seeking for us (Luke 19:10) and who is calling us by name. As we listen to His voice, this King makes promises to us, extravagant and astonishing promises of forgiveness of sins, and of joy in this life and eternity in heaven, and of a place at the King’s table where we can eat regularly as one of the King’s sons or daughters. According to this gospel of good news, in one day, in one moment we can exchange the miseries of our brokenness for the pleasures of His holiness. Jesus the Messiah is the great dispeller of our shame.

How do we respond? We fall on our face and prostrate ourselves before the glorious Messiah Jesus and we confess our sins and our unworthiness, and then we give Him our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) so that He can make use of even our lameness and our brokenness.

Yes, we are Mephibosheth.

SDG                 rmb                 2/20/2021

The conscience, the Law, and sin – Part 1: The conscience

In the next several days I will be writing two articles, one on the conscience and sin, and one on the Law and sin. The connection is that the conscience and the Law are two of God’s means of grace which bring our sin to our attention so that we can repent. These articles will examine how the natural man responds to these God-given means of grace.

The conscience and sin

What do we know about the conscience from the Bible? We will look at a passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans that addresses the conscience and use that as our starting point. Then we will examine several other verses that further inform our understanding of our conscience and try to apply those ideas to our lives.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves in that they show the work of the Law written on their heart, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternatively accusing or else defending them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. – Romans 2:14-16

Paul writes that “Gentiles do not have the Law,” but they do have a conscience. From this we can conclude that all people are born with a conscience. This is, in fact, what the whole Bible makes plain. All people have a God-given sin-detector called a conscience. Whether Jew or Gentile, or believer or unbeliever. A conscience is part of the standard equipment for all people.

The function of the conscience

What is the function of the conscience? Since not everyone knows about the moral Law of God as written in the Bible, God in His grace has given everyone a conscience to reveal to us our sin so that we can be led to repentance (Romans 2:4). In fact, as we read the passage above more carefully, we see that the conscience does “the work of the Law.” The conscience functions as a copy of “the Law written on our heart,” and it either accuses us of sin or acquits us of not-sin as we go through our lives. Here is how this might work. As I am talking to someone, I tell them what I know to be a lie. My conscience immediately convicts me of that sin, and I know that I have lied, and thus I have the opportunity to repent. Or else I walk past a co-worker’s cubicle and see that he has left his wallet on his desk while he went out to lunch. I could steal the wallet, but I resist, and my conscience defends me because I did not steal. The conscience, then, is evidence of God’s grace, revealing to us our sin so that we can repent.

Before we leave this passage, we should also notice that there is a vitally important reason why we need to repent. You see, there is a judgment coming. There will be a day in the future when “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” On that day, all sin that has not been forgiven will receive the full wrath of God through Christ Jesus. The sins that you think are safely secret are all known to God, and you will be judged for them. The sins that are unknown to you are all known to God, and you will be condemned by them (Romans 2:12). So, the natural man needs to listen to his conscience and repent of his sin.

The limitations of the conscience

Since everyone has a conscience, we would expect that people would be aware of their sin and would often repent of it, but this is definitely not the case. Why is this not the case? It is because of the limitations of the conscience in the face of the fallenness of man.

First, while the conscience convicts of sin universally, it convicts of sin weakly. The pang of guilt from the conscience is never that sharp, so the natural man learns very quickly how to ignore and silence the conscience. The Bible says that the conscience can be seared (1 Timothy 4:2), and the conscience can be defiled (Titus 1:15). In both these cases, the convicting effects of the conscience are silenced, and the people can proceed in their sin with a feeling of impunity. The sin remains and condemns, but the conscience’s ability to convict is smothered. This is what all people learn to do as they go through life, to a greater or lesser degree.

But second and more importantly, unsaved man loves his sin. In the gospel of John, he says: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (John 3:19-20).” The Bible is clear that the natural man is a slave of sin and he loves his slavery. The unsaved have given themselves over to the desires of their flesh and hate anything that seeks to limit their sin. Thus, unsaved people hate the conscience because they hate to be told about their sin.

Finally, while the conscience can convict of sin, it can only convict of sin. That is, the conscience can make the sinner aware of their sin, but they cannot restrain the sinner from sinning. More than this, the conscience cannot remove from the sinner the guilt and condemnation which they have revealed to the sinner. The conscience tells the sinner, “You are guilty of that sin!” The sinner replies, “Oh. How can I be forgiven of that sin?” “I don’t know,” says the conscience. In some sense, the conscience is like a fire alarm in your house. The fire alarm is good at letting you know that there is a fire in your house. Its piercing shriek is designed to basically wake the dead so that you are aware of the danger. But if you are relying on the alarm to save you from the fire, you will be sadly disappointed. An alarm without a separate escape plan is a casualty. Just so, your conscience can do nothing about your sin except to point out your guilt. If you do not have a way of being forgiven of that sin, you will surely perish in the judgment.

The answer to revealed sin

If the conscience cannot remove my sin or forgive my sin, then what am I to do? There is only one way to be forgiven of any sin, whether known or unknown, whether revealed by the conscience or by some other means.

“In Him (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses (Ephesians 1:7).”

            It is only through repentance of your sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that you can have forgiveness of sins. If your conscience is bothering you and you are convicted of your guilt before a holy God, confess your sins, and repent, and come to Jesus in faith. (1 John 1:9; Mark 1:15)

SDG                 rmb                 1/11/2021

Jesus calls only sinners (Luke 5:31-32)

            In Luke chapter 5, we are at the place in the gospel account where Levi has just been called to salvation by Jesus. “Follow Me,” said Jesus, and Levi was forever changed. So, Levi throws “a great feast” and invites all his friends so they can meet this amazing Man, Jesus. Somehow some Pharisees and scribes find their way into the feast and complain to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answers them,

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” – Luke 5:31-32

            Here in these two short verses, Jesus gives us some vital information. He tells us why He has come and for whom He has come. As we look at this passage, we want to make sure that we are among those for whom Jesus has come.

THE SETTING

            As usual in the gospels, the antagonists are the Pharisees and the scribes. Who were they? These were the strictest religious people in Israel. They were devout adherents to all the ceremonial laws and rules. They also viewed themselves as superior and looked down on “sinners” with contempt.

            At the other end of the religious spectrum were “the tax collectors and the sinners.” Tax collectors were Jewish people who were employed by the Romans to collect Roman taxes from their fellow Jews. If this wasn’t bad enough, they often overcharged and kept the extra. Tax collectors were despised by the Jews. “Sinners” were those with questionable or disreputable lifestyles. These included prostitutes or beggars or perhaps thieves. They were at the bottom of society.

            So, the Pharisees ask their question with a bit of disgust, “Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?” To them it is unthinkable for religious men to associate with such rabble. The logic of Jesus’ answer (see above, Luke 5:31-32) is cutting and profound:

“Those who think they are healthy have no need of a physician, but if you think you have a disease, you will seek out a physician. Just as it is only those who think they are sick who seek out a doctor, so it is only those who know themselves to be sinners who call out to Jesus for salvation.”

            We need to consider this very carefully. Why has Jesus come? He tells us that He has come to call sinners to repentance. For whom has He come? He tells us that He has come for sinners. For whom has He not come? Jesus has not come for those who do not see themselves as sinners.

            Here at last is the One who had been promised and foretold from of old. Here is the one Man who can deal with sin and not merely play religious games. All religions play games with sin, pretending that feeble human effort and invented works can quench God’s holy wrath, but Jesus deals with sin and vanquishes sin. Every child of Adam produces sin, but here is the one Man in all of human history who bears sin and who forgives sin and who takes away sin. Jesus is the only one who has this authority, and here He declares that He has come to call sinners to repentance.

            Jesus is the only Savior of sinners, but He is also the Savior only of sinners. The Pharisees and the scribes had no need of Jesus because they were religiously self-righteous and certainly did not see themselves as sinners. And since they did not see themselves as sinners, Jesus had not come for them.

            So far, so good. We see that the Pharisees were in trouble because they were religiously self-righteous. Got it. As long as I am not self-righteous, then I am good, right? Well, not exactly. It is true that Jesus has not come to call those who think they are righteous. That much is certain. But there is more than one group of people Jesus has not come to call. What do I mean? I mean that, according to this passage, Jesus has come to call SINNERS to repentance. Since that is the case, it must also be true that Jesus has not come to call anyone who does not see themselves as a sinner.

            For example, let’s say that you identify yourself as “basically a good person.” You have never been to prison, and you have never killed anyone, and you try to do what you think is right most of the time. Now, you are quick to admit that you are not perfect. “After all, nobody’s perfect.” (Jesus is.) But you are basically a good person. The fact is that you have no need of Jesus, because you are not a sinner, but are basically good. More importantly, Jesus has not come for you, because He came to call sinners, not basically good people.

            Maybe you see yourself as a respectable, church-going person. You are good to your neighbor and you obey “the golden rule” and are in the church almost every time the doors are open. All things considered you are better than most. You are not perfect, and you do make mistakes, but you are not as bad as a “sinner!” Well, you have no need of Jesus, because you are not a sinner, and Jesus has not come for you, because He came to call sinners to repentance, not respectable people to being nice.

            You see the point. Jesus has come to call sinners to repentance, and He has come to call only sinners. If you do not acknowledge that you are a sinner, then you have no need of Jesus. More importantly, Jesus has not come to call you.

            Do you see yourself as a sinner? That is, do you acknowledge that you have broken God’s commandments and have sinned against Him and justly deserve His condemnation? Then Jesus has come to call you to repentance. Repent, and cry out to Him for His salvation. “For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).”

SDG                 rmb                 11/3/2020

The Eschatology of Isaiah – 26:21 The Coming of the LORD

The prophet Isaiah wrote powerful prophecies not only of the events of Jesus the Messiah’s first advent, but also about the events of that day, the final day when the glorified Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the resurrected Lamb of God, returns from heaven on a white horse (Revelation 19:11ff) to judge all the earth.

It is Isaiah’s eschatology that we have been exploring in this series of studies, from one brief passage of four verses, Isaiah 26:19-27:1. Here the prophet tells us of things to come at the end of time. As we have seen in the post of December 1 of last year, Isaiah 26:19 told us about the great final resurrection of the dead when the tomb will become a womb and the dust will give birth to those who will sing for joy. A little later, in late December of 2019, we examined Isaiah 26:20, where the prophet writes about the time of tribulation of God’s people. Now, about nine months later, I want to examine the next verse in the passage in which the prophet tells us about when “the LORD is coming out of His place.”

PART 3 – The LORD is coming out of His place – 26:21

“For behold, the LORD is coming out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it and will no more cover the slain.”

There are definitely passages in the prophecy of Isaiah that are difficult to understand, but this is not one of them. Just to state the obvious, there will be a time in the future when “the LORD (YHWH) is coming out of His place.” For anyone familiar with the passages in the New Testament that talk about the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, the meaning of this phrase is clear. Isaiah is prophesying the return of the risen Christ at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead (confirm from Matt. 24:30-31; 25:31; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 4:14-18; 2 Thess. 1:7-8; 2 Tim. 4:1-2; Titus 2:13; 1 Peter ; 1 John 3: ; Revelation 19:11-21; etc.) Revelation 19:11ff, for example, is virtually identical to Isaiah’s prophecy and will be used as a comparison in the exegesis below.

            Phrase by phrase, the passage in Isaiah 26:21 says:

  • The LORD is coming out of His place. The Bible confirms that, in this instance at least, “the LORD (YHWH)” is Jesus, and that He will be coming “out of His place.” “His place” is heaven. This is exactly what Rev. 19:11 says as heaven opens, and a white horse appears and seated on the horse is the one called Faithful and True.
  • To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. When Jesus returns to earth from heaven at the end of the age, He is coming to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). As Isaiah says in other words, He is coming to punish the unrighteous for their iniquity. Now is the favorable year of the LORD (Isaiah 61:2) when the gospel is proclaimed and men and women can repent and believe the gospel and be saved from the wrath to come. But when Jesus returns and is “revealed from heaven in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance (2 Thess. 1:7-8);” when “He judges and makes war,” “strikes down the nations,” and “treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Rev. 19:11, 15),” there will be no more repentance, but only punishment and recompense.
  • The earth will disclose the blood shed on it and will no more cover the slain. Without going through this phrase word by word, the meaning of this phrase is that, when the Lord returns in judgment at the end of the age, there will be no sin that will not be exposed to the light of God’s holiness and there will be no iniquity that will not receive the full fury of God’s judgment. In this age it can seem that the unrighteous prosper and seem to get away with murder (see Psalm 73, for example). While God’s judgment is delayed, people can believe that sin is not a big deal and that, because punishment is delayed, punishment for sin will never occur. But there is no sin that God does not see and record (Revelation 20:12-13 – “and the books were opened”). Every sin matters to God, because every sin of His people required the death of His Son on the cross, and because every sin of the unrighteous requires eternal punishment. So, there is no sin that escapes His notice. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, for all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13).”
  • Because the Lord will return to bring wrath on the unrighteous, now is the day to repent and trust in Christ (2 Cor. 6:1-2). When Isaiah wrote his prophecy about the coming of the LORD in judgment, there were yet 700 years before the First Advent of the Lord Jesus. When Isaiah wrote his prophecy, there were no miracles of Jesus, there were no apostles, there was no perfect Man who fulfilled the Law, there was no cross, and there was no empty tomb, There was no gospel to proclaim that allows sinners to be saved. There was no New Testament which clearly tells of the coming judgment and of the return of the glorious Lord Jesus, and that warns men and women to repent before the time to repent is gone. But we have no such ignorance, and now the time is short. Soon, and very soon, the LORD is coming out of His place to judge. “Behold, NOW is the favorable time; behold NOW is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2).”

What we have seen so far in our reading of Isaiah 26:19-21 is that, even though Isaiah wrote at least 700 years before the New Testament was written, his prophecies about the events of the Second Coming of Jesus the Messiah are entirely consistent with the prophecies of the New Testament. This is yet another confirmation of the “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) nature of the entire Bible, and evidence that the same God who inspired Isaiah in his writings is also the God who inspired the New Testament authors. This should increase still more our confidence in the Scriptures and should persuade us that, when we handle the Bible, we are indeed handling the word of God.

The next post in this series will look at Isaiah 27:1 which will tell us more about the events surrounding the return of Jesus.

SDG                       rmb                        10/02/2020

Celebrate Repentance (Colossians 3:5)

The other day I did a Google Search to find all the Celebrate Repentance groups there are in Charlotte, NC. Surprisingly, even in a city of Charlotte’s size, I did not find a single one. That meant that if such a group were going to exist, someone like me would need to start it.

Of course, this is a fictional organization. Celebrate Repentance as an organization does not exist, but I think that it should. And so, I began conceiving of what this group would look like. Although there are many passages in Scripture that speak about repentance, there are two that would be foundational to my group:

Luke 13:3, 5 and Colossians 3:5

LUKE 13:3, 5 – THE CALL IS TO REPENT OR PERISH

Jesus spoke with some people who supposed that a sudden, tragic end to life occurred only to those people who were rebellious and really wicked. In other words, “Of course the bad guys get punished. They deserved it, but the rest of us are okay.” Jesus used that occasion to speak about the universal sinfulness of man and the universal need for repentance. “I tell you unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3).” To make sure that these people did not ignore His warning and imagine, instead, that He was speaking only in hyperbole, Jesus gave another story and restated His warning: “I tell you, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (13:5).” Jesus made a big deal out of repentance, so Celebrate Repentance would make a big deal out of repentance.

COLOSSIANS 3:5 – THE CALL TO PUT OUR SINS TO DEATH

In Colossians, Paul is writing to Gentile Christians who have recently been delivered from the pagan world of idolatry and immorality (“the domain of darkness” – Colossians 1:13) and been “transferred into the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:13).” To make sure that these disciples show the fruit of repentance and begin to display holiness, Paul gives them direct instruction: “Therefore, put to death the members which are upon the earth: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (Colossians 3:5).” Paul made a big deal about disciples of Jesus putting sin to death, so Celebrate Repentance would make a big deal out of putting sin to death.

From these two foundational passages there emerge two basic questions that would define the content for the local Celebrate Repentance chapter:

  1. What does it mean for the disciple of Jesus to REPENT?
  2. How doe the disciple of Jesus PUT SIN TO DEATH?

I anticipate that there would be two groups of people attending these meetings of Celebrate Repentance. One group wants to vanquish their indwelling sin and to cut it out of their life like a malignant cancer, and the other group wants to learn some new tools to better cope with their indwelling sin and to find some fellow travelers who could join them in their coping journey. These two groups are separated by a wide chasm, although they seem the same in outward appearance. What is it, then, that distinguishes a person from being a member of one group or the other?

A member of “the vanquish group” has mentally brought a scalpel to the meeting, and they are willing to use it. They have identified their sin and they have sharpened their dagger, but up till now, they have not learned how to use the dagger effectively enough to kill their foe. It seems that every time they think the quarry is in their sights, it somehow dodges the bullet. In fact, the reason they have come to the Celebrate Repentance meeting is to learn how to wield the dagger with skill so that the sin is put to death. A member of this “vanquish group” hates their sin and has come ready for war.

By contrast, a member of “the coping group” has brought no scalpel and no dagger to the meeting. They may have identified their indwelling sin, but they have no current plan or desire to kill that sin. While they do not like the effects the sin is having on their life and they are a little ashamed that they haven’t gotten rid of it yet, they have not resolved to kill the sin and to do violence to it. They do not hate the sin; truth be known, there are times when they still enjoy the sin, even though they know they should not.

The vanquish group” will find fellow warriors in the Celebrate Repentance group who are willing to give them ammunition and tactics for putting sin to death. The “coping group” will probably decide that they need to find another group that “knows more about grace” and allows them to continue in their sin as they continue to “struggle” with their sin.

Celebrate Repentance would indeed be a celebration of the freedom that we have in Christ to live as conquerors (Romans 8:37). Repentance is the weapon that appropriates for us the freedom that Christ bought for us on the cross. “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36).” We were slaves of sin, but now we are slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18), and Celebrate Repentance would give you the comrades and the tactics to trample sin underfoot and to rejoice in the holiness we were meant to have (1 Peter 1:16).

What do you think of this idea of Celebrate Repentance?

SDG                 rmb                 8/28/2020

Trifling against sin or Striving against sin? (Hebrews 12:4)

“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” Hebrews 12:4

There is “trifling against sin” and there is “striving against sin.” It may be apparent, but these two expressions are vastly different from one another. “Trifling against sin” suggests a friendly tussle between equals. Either contestant may win, but it makes no real difference who eventually comes out on top. Win or lose, it’s just not worth a lot of excitement and energy. The world trifles against sin (of course, not using this expression) when some famous someone is exposed as having a particularly distasteful habit. “He is struggling (trifling) against his (fill in the blank).” For example, imagine that a famous athlete is “trifling against his ‘sexual addiction’.” He knows that it is not “good” for a famous athlete to have this unsavory habit of being found in bedrooms of women other than his wife, so he checks himself into a clinic where he can wrestle with this problem and develop some coping strategies so that the filthy habit is not so prevalent or obvious. This is his attempt to placate his fans and work on his “addiction,” but he is merely “trifling.” He does not want to get rid of the behavior; he just wants to manage and disguise the behavior. After all, if he never stops the distasteful habit, what real difference will it make? It doesn’t really matter who wins this contest.

Sadly, many professing Christians have also adopted this same worldly way of thinking. Many believers today have an attitude of “trifling against sin.” For example, when the Holy Spirit or a brave and faithful brother or sister points out sin in their life, they know that it is time to begin “struggling” against that sin. So, they will do something drastic, like check themselves into a support group that deals with these types of issues. Maybe it is Alcoholics Anonymous or maybe it is Celebrate Recovery or some other group where, together with the other members of the group, they can “struggle against their sin.” The reality is that many of these efforts amount to trifling against their sin. They know that it is not “good” for a professing Christian to have this blemish of sin on their record, so they go to a support group to learn some coping strategies and learn to manage and minimize the behavior. After all, the point is for others to see that you are fighting against this filthy sin. If he never stops the distasteful habit, what real difference will it make? It doesn’t really matter who wins this contest. Or does it?

            A number of years ago, I was sitting at the bar in a restaurant watching the TV screen behind the bar. On the screen was a nature broadcast about some large white birds similar to egrets who lived in South America. These birds made their nests directly above the river as a means of protecting their young from predators. No predator was willing to risk the dangers of the river to get to the birds’ nest above the river. The broadcast showed two of the young, gangly birds perched on the thin branches of the nest and the surrounding area. They seemed to be balanced carefully until one of the fledgling birds slipped off the branch. What ensued was a desperate struggle as the bird fought ferociously to regain its perch. Because the bird was awkward and gangly, the struggle appeared almost comical as the bird flapped and pulled and clawed to make its way back onto the branch. It seemed like “much ado about nothing.” “Relax, guy! You don’t have to try so hard!” Finally, after several minutes of all out war, the young bird was back on the branch sitting peacefully beside its sibling, and all was well.

            The next scene was a few days later, and once again, the two young birds were perched on their branch. Suddenly, one of the two birds slipped off the branch and did not catch itself but splashed into the water of the river. Within seconds, the first piranha arrived, and that fish was followed by dozens of others. The doomed bird tried to flap and jump, but the piranha attacked mercilessly until, in less than two minutes, all that remained of the young bird was a few feathers floating on the water.

            Then I realized that the first scene had been far from comical. The first scene showing the young bird trying to regain its perch was a life and death struggle where failure was not an option. If that bird did not get back on that perch by the nest, it was going to be food for the river’s piranhas. The bird’s life depended on getting back on that branch. The goal was clear, and the outcome mattered.

            One of the great dangers for disciples of the Lord Jesus is somehow to assume that our striving against sin is, like the first scene with the young bird, comical and largely unnecessary, and that the outcome of a “slip from the branch” doesn’t matter. If we make that assumption, we will always trifle with sin. We will assume that we do not need to vanquish the sin, but just put on a sincere show of “struggling.” We will try to manage and minimize our sin, but we will not put it to death. We will think that our trifling with sin is good enough and that, even if we “fall off the branch,” no harm will be done. But, what if instead we feared sin the way those young birds feared the piranha? What if we viewed holiness as a life and death struggle where failure was not an option? What if we realized that trifling with sin can lead to shipwreck (1 Timothy 1:19-20)? What if we strove against sin because we feared that “an evil, unbelieving heart” could really lead us to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12)? What if we heeded the warning of the author of Hebrews who tells us that neglect of diligence in our faith and a failure to come all the way to true repentance can lead to falling away, a place from which it is impossible to be renewed again the repentance (Hebrews 6:6)?

            Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of faith, endured the cross to purify for Himself a people for His own possession (Titus 2:14), who are zealous for good deeds. Like our Lord, we are to strive against sin and “be holy, just as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16).”

SDG                 rmb                 8/25/2020