The ordinary course for the believer (Isaiah 6:1-8)

And then the day came for Isaiah ben Amoz that defined the rest of his life. He saw the Lord, and he would never be the same or see life the same again.

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said,

“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said,

“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

AN ORDINARY EVENT FROM EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES

The circumstances of Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord were remarkable indeed, but what was accomplished in this encounter between man and God was very ordinary. When we step back from these extraordinary circumstances, what we see is the “ordinary” event of a sinner becoming a sent one. What I mean is that, in Isaiah’s spectacular experience with the Lord, the Lord brings about “ordinary” conversion. Isaiah began this scene as an ordinary, everyday sinner, aware of the Lord’s existence, but unaware of the Lord’s holiness and of his own sinfulness. By the end of the scene, Isaiah has been cleansed of his sins and sent out by the Lord with a mission.

But the truly remarkable fact is that Isaiah’s experience in the temple is a condensed version of what happens to every believer. Every believer experiences the same “ordinary” conversion that Isaiah experienced. Every genuine believer begins their encounter with the Lord as an ordinary, everyday sinner, but concludes their saving encounter with Him having their iniquity taken away and their sin forgiven.

THE STEPS THAT MAKE UP THIS ORDINARY EVENT

Although it is impossible to prove, it is a generally accepted fact that, of the billions of snowflakes, no two are the same. It is also true that, of the billions of people in the world, no two fingerprints are the same. The Lord of the universe has displayed His creativity and power and glory in His creation in small and large ways so that His existence is unmistakable, and men are without excuse (Romans 1:20). And since God is infinitely creative, there are no two “ordinary” conversions that are the same. The details of the paths describing believers’ journeys from sinner to saint vary in practically infinite ways, and the circumstances of their “ordinary” conversions are vastly different, but all these “ordinary” conversions follow the same basic steps. And Isaiah’s “ordinary” conversion will serve as an example.

The first step was for Isaiah the sinner to encounter the holiness of the Lord. In his vision, Isaiah sees the Lord “lofty and exalted.” The Lord is high, and Isaiah is low. The prophet must look up to see the Lord on His throne. The Lord is ruler. He is King. He is sovereign, reigning over all. He fills the temple, as He fills all things. The seraphim cover their faces because they cannot look upon the Lord’s glory, and they cover their feet because the Lord’s presence is holy ground, and they call out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.” The temple is shaking violently and is filling with smoke. Thus, Isaiah is overwhelmed and shattered by this encounter with the Lord. The Lord’s holiness is too much for Isaiah to bear.

(The second step) The holiness and the power of the Lord not only display the Lord’s glory, but also fully expose Isaiah’s abject wretchedness. In the presence of the Holy One of Israel, every hideous sin is glaringly laid bare and there is no place to hide. Isaiah is thus made fully aware of his sin and his condemnation before God.

With no place to run and no place to hide, all Isaiah can do is acknowledge his sin. Isaiah confessed he was a man of unclean lips, a man marked by sin and iniquity, and a man, therefore, unworthy to even come into the presence of the living God. “Woe is me!” “I am ruined!” “I am a man of unclean lips!” Having been made aware of his sin, the third step is for the sinner to confess his sins to the Lord (1 John 1:9; Luke 18:13), and to repent (Mark 1:15), and to place their faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31).

The fourth step is the Lord’s response to the sinner’s repentance and profession of faith. Isaiah confesses his sin and cries out for mercy and forgiveness, and the Lord cleanses his sin and saves him. The seraphim brings a burning coal to Isaiah to burn away his sin. “I am a man of unclean lips,” so the seraphim touches the burning coal to Isaiah’s lips. The burning coal is a symbol of the judgment of Isaiah’s sins. Because of the burning away of his iniquity, his sin is declared to be forgiven. Just so, when the sinner confesses his sin and professes faith in Christ, he receives the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21).

So, after the fourth step, Isaiah has been cleansed from his iniquity and has been forgiven of his sins and he is as saved as he will ever be. And it is the same for the New Testament believer. The one who has repented of their sins and has trusted in Christ as Lord and Savior has passed from death to life (John 5:24), has been saved (Romans 10:9), has the forgiveness of his trespasses (Ephesians 1:7), and has been justified by faith (Romans 5:1). He is in Christ, and for him all the promises of God are now yes. So, that is where the “ordinary” encounter ends, right?

THERE IS A FIFTH STEP IN THE JOURNEY

But as we go back to the Scripture, we see that, for Isaiah, there is another step in the encounter. For Isaiah to come to a place of faith and forgiveness is well and good, but it is not the reason for which Isaiah was saved. And so, as soon as Isaiah has his sin forgiven, he hears the Lord’s voice calling out for laborers. It is possible that the Lord had been calling before and Isaiah was deaf to His voice, but regardless, now the prophet hears his Lord’s call. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”

The fifth step, then, is the disciple’s service to the kingdom of his King. The disciple’s “ordinary” conversion experience is not complete until he has been put into service for his Savior. For this is the Lord’s purpose in salvation, not that we would come to faith in Jesus and receive all the promises of God and the forgiveness of sins and good works prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2:10), and then just sit down in a church pew to enjoy our salvation, but rather that, having come to faith and having been set free from our slavery to sin and having been given a mission to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) and to be Christ’s witnesses (Acts 1:8), we would joyfully give ourselves away in selfless service to the kingdom of God.

And so, Isaiah hears the Lord’s voice and says, “Here am I. Send me.”

The fifth step is the one that lasts the longest. It begins at the moment of salvation and continues until physical death. The fifth step involves the reason you were redeemed. The Lord redeemed you “for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that you should walk in them.” All your fruit is obtained in the fifth step (John 15). Your light only shines before men in the fifth step (Matthew 5:16).

But I sense that most disciples are not good stewards of their fifth step in “ordinary” conversion. So, the next article will explore how we can be better stewards of the fifth step.

SDG                 rmb                 7/13/2021                   #422

Avoiding hell, according to Jesus (Luke 13:1-5)

If Jesus Christ Himself told you explicitly how you could certainly avoid going to hell when you died, would you listen to Him? If Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, gave you simple concrete steps for not perishing forever, would you follow those simple steps?

In this passage from the gospel of Luke, you will have an opportunity to answer those questions, because in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus gives a message that is so clear that you almost have to try to miss the point.

13 There were some present at that very time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perishOr those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:1-5

BACKGROUND

A little background would be helpful. Jesus is in Jerusalem and, as usual, He is surrounded by a large crowd. Some people in the crowd made a comment to Him about an atrocity that Pilate, the governor, had committed in killing people who had come to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple.

THE UNIVERSAL PROBLEM – YOU WILL LIKEWISE PERISH

Instead of addressing their comment, however, Jesus talks about the universal problem confronting every member of the human race. “Do you think these were worse sinners than all the others? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:2-3).” Jesus establishes the truth that physical death is of secondary importance. The critical question is, “When you physically die, will you eternally perish?”

Jesus then repeats His message in another context. Eighteen people had died when the tower of Siloam fell on them (Luke 13:4). But the question was not, “Did they die this way because they were bad people?” No, the question was, “They died, just as you will die someday. When you die, will you eternally perish?”

The Lord uses events from the daily news to bring into the spotlight the eternal question of heaven and hell. Jesus was asking these people to consider their eternal destiny. “You are so concerned about what happens to others, but will you not consider that your dying day is also arriving sooner than you think? When you have your own ‘tower of Siloam,’ will you likewise perish? Will you repent or will you perish?”

SAME MESSAGE FOR YOU AND ME TODAY

Of course, the message Jesus gave to that crowd on that day almost two thousand years ago is exactly the same message that He gives to everyone living today. All the living will perish unless they repent. Twice our Lord Jesus Christ Himself tells all who will listen explicitly how they can certainly avoid going to hell when they die. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Twice Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, gives simple concrete steps for not perishing forever. Again, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” But if any man or woman will repent, they will not perish.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO REPENT?

To repent means to turn away from your sin and to consciously choose to obey God. To repent means to hate your sin and to love righteousness. Repentance is when you confess to God that you are a sinner and that you no longer want to live your life of disobedience and rebellion but want to live as a disciple of Jesus. Notice that Jesus Himself gives a promise to all those who repent, that you will not perish.

HOW WILL YOU ANSWER?

We began this article with a couple of questions. Jesus Himself has now told us the simple steps we can take to avoid perishing forever. Will you listen to Him and repent, or will you ignore Him and perish?

SDG                 rmb                 6/9/2021                     #414

Reprove them severely (Titus 1:12-13)

Clearly, Paul had given Titus a hopeless assignment, or at least it appeared that way.

For this reason, I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you. – Titus 1:5

In the best of circumstances this would have been a challenging task, to appoint qualified elders in every city as Paul instructed him, but Titus was not going to the best of circumstances. Far from it. Paul left Titus in Crete, and the Cretans had a well-deserved reputation for being an ornery and belligerent lot.

One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. – Titus 1:12-13

Even the Cretans themselves acknowledge that they are pretty incorrigible, almost as if their gross behavior is a badge of honor. Thus, Titus’ task appears hopeless. For how can “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” ever become “above reproach” (Titus 1:7) so that they can serve as elders? How can these Cretans, who are by nature vile sinners, become just, devout, self-controlled overseers of a local assembly of the church of the living God?

How, indeed! But this shows Paul’s and Titus’ confidence in the power of the gospel. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).” The apostle believed in the power of the gospel not only to save from condemnation, but also to transform into righteousness. Through the power of the gospel, slaves of sin are changed into slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18).

HOW DO YOU DISCIPLE A CRETAN?

But we now need to consider the practical challenges of discipling Cretans. Paul knew the nature of the men of Crete (Titus 1:12-13), and he also knew the qualifications of men who could serve as elders in the church (1:6-9), and, for most of the men on Crete, there was a large chasm between their character and the character of the biblical elder. How was Titus to help these men become elder material?

Paul’s instructions to Titus are direct and unambiguous:

For this reason, reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith. – Titus 1:13

Because “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons,” the training program for the Cretan who would grow in grace, who would walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, and who would be sound in the faith is simple. The disciple maker must reprove the Cretan severely. This sounds harsh to our American ears, but these are the divinely inspired instructions of an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith.” Sin is driven out of hardened sinners by severe reproof, not by gentle pleading or by appealing to reason. Before the gospel came, the Cretans had long indulged in degrading and disgraceful sin (Ephesians 5:12; 1 Peter 4:3), and now that they were in Christ, it was time for them to be reproved severely. If they would be sound in the faith, and if the church in Crete would display the holiness that the church is called to display (Ephesians 5:27; Hebrews 12:15; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15, 16), then their sin needed to be exposed and they needed to be reproved so that they would abandon their evil practices and would embrace obedience to the truth. The Cretan disciple repeated the sequence of reproof-confession-correction-repentance over and over again until holy obedience began to replace open rebellion. Prior to Christ, the life of the Cretan was like an open sewer, but through severe and loving reproof and the power of the Holy Spirit, the moral sewer slowly runs as a clear flowing stream.

But for the Cretan, the key to sanctification is severe reproof, loving reproof that calls sin, “sin,” and insists that the one who names the name of Jesus must walk as He Himself walked (2 Timothy 2:19; 1 John 2:6).

“For this reason, reprove them severely.”

MODERN DAY CRETANS

The reason that I spent so much time talking about Cretans is that these types of believers are near to my heart. You see, when I came to Christ at 31 years old, I had long indulged in sin and my life was a moral sewer. Essentially, I was a Cretan and the best thing that could have happened for my sanctification and for my growth in Christ would have been for a brave man to come alongside me and begin to reprove me severely so that I would be sound in the faith. In God’s providence, that did not happen and, as a result, my sanctification suffered.

Because of our increasingly wicked society, many of those who come to Christ, especially men who come to Christ, come to Christ as Cretans. The days are evil, the sins of the flesh are available at an alarmingly early age and, without the power of the Holy Spirit to restrain them, many give themselves over to the desires of the flesh. Without knowing it, they become Cretans, and when they come to Christ, they need to be reproved severely. Sin has firmly established its residency in their flesh and the way to drive sin out is through severe reproof. The discipler sees sinful habits and reproves severely, and the disciple actively repents, and those who were formerly demoniacs are found seated at Jesus’ feet and are useful to the Master. In all this, God is glorified.

For those who would make disciples in our Cretan-creating world, learn to reprove lovingly but severely the ones you are helping to grow.  

For those who realize they are Cretans and who need help in displaying the holiness which believers are called to display, seek out one who would be willing to reprove you severely so that you may drive the sin out.

SDG                 rmb                 6/2/2021                     #412

An active repentance

When a person first comes to faith in Jesus, there will probably be a period of time before that new disciple realizes the nature of their conversion. The person has been made entirely new in their inner person, and so there will be new ambitions and new affections, and there will be the strange experience of beginning to detest the sin that formerly was so pleasant and to yearn for holiness and righteousness that once seemed so strange and unappealing. You have been born again. New creature in Christ. A child of God with a ticket to heaven. And you have instantly become an enemy to all the ungodly and a target of temptation for all manner of sin. You have passed from death to life (John 5:24).

One of the activities you must learn quickly is the practice of repentance. This is to be an active repentance that is not in word only but plays out as martial combat, a soldier’s resolve against sin, with the attitude that “Only one of us is coming out of this alive.” Sin must be killed, and repentance is the most lethal spiritual weapon to accomplish the execution.

Repentance is the disciple’s most powerful means of holiness, but it is a weapon that requires skill in its use. And where does the new disciple learn to wield this weapon well? My advice to the new believer (or the “old” believer who was never taught about repentance) is to begin becoming familiar with this tool today! Wielded well, this weapon of repentance will yield a harvest of sanctification but left in the scabbard it poses no threat to iniquity. A hunger for holiness with a hatred of sin is the hand that draws the sword of repentance out of its sheath.

DAILY PRACTICE

Daily practice of active repentance establishes skill and readiness in the use of the weapon. Spend the next year in daily active repentance. Identify the sins that remain and that threaten to disqualify you, that would gladly ruin your testimony, and would make a shipwreck of your life. A partial list of potential sins would be: anger, pride, greed, lust, selfishness, hatred, resentment, jealousy, drunkenness, stealing, wasting time, laziness, worry and anxiety, fear of man, judgmentalism, lying, failure to proclaim the gospel, and there are others. Begin with two or three of the sins that most acutely plague you and actively repent of these sins at least once a day

SEE SIN, WIELD WEAPON

As a soldier in active warfare is ever at the ready to shoulder his rifle, so the disciple employs repentance at the first appearance of sin. As a soldier fires a hundred rounds of ammunition at practice targets to be ready for one shot at an enemy, so the disciple constantly practices repentance to fend off the foe.

A NEW SLAVE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

The believer, whether following Christ for one week or fifty years, has become a slave of righteousness (Romans 6:18). This is a doctrinal fact that is as true as the fact that the believer was formerly a slave of sin. But now that the disciple is enslaved to a new and righteous Master, who is there to teach him how to combat his former sins?

At conversion, the “flesh” is strong and healthy, and the new believer is clumsy with the means of spiritual combat. Truly, “the willing is present in him, but the doing of the good is not (Romans 7:18),” because there has been no training in the fight of righteousness. The new believer needs someone to come alongside to train them in the martial art of repentance.

Surely it is the elders of the church who are to teach the new (and not new, also!) disciple what weapons he now possesses, how to use those weapons effectively, and what tactics the enemy will employ to try to destroy him. The elders of the church should be skilled and practiced at using repentance in their own lives and should have experience teaching others to conquer indwelling sin.

THE ONE WHO DISCIPLES OTHERS

The one who disciples others must himself be skilled in the weapons of war, and the primary weapon for directly attacking sin is repentance. He who would walk in holiness should seek out one who is a master of repentance.

The disciple has begun a war with sin, and the flesh, which formerly served as your accomplice to wickedness, is now to be put to death so that the fleshly voice of temptation will be silenced.

SDG                 rmb                 6/1/2021                     #411

What is a wretched man to do? (Romans 7:24)

Do we as followers of the Lord Jesus lament our sin? And if we do, do we lament it in the way the Bible calls us to lament sin?

These are questions that come to mind as the disciple reads through Romans 7:14-25. In this passage, Paul teaches us that, regardless of spiritual maturity and sanctification, all believers are still indwelt by the “flesh,” that factory of indwelling sin that wages war against the Spirit and that attempts to lure the believer into sin. In this section of Romans, Paul teaches that the flesh persistently tempts and occasionally succeeds. The ongoing resistance to the flesh’s temptations is wearying and seeing ourselves falling into sin is distressing and humiliating. This leads Paul to cry out,

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? – Romans 7:24

This passage is well-known, and I think there are still strong lessons to be learned here.

On one hand, too few Christians dwell in Romans 7:14-25 because too few Christians are aware of the war against personal sin. Too few Christians take seriously the New Testament’s imperatives about the demand for personal holiness, and so they never lament their indwelling sin. As a result, Paul’s teaching in Romans 7 about the danger and persistence of the sins of the flesh receives scant attention and results in no lament. It goes without saying that the person who can read the Bible and not lament their own sin has at best a shallow experience of the gospel’s power. To them, we recommend a daily meditation on Romans 7.

But on the other hand, too many Christians remain trapped in Romans 7:14-25, excessively lamenting their sin instead of repenting of their sin and walking forward in greater holiness.

Do we lament, and there, cease? No! We repent, and thus increase!

There can be a very human tendency to think that if I lament loud and long such that others can see and maybe even feel my contrition, then the sin will somehow be diminished or even overlooked. Thus, the emphasis shifts to the lamentation and away from vanquishing the sin. While this may be a human tendency, this sort of lament is useless for the believer. It is like enlarging and hanging on the wall the PET scan that reveals your cancer while ignoring the treatment plan that will get rid of the disease. The goal is to kill the cancer, not admire the evidence. In the same way, the disciple laments the sin long enough to fan into flame a holy hatred of that sin, and then trains the cannons of sin-killing artillery on the target such that it never rises again. The goal is to kill the sin, not perform your lament.

So, having seen and lamented the sin, the disciple resolves to expose, to root out, and to destroy the hated sin. The disciple moves quickly and resolutely from lamentation to repentance because the calling is to holiness.

But what is the disciple to do about the sin they have committed? Sin has been exposed and the one who sinned has confessed the sin and is now walking more carefully and in repentance, but doesn’t the sin remain?

No! “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1

Jesus Christ died for that sin, too. Almost two thousand years ago, Christ died on Calvary’s cross to atone for all the sins of His people. Christ has been punished in my place, to bear the wrath of God for my sin so that I can walk free and without fear. So, I do not unduly lament the sin because Jesus has died for that sin, as well. My condemnation has been forever removed and now I am free to repent while I hunger for ever greater holiness.

SDG                 rmb                 6/1/2021                     #410

The King in Zion and the kings on earth (Psalm 2)

It is evident from studying the psalms that the arrangement of these prayers and poems in the psalter is not random but is planned for a purpose. This is certainly true of the two psalms that open the psalter. Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 are placed at the head of the book of psalms to establish the themes that will be developed throughout the rest of the book. This will be a two-post series on the first two psalms.

Back on May 24, we had explored Psalm 1. From this psalm, we learned that there are two groups of people on earth, the righteous and the unrighteous. The LORD blesses the righteous, but the wicked will be destroyed in the judgment. The rest of the book of psalms, indeed the rest of the Bible, will resound with the truth that, “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against evildoers (the unrighteous), to cut off the memory of them from the earth (Psalm 34:15-16).” Psalm 1, then, commends the righteous and warns the wicked.

PSALM 2

            This second psalm introduces us to the rightful King in Zion, the Son, who deserves all glory and honor, and tells us about the rebellion of the nations.

1 Why are the nations in an uproar
And the peoples devising a vain thing?
The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!”

The psalm opens with the nations in open rebellion and the peoples plotting their evil opposition. The kings and the rulers join them in their scheming against the LORD and against His Messiah (anointed). Jesus is the rightful King, the Son, and the Messiah, but we see that long before His Incarnation in Bethlehem, the unrighteous were already arrayed against Him and were prepared to reject Him. Man has been in rebellion against their Creator since the fall. In his defiance he “takes his stand against the LORD” and shakes his puny fist at the omnipotent one. He is a rebel against all constraints and desires to be rid of all God’s commandments. “Give us no moral fetters or cords of obedience!” This psalm makes clear that natural man intentionally rejects God’s rule and rejects God’s Ruler.

He who sits in the heavens laughs,
The Lord scoffs at them.
Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”

How does the LORD respond to man’s defiance? The LORD laughs at man’s pitiful rebellion because man’s defiance is of no consequence. But while the opposition of the nations cannot possibly threaten the LORD, their opposition does serve to anger the LORD. Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), and we have already seen that the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:6). No one defies the LORD or violates His holiness with impunity. There will surely be a just recompense on the unrighteous. Remember, “the wicked will not stand in the judgment (Psalm 1:5).” But to the rebellious nations the LORD has the final word: “I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.” And who is this King who has been installed in Zion? “Who is this King of glory? The LORD (Jesus), strong and mighty. The LORD (Jesus), mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8).” This King is Jesus.

“I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”

Notice that this next stanza is spoken by the Son. The Son tells of the decree of the LORD. Again, we ask, “Who is the Son?” Can there be any question? There is only one Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly, it is Christ who is speaking in this stanza. We read that the Son is begotten of the LORD. In John 3:16, we read that “God gave His only begotten Son, (Jesus)” to the world for eternal life. We also read here of both of Jesus’ roles, as Savior of the righteous and as Judge of the unrighteous. In His decree, to the Son the LORD “gives the nations as Your inheritance and the very ends of the earth as Your possession.” “The nations” and “the ends of the earth” are people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation that will praise the Lamb for all eternity (Revelation 7:9) in heaven, those who have been gathered through the preaching of the gospel. But there will also be those whom the Son “shall break with a rod of iron and shatter like earthenware.” These are the unrighteous who will be cast into the lake of fire in the judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).

10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
11 Worship the LORD with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

The psalm concludes with a sober warning. “Do homage to the Son” or “you will perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled.” The judgment will come suddenly like a flood, and then there will be no room for repentance. Your doom will be forever sealed. Now you have received warning, and today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to do homage to the Son, for tomorrow may be too late. But if you bow the knee to the Son and if you do homage to Jesus, you will receive His full blessing:

“How blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

SDG                 rmb                 5/30/2021                   #409

Sin, crabgrass, and repentance (Luke 3:8)

If you have ever been a homeowner in the south, then you are acquainted with crabgrass. Crabgrass is the bane of the person who would have “the yard of the month.” The threat of this ugly grass requires the landscaper to enter into the fray and attempt to exterminate the green demon. This post is about the analogy that exists between crabgrass and persistent sin in the life of the believer.

DEALING WITH CRABGRASS

There are a number of steps in the campaign against crabgrass that can help the homeowner keep the brute at bay, but these steps must be accompanied by an acknowledgement that this will be a war, not a short skirmish or a single battle. Crabgrass is persistent and difficult to kill, and the homeowner who would engage in this combat must be committed to the full campaign.

The first step in the war against crabgrass is recognizing what crabgrass looks like and that its appearance represents a call to arms. The lawn-owner must become an expert at spotting crabgrass and become savvy to all its disguises and hiding places. Once sighted, it is all hands-on deck. There is an enemy within the gates, and you must respond to the invasion.

The next step is to develop a conscious hatred for the infernal weed. Crabgrass must be detested and seen as only and purely evil and the enemy of your lawn. In your mind there is nothing pleasant or appealing about this diabolical plant. If it is not destroyed, it will destroy your lawn. This mindset of hatred of all things crabgrass motivates action.

Having recognized what crabgrass looks like and being armed with a hatred of it, the homeowner’s task now becomes clear: crabgrass must be killed wherever it is found. There is no compromise, no middle ground, no terms of peace, no room for reconciliation. Crabgrass is the avowed enemy, and the only possible objective is to put it to death so that the lawn can be rid of the hated infestation and restored to its lush innocence.

DEALING WITH INDWELLING SIN

Although there are some landscapers who would disagree with me, eliminating crabgrass from your lawn is not a life-and-death struggle and if, after a valiant effort, there was still spots of the weed in your yard, life would still go on. It is not a big deal.

But indwelling sin in the life of the believer is a big deal. In fact, it is at precisely the point when we start talking about persistent sin that all humor leaves the conversation. This IS a life-and-death struggle. The believer is called to holiness (1 Peter 1:14-16; Romans 6:2, 15; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 1 John 2:3-6) as evidence of their conversion, and without sanctification, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). But while the seriousness of crabgrass is insignificant compared to indwelling sin, the methods of warfare are similar.

Realize that the battle against indwelling sin is a war, not a skirmish. You will be engaged in this conflict as long as you are in the flesh, and the enemy never rests. But “Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).”

For this warfare, you will need to recognize sin when it appears. You will need to be familiar with all sin’s disguises and hiding places. To do that, you will need to become familiar with your Bible and with all that the Bible tells you about this enemy called sin. Know that there are no small sins or minor sins, no forgettable sins and no acceptable sins. Every sin that every believer ever committed nailed Jesus to the cross. Every sin, if it were the only sin, would have required the death of Jesus. Therefore, we must recognize every sin so that we can kill it. You cannot confess or repent of the unrecognized sin.

You should possess an active, conscious hatred of all sin. All sin must be detested and seen as only and purely evil and the enemy of your soul. In your mind there is nothing pleasant or appealing about even the most minor sin. If sin is not destroyed, it will destroy you. Sin seeks to make a shipwreck of your life. Sin has brought unimaginable suffering and ruin into the world and sin seeks to destroy your life. Remember Cain who refused to be warned when sin was crouching at his door. Sin is the devil’s primary weapon, and sin’s commission gives him pleasure. So, take his weapons away from him! To see sin is to hate sin, and this mindset of hatred of all things sinful motivates action.

Having recognized what sin looks like and being armed with a holy hatred of it, the disciple’s task now becomes clear: sin must be killed wherever it is found. There is no compromise, no middle ground, no terms of peace, no room for reconciliation. Sin is the avowed enemy of every believer, and the only possible objective is to put it to death so that the disciple can walk in a manner worthy of their calling.

WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE

And what action are we to take?

Confession is the identification of sin and the acknowledgement that this sin is evil. Confession serves the function of identifying the enemy and aiming the artillery at the target. While confession is necessary, simply identifying the enemy and aiming the weapon does not accomplish the task. The aimed weapon must be fired.

Firing the weapon so as to destroy sin is called repentance. The disciple of Jesus who would have victory over sin must regularly fire the guns of repentance. Until you resolve to destroy sin through regular acts of repentance, you are probably not serious about holiness.

Put sin to death, as Paul says in Colossians 3:5. In daily prayer, actively attack the sinful behavior. Develop a loathing for the very idea of these activities. If there are memories of this sin from the past, bring them to the light and put those memories to death (Ephesians 5:12). See them as offensive to God and His holiness. Be repulsed by your former sins (1 Peter 4:3).

Find Scriptures which address your specific besetting sins and read them and meditate on them regularly. At the same time, find Scriptures that extol holy behavior and develop a holy affection for godly behavior. Meditate on holiness and purity. Find Scriptures which extol the holy opposite of your besetting sins. If you are battling pride, meditate on humility and on being of the same mind with one another. If you are an angry man, meditate on the fruit of the Spirit of peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.

Confess your indwelling sins to a trusted friend and then pray together about the sin. Confess them to the Lord in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse you and purify you. Express in prayer your hatred of the sinful behavior and your desire to be holy.

Meditate on psalms of repentance like Psalm 51 and Psalm 32. Engage in daily repentance until the grip of sin has relaxed its stranglehold.

Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.

SDG                 rmb                 5/20/2021

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