An encounter on the street with James

The other day I met James. I had just finished a last minute Christmas purchase of art supplies for my wife and was sitting in my car scrolling up my GPS to get me to my next extravagant expenditure. My car was facing out onto the street, and as I looked up from my cell phone, my eyes met the gaze of a thin man in a rumpled coat. He looked directly into my eyes and, after giving me the universal motions of imaginary feeding, he shrugged his shoulders and held up his hands, clearly indicating he needed me to provide money for his food.

His gesture was not done belligerently, and I did not feel like he was just pan-handling me, but I was locked into task mode and his appearance was unexpected and a little unwanted, so, in a blatant display of selfishness, I shook my head, “no.”

“Why not?” His question startled me. “Why not? Why won’t you help me out?”

“I don’t feel like it,” was my heartless answer.

“Why won’t you help out a hungry veteran?” he shouted in reply. “You have a chance to help out a fellow human being.” Then he pointed to a hole in the side of his neck and said, “That’s where a bullet went through my neck. I have served my country and now you won’t even help me out!” And he turned to walk away from me across the street, disgusted with my stubborn stinginess.

I jumped out of my car and yelled, “You’re right! You make a very good case. Hey, come back here! You are right!”

By now the man had crossed the main traffic lane and was in the turn lane, shouting at the cars as they drove past, too close for his comfort. “Hey, you almost hit me!”

Now I was on the curb, and he was in the street but walking toward me. He was thin, but not quite gaunt, with a full brown beard. His speech was sober, and I sensed he was an intelligent man. “You seem to be angry,” I said. “Why are you angry?”

Why was he angry? What a naïve question! The answer was obvious. He was angry because life had been cruel to him. He hadn’t planned to be homeless and living in trash dumpsters as he begs for food on the streets of the city. Every plan had failed, and each road had been a dead end. It was a life of opportunities squandered, of unwise choices, and of hard providences. Now this human being, this highest of God’s creatures, this one created in the image of God, was dodging cars to try and scrounge his next meal. Who wouldn’t be angry?

He was now only a couple of feet away from me, but he was still in the edge of the traffic lane. “You need to get out of the street,” I said as I put my hand on his shoulder and pulled him onto the sidewalk.

“Well, you were right to ask me for some money for food. You do need money, don’t you?” I asked.

“Yes, I need money for food.”

I pulled out my wallet and handed him a twenty dollar bill. “Are you able to find work? Or are you looking for work?” It turns out that, because he did not have a cell phone, he was not able to find employment.

“I do have a place to live, though,” he said. “I live in that storage bin beside that shop over there. You want to see it? It doesn’t smell too good.”

“No, thanks. What’s your name?”

“James.”

“How old are you, James?”

“I’m fifty.”

“Has faith ever been a part of your life?”

“Faith is part of my life now. Faith that I will be restored. Faith in Jesus Christ.” His words had a ring of sincerity to them, not the usual “faith talk” that you here from beggars who know that talking about Jesus with people is sort of expected. “Do you know John 1:1?” he asked. “Go ahead, James, tell me John 1:1.” And he quoted it verbatim. I added John 1:2. “Wait here for a second, James.”

I ran over to my car and grabbed a “Who is Jesus?” tract and gave it to him.

“Oh. ‘Who is Jesus?’” he said. “Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. John 14:6.”

I affirmed his quote of Scripture and encouraged him to read the tract and think about what it said. We talked a little more, then I shook his hand and said, “I have to get moving, but God bless you, brother.” As I got in my car, I shouted, “Maybe you can find a church that needs a good preacher!” Then we waved goodbye, and James disappeared into my rear view mirror.

The first thing I learned from my encounter with James is that I can still be self-centered and greedy and heartless. There are evidently times when my heart is hard and when I feel inconvenienced because a fellow human being pleads for my compassion and assistance. O, how I need to repent of my greediness! Our Lord Jesus commanded me to “Give to everyone who asks of you” (Luke 6:30), and I reject them because I am slightly inconvenienced or just don’t feel like helping. “Lord, please change me more into the image of Jesus with the heart of Jesus! Amen.”

I still think about James, and here’s why. I know that, except for the grace and providence of God, I could be where James is. If at certain critical points in my life, the Lord had not turned events in His providential and favorable direction, I would be sleeping in a storage bin and asking cruel strangers to give me the means of survival. If God had not been merciful and generous to me (And why has He been so good to me, the one who deserves His wrath and who should receive the consequences of so many foolish choices?), I would be living like James with no plans for the future and no hope for the present. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us . . .” (Ephesians 2:4). “Lord, let me ever praise You for Your mercy and grace.”

Finally, I pray that James reads the tract and that causes him to get a Bible and read it. I pray that his reading of the Bible creates the spark of faith in his heart and mind, and that he seeks the Lord with all his heart. I pray that he believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and that he finds a good church. How James’ life can be restored and straightened out so that it is useful again and that he is useful to the Master, I have no clue. Those things are too difficult for me (Psalm 131:1), but there is nothing too difficult for God (Jeremiah 32:17; Luke 18:27). I know that Jesus Christ is the only hope for James. Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). He finds the prodigals in the pigsty and restores them to a joyful life in the Father’s house. If Jesus is willing, He can and will save (Matthew 8:2). So, I pray that James seeks Jesus with his whole heart.

SDG                 rmb                 12/26/2021                 #475

Where is the right path? (Proverbs 14:12 and John 14:6)

My friend Doug and I have had a weekly phone call appointment for more than 14 years, and for those 14 years we have walked through life together, experiencing highs and lows and seeking to pursue the Lord and to live for His glory. This week we were talking about our mutual feelings of yuletide incompetence, how the Christmas season offers virtually unlimited opportunities for us to disappoint others by not fulfilling our basic duties, when Doug changed to a more serious topic. “So, I got a text from Jonathan this week.”

The tone of our conversation was abruptly more sober. “The gist of his text was something like ‘How does it feel to be a future grandfather?’” My friend went on to explain that his son has apparently gotten his current girlfriend pregnant. We spent the rest of phone call talking about his son and about this turn of events and about how this is yet more evidence that Jonathan seems bent on destroying his life.

This morning I was reflecting on Jonathan’s situation. Despite being at an exclusive private high school and having a godly father who poured into his life, this young man had become involved in drugs in high school, first using and then dealing. He had escaped high school and had bounced from place to place, becoming a heroin user and a member of the opioid addiction community. He has spent significant time in jail. He has overdosed multiple times on heroin. At one point, it looked like his organs were shutting down, but he survived and, like a dog returning to its vomit (2 Peter 2:22), he returned to his destructive habits. He has lost jobs that were basically given to him to help him pull out of his long-term nosedive. He has been in and out of innumerable halfway houses and recovery programs. In fact, Jonathan had done basically everything he could do to ensure he would mess up his life, except get a woman pregnant. But now, even that disaster he has now inflicted on himself. With immense advantages and every opportunity to choose a path offering some degree of success, the young man has consistently chosen the path of disaster. Not the path of lesser success that could have turned out well but providentially did not, but the path that is obviously bad and that will almost certainly produce pain and misery. Jonathan seems bent on his own destruction and on ruining his life.

ALL FALLEN MAN

But isn’t that the state of all fallen man outside of Christ? Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” We are all born broken, with flawed wisdom and with selfish desires and sinful passions. All of fallen man is born blind (See Isaiah 6:10; 43:8; John 9:25.) and stumbles along life’s path, groping for some sort of light or trustworthy direction (Isaiah 59:10-14; Acts 17:27). We all pursue a path that seems right to us, that seems “right in our own eyes” (Judges 21:25), but the end of that path is death. There is only one way that leads to life, and His name is Jesus (John 14:6). All other paths are false trails, dark and slippery, that lead to death. There is only one gate, small and narrow, that leads to life, and the name of that gate is Jesus (Matthew 7:13-14). All other gates, gates wide and broad to admit the many who rush through them, are gates of destruction that lead inevitably to death.

Jonathan is manifestly on a path of destruction, but he is not alone on that path. While the degree of damage and ruin is more evident in Jonathan’s life than in most others, the trail he is walking is well trodden. The prophet speaks not of heroin addicts only, but of all mankind when he says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our old heart of stone is deceitful and leads us down dark and slippery paths to our own ruin. The only solution for our deceitful heart of stone is replacement with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-27). And the only one who can replace our sinful heart with a new heart is Jesus.

A SAVIOR WHO SAVES

While there is pity and sadness when we see someone like Jonathan making a shipwreck of his life and running headlong down the path of destruction, we need not despair. Jesus is a Savior who has come to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). Humanly, we may see the sinner as being far down the path of destruction, but distance is no obstacle for the Lord, because nothing is too difficult for Him (Isaiah 59:1; Jeremiah 32:17, 27; Luke 18:26-27). The Lord can deliver any sinner from his circumstances, no matter how deep the well into which he has fallen (Jeremiah 38:9-13). There is no place the sinner can go from which the Lord cannot deliver him unto salvation. The distance a sinner has wandered is of no consequence to the Lord.

The situation for Jonathan appears bleak. He seems to have wandered into a place from which there is no rescue. And if Jesus Christ had not been sent from heaven to earth and had not lived a sinless life and died an atoning death; if Jesus had not been raised from the dead and did not now offer His atoning blood as payment for all the sinner’s sins; if Jesus was not a glorious Savior, King of kings and Lord of lords, mighty to save so that anyone who places their trust in Him will be saved (Acts 16:31), then there would be no reason for any hope for Jonathan.

Like Jonathan, all mankind outside of Christ is on the way to destruction. Titus 3:3 says, “For we were once foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.” A bleak situation, indeed, but not hopeless. “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for all mankind appeared, He saved us” (Titus 3:4-5). Because of Jesus Christ and His glorious gospel of salvation, all who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus will be saved.

SDG                 rmb                 12/24/2021                 #473

“They will come to Me” – (John 6:37 – Part 3)

INTRODUCTION: This is part of a series of blog posts studying John 6:37, a verse in which Jesus teaches us about the sovereignty of God in salvation. In this series, we will examine not only what Jesus explicitly teaches in this verse, but also its implications based on other passages of Scripture and plain reasoning.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” – John 6:37 (NASB)

In our second study in this series, we considered the next phrase in the verse, “will come to Me.” (See post #468 on 12/10/2021.) In that post, we focused on answering the question, “Who will come to Jesus?” This led to a detailed study of the nature of the elect and election, and how this displays God’s sovereignty in salvation.

But now, in this post we seek to answer the extremely important question, “What does it mean for the sinner to ‘come to Jesus’?” Since it is only those who “come to the Son” who are saved from eternal condemnation, we should strive to know what “will come to Me” means.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO ‘COME TO JESUS’?

The expression “come to Me” appears twice in this verse. Jesus says they “will come to Me” and He says, “the one who comes to Me.” To “come to Jesus” is one the most important themes of the entire Bible. Jesus Christ, God the Son, was sent from heaven to earth on a rescue mission, “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10) as He “gave His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The only way that anyone receives salvation is by coming to Jesus. The Bible teaches that God has divinely chosen those people whom He will bring to salvation, but this doctrine of God’s election is given to us so that we may know the power of God’s sovereignty in salvation, not so that we may be confused about how to be saved.

Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me.” For the human sinner, the most important part of Jesus’ statement is, “will come to Me.” If you want to be saved, there is something that you need to do. If you want to be saved, you must actively come to Jesus.

“What does it mean to ‘come to Jesus’?” First, you must believe in Jesus. In John 1:12 says that to those who believed in Jesus’ name become children of God. In John 20:31, the Bible says that those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, have eternal life in His name. This believing can be understood as an unshakeable trust in Jesus, that He is who He said He was and that He is my Savior and my Lord.

Second, this inward faith and trust in Jesus manifests itself in an outward profession. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Faith in Jesus cannot remain an inner, silent thing, but must be expressed outwardly in a verbal profession. When you come to Jesus, others should know that Jesus has become your Lord and Savior.

Also, to come to Jesus means to repent of your sin and to begin to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6). John the Baptist cried out, “Bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). At Pentecost, the people asked, “What are we to do (to be saved)?” Peter replied, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). The Philippian jailer asked Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31).

Finally, to come to Jesus, the Son of God, means obeying Him. In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” If you have come to saving faith in Jesus, you will have a desire to obey His commands and to walk in holiness and righteousness. You will forsake the wicked ways of your past. Paul says that, if you have come to Jesus, “you laid aside the old self with its evil practices” (Colossians 3:9). Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23).

As we conclude this post, we should notice two things. First, all those who come to Jesus will be saved. This should be an encouragement to anyone who desires to be saved from the coming judgment. But second, only those who come to Jesus will be saved. This should instill a sense of urgency. Those who were thinking about coming to Jesus but never did, and those who never expressly rejected Jesus, but who also never came to Him in repentance and faith alike will perish forever. All second chances are forever blown away at the final heartbeat. At that moment, eternity opens wide, and the lake of fire receives another unrepentant sinner. I urge you to come to Jesus.

In our next post in this series, we will examine the truth that the one who comes to Jesus He will certainly not cast out.

SDG                 rmb                 12/11/2021                 #469

God’s grace demonstrated in conscience (Romans 2:14-15)

INTRODUCTION: Yesterday we talked about the Law and about how this instrument that God gave us to diagnose the disease of our sin (see Romans 3:20 and Romans 7:7) was twisted into a ladder of performance whereby man could achieve his own righteousness by his own efforts. Today we are going to talk about another diagnostic tool that God has given to man to bring their sin up to the level of consciousness. Today we are going to talk about the conscience.

BACKGROUND

The main purpose of Romans 1:18-3:20 is to bring all readers to the unmistakable awareness that they are sinners under the wrath of God. Paul is acting as a prosecuting attorney to drive all people, Jew or Gentile, to the realization that they are under the Lord’s just condemnation for their sin. Paul’s main witness for the prosecution for establishing the sin of all people is the Law which God had given through Moses at Sinai. Even though the Law was given to the Jews and had remained unknown among the Gentiles (Romans 3:1-2), the Gentiles were still condemned by their own sin. Listen to Romans 2:12:

For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law. – Romans 2:12

This verse makes unambiguously clear that it is not the knowledge of your sin that condemns you, but it is the existence of your sin that brings you under God’s wrath. The Gentiles did not have the Law, and so the Law could not reveal to the Gentile his sin, but he would nevertheless perish in his unrepentant sin.

The issue is our sin. And the issue is always our sin. “The soul that sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We must repent of our sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, or we will perish forever in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15) as punishment for our sin. But for us to repent of our sin, we must be aware of our sin. And so, God in His grace has given us several means for becoming aware of our sin. He has given the Law, as we have already seen, but he has also given the conscience.

THE CONSCIENCE IN ROMANS 2:14-15

Paul speaks of the conscience in Romans 2:14-15, which is the essential biblical teaching on the conscience.

14 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, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them. – Romans 2:14-15

Paul starts by declaring that the Gentiles “do not have the Law.” This is what we have already been saying. The written Law was given to Israel and was unknown among the Gentiles. Does that mean that there was no way for the Law of God to be revealed to the Gentiles? No, because even though the Gentiles did not have access to the written Law, they all have a conscience that operates like the Law to reveal their sin to them. As the written Law was the diagnostic tool for showing the children of Israel their sin, so the conscience was the diagnostic tool for the Gentiles.

Let me explain what Paul is saying here in these two verses. Even though the Gentiles do not have access to the written Law and thus are not shown their sin by the written Law, God has graciously given to every Gentile a conscience which operates like a law within themselves (2:14). God has written His Law on every human heart (2:15), and when the Gentile sins, the conscience accuses him (2:15) that he has violated the Law, and when the Gentile accidentally or incidentally or intentionally obeys, the conscience defends him (2:15) as having done right. In this way, the conscience acts as a pseudo-Law to make the Gentile aware of their sin. Thus, the conscience is “a law within themselves” (2:14) for the Gentiles.

What we see, then, is that the conscience serves the same function as the Law in making the sinner aware of their sin, but the voice of the conscience is much softer than the voice of the Law and is also more easily muffled or silenced.

SUMMARY

We have seen that, as the written Law made sin known to the Jew, so the indwelling conscience, operating as a pseudo-Law, makes sin known to the Gentile. God has graciously given these means for revealing sin to every man so that no one needs to remain ignorant of his sin. Next time, we will continue this line of thought and see why the conscience also fails to restrain the Gentile from sin.

SDG                 rmb                 11/30/2021                 #462

The Law becomes a ladder to climb

The Lord gave the Law as a tool for diagnosing the deadly disease of sin. For the Jews, however, this diagnostic tool was converted into a system of works as a cure for their guilt. This will take some explaining, for the process of changing the Law from an instrument for revealing sin unto condemnation into a ladder of works righteousness up which a sinner could climb, is lengthy and intricate.

WHY WAS THE LAW GIVEN?

It must be understood at the outset that the Law was given at Sinai to reveal to all mankind their sin before the thrice holy God. “Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). “For I would not have come to know sin except through the Law. For I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” (Romans 7:7). It was an act of God’s grace to declare the Law so that sinful man would become aware of his sin, and then God’s kindness would lead the sinner to repentance (Romans 2:4). In other words, the Law was written to reveal to the sinner his sin and his consequent condemnation so that the sinner would cry out to the Lord for mercy and forgiveness. The Law was the diagnostic tool that showed man his sin, but faith in the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness was the cure for the sin.

HOW WAS THE LAW DISTORTED

But there was another way to respond to the condemnation from the Law, a response which was itself sinful and which nullified the intended purpose of the Law. In this wrong response, the priests and the scribes and the false prophets, and later on the Pharisees and the Sadducees, realized that obeying the Law was impossible, because the Law required perfect obedience. The Law as written gave no wiggle room, but rather demanded perfect obedience from birth to grave. If you failed to obey perfectly, the Law brought full condemnation. The priests and the scribes perceived this as a problem. The way they solved this problem was by changing the absolute obedience demanded by God’s Law into a relative obedience based on a set of man-made “works” that could be obeyed. Thus, the Jews modified the terms of the Law so that they could obtain their own righteousness through their obedience to the Law (Romans 10:1-3). The modified “Law” could be obeyed because it only required relative obedience. Instead of the perfect Law of God, which was graded as either perfect obedience or absolute failure, the modified “Law” accepted your “best effort” as good enough and then was graded on a curve. Thus, your own works achieved your right standing before God.

Now, consider for a moment what was lost by this emasculating of the perfect Law of God. As we compare these two versions of the Law, we will see how catastrophic this was for the Jews and how it rendered them almost beyond the reach of the gospel.

THE PURE LAW AS GIVEN AT SINAI

If the Law as given at Sinai were allowed to stand inviolate, then the hearer of the Law could realize their abject failure to keep the requirements of the Law and thus see their complete condemnation. Knowing their condemnation before the Holy One of Israel, the sinner could abandon all their own works and all their own efforts at achieving righteousness and could, instead, see the worthiness of Jesus and the glory of His death on the cross, and could cry out to Him for mercy as the only one who could save them from their sins. The sequence would be to hear the Law and thus to realize the greatness of my sin. Being convicted of my sin, I would seek God’s appointed means of forgiveness and reconciliation. In this way, I would find Jesus and would cry out to Him in faith and repentance. The cross of Christ has overwhelming power, for it is only at the cross that God’s justice and His mercy meet. It is only in Jesus that forgiveness is to be found. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.”

THE MODIFIED “LAW” AS MADE BY THE JEWS

On the other hand, the modified “Law” offers an entirely different scenario. In this case, the hearer is not convicted of their sin by the Law’s holy demands, but instead is alerted that their performance must improve. Instead of despairing of any and all personal merit, the hearer considers what works they need to perform to achieve their righteousness. Instead of the cross of Christ towering to infinite height as the only means of forgiveness in all of human history, the death of Christ is unnecessary and insignificant, since my sin can be covered by my own good works (Galatians 2:21). Instead of Christ being the one worthy of all praise as the only Savior, He is reduced to a pathetic martyr and a good teacher and nothing more.

SUMMARY

Therefore, the Lord graciously gave His perfect Law to reveal to us the cancer of our sin. Like an undiagnosed terminal cancer, unconfessed sin is killing every person and condemning them to eternal judgment under the wrath of God. But God has designed the Law to be a diagnostic tool that exposes sin and makes our iniquity known to us. The Law is the best instrument for diagnosing sin, but it is useless as a cure for sin. As a PET scan shows the existence and extent of cancer but is worthless for fighting cancer, so the Law reveals the existence and extent of sin but is worthless for fighting sin.

So, the Law and the cross of Christ work together to bring justification and forgiveness and righteousness. The Law reveals the sinner’s sin, and, by faith, the blood of Jesus shed on the cross cleanses the sinner of all guilt and condemnation and unrighteousness. Through faith and repentance, the sin the Law reveals is the sin that the Lord Jesus heals.

SDG                 rmb                 11/30/2021                 #461

James 5:16 (“Confess your sins”) and biblical accountability

Within the current world of evangelicalism, it is not uncommon for pastors and churches to talk about the idea of “accountability.” Probably the foundational biblical text used to justify “biblical accountability” is the well-known verse from the book of James:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. – James 5:16

In this post I want to explore James 5:16a, the bolded part of the verse above, and the related subject of biblical accountability, to develop a “theology of accountability” so that we can be faithful to the commission that the Lord Jesus gave His church in Matthew 28:19-20, to make disciples.

How can accountability help us make mature disciples?

Before we begin digging into the meaning of James 5:16a, however, we need to understand the correct context for this accountability, and we need to define what we mean by “biblical accountability.” My hunch is that, if you asked ten Christians what they mean by “accountability,” you would get nine or ten different answers. So, we will start with context and definition.

THE CONTEXT FOR ACCOUNTABILITY

First, the appropriate context for biblical accountability is a Discipleship Relationship. “What is that?” you ask. When I use the term, “Discipleship Relationship,” I mean a relationship between a Discipler (more mature believer) and a disciple (less mature believer) that has been established by mutual consent for a period of time which is primarily intended to produce spiritual growth in the disciple. In this arrangement, the Discipleship Relationship is the vehicle that is being used to further growth toward Christlikeness.

DEFINITION OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Next, we need to define what we mean by the word “Accountability.” As we are using the word, “Accountability” refers to a tool used in the context of a Discipleship Relationship whose main purpose is to help the disciple (less mature believer) see victory over a besetting sin. That is, one of the areas of spiritual growth in Discipleship is the area of victory over persistent or besetting sins. In this area of Discipleship, Accountability can be an effective tool for putting persistent sin to death (Colossians 3:5).

ACCOUNTABILITY AND JAMES 5:16

It is in the practice of Accountability that we will consider James 5:16. In this verse, James gives us specific actions to take and then gives us an implied promise of healing if we do.

James instructs us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we may be healed. Here are two actions followed by a promise. One person confesses their sin to another person, expecting that, once the other person knows of the sin the first person has just confessed, the other person will immediately respond with prayer to the Lord for victory over the sin that has now been brought out into the light. James finishes this sentence with a promise, “that you may be healed.” Within a Discipleship Relationship, then, the disciple confesses a besetting sin to the trusted Discipler, bringing it out into the light. The disciple’s confession of sin elicits spontaneous prayer from the Discipler for the disciple and indicates that the Discipler has now joined the disciple in the fight against the disciple’s sin. There are now two warriors in the battle. Now both disciple and Discipler are firing the weapons of The Word and prayer at the hated sin. The confession of one warrior recruits a fresh soldier into the fray. And the promise is that the sin must yield. There is a promise that the sin confessed and assaulted with the weapons of spiritual warfare will be put to death. There will be victory.

So, we confess our sins to one another for three basic reasons:

  1. The confession brings the sin into the light as the disciple acknowledges the sinfulness of this sin and identifies this particular sin as the target of their mutual spiritual warfare (2 Cor. 10:3-6).
  2. The effect of this confession is to multiply the assault against this enemy of our holiness by recruiting a new soldier and thus increasing the artillery against the sin.
  3. Allows more people to rejoice together when we see the Lord giving the victory. Thus, the Lord receives more glory (2 Cor. 1:11). (Listen carefully!)

ACCOUNTABILITY AND CONFESSION IN ACTION

What we see, then, is that the machinery of Accountability is triggered by a confession of sin within the context of a Discipleship Relationship. That confession moves the sin out of the darkness and into the light and into the line of fire of spiritual artillery from both Discipler and disciple. The spiritual weaponry of the sword of the Spirit (the Bible/the Word), of prayer, of repentance and of mutual encouragement are poured out on the detested sin until it is vanquished.

SDG                 rmb                 11/17/2021                 #456

The end of the age according to Jesus – Part 1

There are several themes that run through the gospel of Matthew, but one of the most prominent of those is the end of the age. With unrivaled authority, Jesus declares the truth about the end of the age and what will occur on that day.

This post will examine Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the wheat and the tares from Matthew 13:37-43, a parable about the and make some observations. Below is the passage from the New American Standard Bible.

37 And Jesus said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Observation 1: There is certainly coming an end to this age.

In His first advent, Jesus came as Prophet, Priest, and King. As Prophet, He made sweeping prophecies about the future, which included unambiguous teaching that history was heading to an inevitable conclusion and that He, Jesus Christ, was the one who was in charge of that concluding event. While the Father alone knew the timing of His coming (Matthew 24:36), the King of kings and Lord of lords would execute the conclusion of history.

In this parable, Jesus relates the end of the age as a matter of fact in 13:39, 40. Then in 13:41-43, our Lord gives the details of the how the age concludes, so history will certainly end.  

Observation 2: Jesus is certainly coming at the end of the age.

All of Jesus’ teaching about the end of the age included His coming. The two are so inseparable as to be virtually synonymous. That Jesus is certainly returning to judge the earth is mentioned throughout the New Testament epistles and is one of the central themes of the book of Acts.

In the parable of the wheat and tares, “The Son of Man will send forth His angels.” We know from other end-times passages that He sends His angels while He Himself is descending from heaven to earth at His coming. It is certain that the Lord Jesus will come again.

Observation 3: There are two groups of people, the righteous and the unrighteous, and every human being who has ever lived is in one of these two groups.

As we read this parable, we see that there are “the sons of the kingdom” and there are “the sons of the evil one” (Matthew 13:38). This doctrine is consistent throughout the Bible, from at least Genesis 4 on, that there are those who are part of the kingdom of heaven, and there are those who are evil. In Genesis 4 immediately after the fall, Cain was evil, Abel was righteous. So it has been throughout history, and so it is today. All humanity divides between the righteous and the unrighteous, between the wheat and the tares, and there is no third category.

And so it is for you personally. You are either seen by God as righteous, as “a son of the kingdom,” or as unrighteous, as “a son of the evil one.” The significance of this becomes apparent in the next observation.

Observation 4: At the end of the age, Jesus Christ will admit all the righteous into eternal life in heaven.

The final verse of the parable describes the destiny of those who are seen as righteous. At the end of the age, when Jesus (the Son of Man) comes in His glory (Matthew 25:31), “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” From other New Testament passages, we know that the righteous will be resurrected with glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15, etc.), and so here Jesus describes them as shining like the sun. Notice where they are shining. They are shining “in the kingdom of their Father.” Of course, this is heaven.

Observation 5: At the end of the age, Jesus Christ will throw all the unrighteous into the furnace of fire (the lake of fire), where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Now we come to the main message of the parable: “Be warned! Hear My words and heed My words! There is a terrifying judgment coming upon all the unrighteous. Therefore, REPENT! If you do not repent, I will throw you in the furnace of fire.”

This parable gives a sober warning about the final judgment of the unrighteous at the end of the age. In fact, a careful reading of the gospel of Matthew will reveal that “the judgment” or “the day of judgment” appears often in our Lord’s discourses. One of Jesus’ main purposes in His prophecies about the end of the age was to warn the unrighteous that a terrifying judgment awaited them. No one who heard Jesus could plead ignorance about the destiny that awaited the unrighteous. The message was clear and was repeated: “You do not want to be at the judgment. ‘That day’ will be an awesome day of fire and judgment. Flee from the wrath to come! Come to Me (Matthew 11:28) and repent (Matthew 4:15).”

In this parable, the majority of Jesus’ explanation (13:39-42) is devoted to telling of the destiny of the unrighteous. The end of the age has come (13:39, 40). The Son of Man (Jesus Himself) is sending out His angels to clear all the unrighteous out of His kingdom (41) and then to throw them into the furnace of fire. The horror of the event is intended to warn the unrighteous to flee from the wrath to come (Matthew 3:8).

CONCLUSION

The Lord Jesus, who will be the Judge at the end of the age, has given us this parable to picture for us the events of the end of the age. The parable gives the righteous motivation for persevering to the end and warns the unrighteous of the terrifying judgment that awaits them if they do not repent.             SDG                 rmb                 10/11/2021                 #440

If we confess our sins (1 John 1:9)

PURPOSE OF THIS POST: To come to a correct understanding of 1 John 1:9 and of what it means “to confess our sins.” BACKGROUND: At first glance, this verse can appear to be teaching us to regularly confess our sins so that our sins are forgiven. This is how the verse has been mistakenly taught in the past, perhaps because of some carryover from the Roman Catholic practice of confession. A careful reading of the verse, however, reveals John is actually teaching us about the nature of our salvation. When we “confess our sins,” God forgives us (all) our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Therefore, this confession of sins results in salvation. This post studies this verse to understand its true meaning.

The epistle of 1 John can be viewed as a letter that assures true believers of their salvation by walking them through a series of spiritual tests. If you pass the tests, you should be assured in your faith, but if the tests raise doubts and concerns, you need to examine your faith to see if it is real.

Before John gets into his spiritual tests, he presents a series of contrasts between the one who merely claims to be a follower of Jesus and the one who actually is a follower of Jesus. Verses 1:6 and 1:7 form one such contrast and verses 1:8 and 1:9 form another. We will examine these verses to see what they tell us about true faith.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

1:6 – If we say/CLAIM “we have fellowship with Him,” but we walk in darkness, we are still unsaved and have an evil, unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12) and we do not believe in Jesus.

This is then contrasted with 1:7.

1:7 – BUT, if we walk in the Light (that is, if we believe in Jesus and walk with Him),

Result 1 – we have fellowship with one another (according to 1:3, believer has fellowship with believer and believer has fellowship with Father and Son), and

Result 2 – the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (Emphasis mine.) That means that all our sin – past, present, and future – has been washed away. This is a one-time event that occurred at salvation.

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1:8 ‘we say/CLAIM “we have no sin,” we are refusing to confess our sin. That is, we will not acknowledge that we are sinners, and therefore we deny that we need forgiveness. As long as we say/CLAIM we have no sin, our sin will never be forgiven. The Lord will never forgive the one who denies their sin. The one who claims to have no sin cannot be saved.

Result: ‘we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ We are living in an ongoing state of self-deception. The truth is that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), but we are rejecting and ignoring that truth. Romans 5:12 declares that all sinned, but we CLAIM that “we have no sin” to confess or be forgiven.

In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee is proud of his religious performance and the tax collector simply beats his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” And the tax collector receives mercy from the Lord because he acknowledges his sin and begs the Lord for mercy. Just so in this pair of verses. Some claim that they have no sin and so have nothing to confess. They will perish. But there is the contrast.

1:9 – “(But) If we confess our sins”

This confession of sins has in view the acknowledgment by the convicted sinner that they have transgressed the Law of God and are justly condemned for their sin. They know they deserve the wrath of God. The person has been brought under full conviction by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8) and feels the weight of their sin. The person fully and unreservedly confesses their sins to the Lord. This confession is synonymous with repentance unto salvation. It is the cry from David which said, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). This confession of sins contrasts with the proud, godless refusal to confess or acknowledge sin that was expressed in 1:8. Instead, this confession to God marks the initial repentance by the sinner and so represents the moment of salvation.

Result: “He (God) is faithful and righteous to forgive us (ALL) our sins and to cleanse us (confirm in 1:7) from all unrighteousness.”

The result of this confession confirms the nature of the confession.

1:9 – “If we confess our sins,” we read of the results.

Result 1 – God forgives (ALL) our sins, and

Result 2 – God cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

Notice that these results are two aspects of what God does in justification.

Result 1: God’s forgiveness – God’s forgiveness is bestowed on the repentant sinner at the moment of salvation. In justification, God declares the sinner to be forgiven of all of their sins. This is, by definition, a one-time event, for in the moment of salvation, God forgives all the person’s sins, based on their faith in Jesus. If all the person’s sins are forgiven, what is the reason to repeat this forgiveness again?

Result 2: And at that moment, God cleanses the person from all unrighteousness. Our confession and acknowledgement of our sins transfers all our sins to Christ, so that our sins were punished on the cross, and imputes Christ’s perfect righteousness to us, so that we are seen and treated as righteous. Our sins are forgiven because they have been atoned for and our unrighteousness is cleansed and replaced with Christ’s righteousness.

CONCLUSION

What we see happening, then, is that John is establishing the necessary starting point for passing all the tests in his first epistle. If you have come to faith in Jesus and you walk in His light; if you have confessed and repented of your sins; in short, if you have been born again, relax. You will pass the tests.

SDG                 rmb                 9/5/2021                     #432

Why are the warnings in Hebrews so severe?

There is no shortage of warnings in the Bible. God has sent His word to mankind to warn us that we are in peril because of our sin and to alert us that God, the Holy One of Israel, will surely judge and will condemn the unrighteous. And so, in each genre of the Bible and in many places in each genre, the Bible issues warnings so that men will turn from their sin and repent.

THE WARNINGS IN HEBREWS

But while there are many warnings in the Bible, there are some warnings that are particularly striking and daunting, that pierce like an arrow and slam into us like a cutlass. The warnings in the book of Hebrews are of this variety. There are multiple warnings in Hebrews and each succeeding warning seems to be more unsettling than the last. In chapter 2 we are warned not to drift away from so great a salvation (2:1, 3). Chapter 3 tells us about the dangers of an evil, unbelieving heart (3:12). Chapter 4 urges us not to come short of God’s rest (4:1). In the well-known passage in chapter 6 we read of the impossibility of renewing to repentance those who have heard the word of God and then have fallen away (6:4-8). Then in chapter 10 we have perhaps the most frightening, as we read that, if we sin willfully after we have claimed faith in Christ, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment” (10:26-27). This passage (10:26-31) is punctuated with the warning, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31).

WHY SO SEVERE?

Why does the author of Hebrews dramatically and repeatedly warn his readers in such alarming terms? What is it about the purpose of the epistle that warrants these strident warnings? As I have studied the book of Hebrews, I have reached the conclusion that the reason for these devastating warnings has to do with the particular people the author is trying to reach.

When you design an alarm system for a facility that stores explosive chemicals, politeness is not a design criterion. Rather, the alarms are designed to be as loud and irritating and irresistible as possible so that, if there ever appears any threat of an explosion, the people in the facility will be alerted and will evacuate and get away immediately.

If you were going on an African safari into lion country, your weapon of choice would not be a small caliber handgun. You are going after a target animal that requires potent weapons which assure a kill when they encounter the target. Best be sure that the first bullet does the job, for you may not get a second.

Likewise, the author of Hebrews has as his purpose to alarm and warn a specific type of person in the congregation, and he is determined to achieve his purpose. The last thing he wants to do is issue a so-called warning that falls short of arousing and that fails to alarm. There is nothing more pathetic than warning people who are in terrible danger with an alarm that is not capable of alerting or alarming. It is like a fire alarm that is mistaken for the music of an ice cream truck. People perish in the flames because of the incompetence of the one who issues the alarm. The author of Hebrews will not be accused of issuing such a warning.

WHO IS THE AUTHOR TRYING TO ALARM? THE MOST ELUSIVE

This epistle is intended to rouse to awareness that most elusive and stubborn of all unbelievers, the person who is comfortable with Christian words and Christian practices, who regularly attends church services, who writes checks to his church and who is generally a decent, polite fellow, but who has never been born again, who has never been personally delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. These startling warnings are for those who are merely going through the motions and who are simply doing the external works of Christianity, thinking that these are all that the Lord requires. The author’s warnings are severe and drastic because he is attempting to rouse the external “Christian.” The external, nominal “Christian” is not born again and so is not saved and has not been set free by Jesus, but they wrongly believe they are, based on their religious performance. He would, in fact, be insulted and offended if anyone were to suggest to him that his external, formal Christianity was somehow not good enough to get him into heaven. Even this person’s own pastor would be treading on thin ice if the pastor suggested to this “fine Christian man” that his walk needed to show the fruit of repentance and should display greater holiness in order to display genuine faith.

“If you were accused of being a biblical Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

The author of Hebrews must make these warnings severe and harsh and drastic so that the nominal church-goer, still dead in their sins, might be shaken from their slumber and stirred to consciousness, and might be frightened into genuine repentance. The alarm must be loud and piercing and prolonged because of the spiritual stupor of the religious once-born. The one who has been dutifully plodding through the external motions of Christianity for a long time has been lulled into a spiritual coma (confirm in Hebrews 6:4-6). A loud, piercing, prolonged alarm is needed to rouse them and, alas, even that alarm rarely rouses. The one in the coma assumes the alarm is for someone else and that their listless church experience is the real deal. So, the author of Hebrews makes his warnings harsh and direct because his intent is to rouse those who are still dead but think they are alive. (See the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6.)

By these strident warnings, the author also does an immense service to the pastor who is duty-bound to preach these warning passages to those in his own congregation whom he suspects to have fallen short of salvation. These severe and stunning passages allow the pastor to preach with great boldness without stretching the text too far. The brave pastor can thus declare the warnings that lie plainly in the text and then apply the warnings to his flock without being accused of reading into the passage his own pleadings and opinions.

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

So, preach boldly, my friend, with the full sanctioning of the Scriptures.

SDG                 rmb                 8/7/2021                     #428

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