Thursday, December 31, 2009

Some Thoughts on Our Country

The fortunes of a nation do not rise or fall with the political actions of one man, president or otherwise.  The Bible tells us that righteousness exalts a nation, and that wickedness is shameful to any people.  Americans have abused and misused three centuries of God-given prosperity.  The mercy of His abundance is matched only by the mercy of His patience.  Now our country is surely facing the cold winds of the long-deserved reckoning.  Whatever evil a misguided politician can bring upon us is a drop in the ocean to the moral damage caused by the national behavior.  In a mere forty years we have come to the point of raising a generation that is thoughtlessly throwing away the fabric of society—God’s institution of marriage!  How did we come to such a state?  It’s too late for the nation to cry “God, help us!”  But in His never-failing mercy God will protect His own.     

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Great Puritan Prayer

You are in every situation able to meet my needs and miseries.  
May I live by You, live for You, never be satisfied with my Christian progress but as I resemble Christ.
And may conformity to His principles, temper, and conduct grow hourly in my life.
Let Your unexampled love constrain me into holy obedience,
and render my duty my delight.
Support me by the strength of heaven that I may never turn back, or desire false pleasures that wilt and disappear into nothing.
As I pursue my heavenly journey by Your grace let me be known as a person with no aim but that of a burning desire for You, and the good and salvation of others.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Drunk" with the Spirit

In Ephesians 5:18, we are exhorted to not get drunk with wine, which has such terrible consequences, but to be filled with the Spirit.  People get drunk to enjoy themselves, to experience the pleasure it offers when the alcohol controls them.  But its consequences, like the ultimate effect of so many worldly pleasures, are self-destructive and harmful.  In this illuminating comparison, Paul intimates that being under the control of the Spirit is both similar and different.  The Christian experiences great joy when the heart is filled with God’s Spirit. The pleasures of the world can never be fully satisfying.  We quickly grow tired of even the best of them.  Eating food is good only up to a point.  Excess makes so many legitimate desires very harmful.  And many of these pleasures can be indulged only at the expense of a guilty conscience.  Unbelievers cannot help but feel condemned in so much that they delight to do.  But there is no danger of excess or guilt in being “drunk” with the Spirit.  We never grow weary of spiritual joys, and we can never desire them too much.  In the things of God we should enlarge our desires as much as we can.  Spiritual delights can satisfy the entire heart.  Our highest joys may be indulged with no fear of a guilty conscience.  What a blessing it is to be commanded to seek our highest enjoyment in things in harmony with conscience!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Satisfied yet Longing for More

Another of the distinguishing signs of true conversion listed by Jonathan Edwards is that the true believer will always want to know more of God and experience more of His transforming grace.  The greater our love grows, the more our desire for Him grows.  The paradox is that although we always want to experience more of God, there is no suggestion here that we what we have attained leaves us unsatisfied.  Worldly pleasures are never satisfying, they only give temporary pleasure.  The pleasure is over as soon as the desire is satisfied, and the basic appetite of human nature for happiness returns empty.  In contrast, each step we take as Christians can be profoudly satisfying, even though we will always have a longing to experience more of God.  The higher our affections are raised, that is, the more our love for God increases, the more our longing for Him grows.  In Philippians 3, Paul wrote that the single most important thing in his life was  to know and enjoy more of Christ every day.  This longing for more of God and holiness is a great distinguishing mark of true conversion. 

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Beholding God's Glory

In his Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards emphasized nothing more strongly than that a saving belief of the gospel arises from the mind being enlightened to behold God's divine glory (2 Corinthians 4:6).  As a result,  genuine Christians will not only have knowledge of God, but they will love Him and have an intense longing to know Him better.  The teachings and divine works revealed in the gospel clearly manifest the glory of God’s moral perfections.  Those who are born again will exult in seeing God’s holiness, and seeing the beauty of holiness is seeing the most important thing in the world, without which all the world is empty.  Unless God’s majesty and divine excellence is revealed to the heart, nothing is seen that is worth seeing, and there is no saving faith without some degree of this knowledge.  Edwards wrote that it is from seeing God’s glory that all gracious affections arise, that is, that a saving response to the gospel message arises from a sight of this glory.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Accepting God's Word

A genuine profession of faith will manifest its sincerity in the person’s attitude toward the Bible.  True conversion will always be accompanied by a new delight in the word of the Lord.  It is very striking in what manner the Bible describes the love of the Christian for God’s word.  It uses terms that convey intense feeling as well as reverence.  Those who are born again will not only acknowledge the Bible as God’s inspired revelation, they will now love and enjoy it  as never before.  They will wholeheartedly accept and rejoice in what it teaches as wisdom from God.  Doctrines that once seemed to be foolish to them now have a great power to motivate and change their hearts.  There is no true saving faith without a spiritual sight of God’s glory that is imparted to a new child of God by means of the word of God (2 Corinthians 4:6).  All the prejudices of the heart against the truth of divine things are removed, so that the new believer is satisfied that the Bible is completely trustworthy.  This is called in scripture “full assurance of faith.”  The gospel is believed on with joy on the basis of its own convincing evidence, not because some particular individual or church accepts it.  The Christian will not merely accept the Bible intellectually, but will cherish it as a priceless treasure.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Evangelical Humiliation

One of the most important evidences of genuine conversion is what Jonathan Edwards called evangelical humiliation.  This is trustworthy proof of salvation because it cannot be easily counterfeited.  What Edwards meant by evangelical humiliation is that those who are truly born again realize they were utterly insufficient to save themselves, and that all of the glory in their salvation belongs to God.  As a result, true Christians will have a disposition to humble themselves and exalt God alone.  This is absolutely essential in conversion.  God’s way of redeeming people through the gospel is designed to produce this humility in the hearts of those who know they are saved by grace alone (Romans 3:27; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31).  Genuine Christians will be characterized by a profound sense of their own sinfulness and a great appreciation of the mercy of God’s forgiveness.  As a result, they will gladly accept reproof from others and will be quick to forgive offenses.  There is reason to question the sincerity of those professing Christians who always bristle when someone points out a fault, or who hold grudges, being unwilling to forgive.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Counterfeit Conversions

In his treatise on Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards first set forth several things that in themselves do not prove that a person is genuinely converted.  People can display a great deal of confidence regarding their profession of faith, they can impress others with a large amount of knowledge of the Bible, and can display strong emotion in worship and prayer, all of which appears to be very sincere, without having been truly born again.  Every kind of external moral behavior can be easily counterfeited by the devil.  A person can appear to be very zealous for God, can quote large portions of Scripture, can claim to love God, and speak with great assurance, and yet never experienced the saving grace of God.  I have seen many apparently sincere and very zealous people abandon the faith after years of professing to be followers of Christ.   People can be deceived and believe that they are in a saving relationship with Christ while they are still under the wrath of God.  One of Edwards’ primary reasons for writing the Religious Affections was to prevent this great tragedy.  More on the positive side tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Throne of Grace

Our God is a God of mercy.  Mercy is the quality that sees and sympathizes with the misery of others.  God shows His people mercy, not because they merit it in any way, but because He in Himself is merciful.  Our Lord not only has a tender concern for our difficulties, but He can do something about them.  God’s mercy is displayed in the many ways He helps us when we need help.  The Bible encourages us to go to God for mercy.  Hebrews 4:16 calls this “the throne of grace.”  Those who have a deep sense of their own unworthiness, most see the need of mercy, and most admire it.  They realize they are always in some need of help, that they must always depend on God.  They know that all that they have are blessings from God’s mercy, and that He can continue those blessings or take them away at His will.  Every comfort and benefit they enjoy—health, strength, liberty, financial security—are all dipped in the Lord’s mercy.  

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

God Gives What You Desire

Psalm 37:4 promises that the Lord will give you the desires of your heart if you meet just one condition: if you delight in Him.  This is a sweeping, all-encompassing promise!  How can God trust us not to misuse such a promise?  What will keep us from asking for all kinds of selfish desires?  For things that seem good to us right now, but will ultimately prove harmful?  The one condition is an adequate safeguard.  Delighting in God does something profound in our hearts.  It transforms the central concern of the heart away from self-interest.  God’s glory now becomes the driving passion of life.  Everything else now serves this overarching purpose.  A person who desires God above all things will not ask Him for things that are contrary to His will.  A heart that delights in God will impose its own limits on what is asked of God.  The central desire of such a heart will be righteousness (37:6); and no prayer contrary to this purpose will be allowed.  God delights to answer the prayers and give abundant blessings to those who delight in Him (37:11). 

Monday, December 21, 2009

Edwards' Religious Affections

Jonathan Edward’s treatise On the Religious Affections is one of the greatest gifts God has given to His church through the writings of an uninspired author.  Edwards observed the effects of the revival in New England in the 1740s, called “The Great Awakening,” with mixed emotions.  Over time, he saw that many people who had professed Christ as their Savior, gave up that profession and returned to their former way of life.  This included people who had appeared to genuinely accept the gospel with great feeling and joy.  Edwards studied Scripture to seek to understand this.  The result, was his great book On the Religious Affections.  It is the most insightful writing ever produced on what are the marks of true conversion.  There is nothing more important than discerning between genuine and false professions of faith.  Edward’s treatise is the finest examination of this crucial subject ever written.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

God's Counsel

In Psalm 119:24, David says that God’s word is not only his delight, but it functions as his counselors.  Because of the inherent darkness of his understanding and the dominance of self-love, no person is able to rule and govern his life in a way that pleases God.  We need His counsel.  We need God’s word as our rule, and His Spirit as our guide to lead us in the way to true happiness and God’s glory.  The Scriptures are the counsel of God, sent to remedy the miseries of the fall.  The Holy Spirit uses the Bible to counsel us how to come to the Lord for happiness.  What a great mercy it is, that God has given us the Bible to counsel us in every situation of life.  Without His merciful direction, we are all like blind men, groping along in utter darkness.  When people reject the Bible, the Lord abandons them to the counsel of their own hearts.  They need no other means to ruin them, than to be left to to their own darkened understanding (Ephesians 4:17-18).  The true Christian will seek God’s direction in every circumstance of life, humbly submitting to whatever condition He has appointed.  The Lord will never fail to direct and guide those who look to Him in this way. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Prayer for Wisdom

James 1:5-6 teach us to go directly to God for the wisdom needed to successfully manage adversity.  The context deals with God’s sovereign design in afflictions—with the great blessings suffering can produce in our lives, and how the Christian must respond in order for those blessings to become reality (James 1:2-4).  Prayer is an expression of our dependence upon God as well as an admission of our limitations.  We are instructed to pray to God for the wisdom that will lead us in the right path, and watch for His answer.  One of the ways God gives wisdom is by inclining the heart to one course of action.  So, with confidence we submit our way to Him, ask Him to direct our steps, and then observe the inclination of our hearts.  

Friday, December 18, 2009

Success and Blessing

Our business as Christians in all that we do is to please God.  The goal of our lives should be to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10).  God is both the Christian’s greatest good and ultimate purpose.  Therefore, in our every action we must make it our business to have God’s approval.  All the success of our actions depends upon upon His blessing.  It depends upon the Spirit of God dwelling in us, concurrently working with us in all that we do (Philippians 2:12-13).  Therefore, it must be our ambition, whether by life or by death, to do what pleases Him.  Duty is ours, regardless of the consequences; whether our actions are “successful” or not belongs to God.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Powerful Joy

Thomas Manton wrote some very thoughtful remarks on the joy Christians experience in this life, especially in affliction.  With profound insight, he compared the comfort and encouragement God gives with what the world offers.  The joy of the world is only temporary, and often ends in sorrow.  Getting drunk results in a hangover, if not something more deadly.  But the joys of the Christian “end well,” as Manton put it.  The enjoyments of the world enslave those who use them.  There is no lasting satisfaction in them and often much hurt and danger.  In contrast, the delights of God are pure and have great power to uplift us in the midst of adversity.   

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Delight in God's Word

Throughout Psalm 119, David again and again expresses his love for God’s word.  He says that he longs to know it, he delights in it, he desires it above all riches.  Why this desire for God’s word?  1 Peter 2:2 compares the believers need for God’s word with a baby’s need for milk.  Does a baby have to learn to desire the milk that nourishes it?  A baby desires milk, not by instruction, but by instinct.  That desire is a part of its nature.  A true believer has been given a new nature that needs and desires the spiritual milk of God’s word in the same way.  If you are truly “born-again” this must be true of you.  You cannot be a Christian without a longing and desire for the Bible.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Proof of Indwelling Sin

Just as Psalm 119:35 is a remarkable proof of inspiration, so it is also convincing evidence that every person has a sinful nature, with no ability to obey God.  In that verse, David prays that God would make him do what he delights to do.  Why does he need the Lord’s help to do what should be easy to do?  What prevents him from doing what he loves to do?  The apostle Paul wrestled with this same problem in Romans 7.  There he tells us that having a desire to obey God is not enough.  We need God’s power to overcome indwelling sin.  David had to struggle with this same enemy.  He recognized that the desire to do the Lord’s will was not sufficient in itself to overcome the downward pull of his fallen nature.  The uniform teaching of the Bible is explicit: we are completely dependent on God’s enablement to deal with our greatest enemy—our own sinful hearts.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Remarkable Proof of Inspiration

Psalm 119:35 reads: “Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it.”  There is something very remarkable here.  David prays that God will make him do what he delights in.  We usually do not need someone to force us to do what we love to do.  Delighting in something is motive enough to inspire hard effort.  What we love to do should be easy to do.  To me, this verse in Psalm 119 is one of the most practical proofs of the divine inspiration of the Bible.  It teaches exactly what the apostle Paul taught 1,000 years later in Romans 7:18: that he desires to do what God commands, and yet does not have the power to do so.  David said the same thing.  The desire to obey God is not enough.  We need the power of the Holy Spirit.  Remarkable!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

An Extraordinary Choice

Hebrews 11:24-25 records the decision of Moses to forsake the treasures of Egypt.  What are we to learn from this amazing example of self-denial?  One great lesson is that to the godly person, sin is worse than affliction.  We also learn what is the nature of saving faith.  There was nothing done by Moses that is not required of all Christians  Luke 14:33  is just one example of the extraordinary self-denial Jesus demands of all His disciples.  Faith is not only strong confidence in God, it is also such esteem for Christ and the blessings He gives, that all other things lose their value in our eyes.

Paul exemplifies this in Philippians 3:7-10, where he affirms that he was willing to lose everything for the surpassing value of knowing Christ.  It is faith alone that can bring us to the same resolution.  It was faith that enabled Moses to make the choice to forsake Egypt, a choice that echoes down through human history.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Seeking True Riches

True wisdom is of so great a price, that all the treasures of the world cannot purchase it.  But Proverbs 2:4 promises that God will reveal the knowledge of Himself to those who seek Him, if they pursue such knowledge with the effort characteristic of those seeking silver and gold.  The Bible uses such comparisons to convey to us some idea of the priceless value of spiritual things.  Having a strong conviction of their worth is the fruit of faith.  The Christian should love God’s word above all things.  We are very foolish if we measure our happiness by worldly possessions or wealth. God has wisely ordained that in both the natural and spiritual realms, the most valuable treasures are obtained only by diligence and hard work. The Lord’s purpose in this is to make us prize more highly things of greater value.  The profit from God’s word is more valuable than anything we might lose in following Christ.  Whatever else we have, if we are rich in faith we are rich in God’s eyes.

Friday, December 11, 2009

More Valuable Than Riches

Psalm 119:14 is just one of several verses in this great psalm that compares the value of God’s word with the value of all riches.  Verse 14 tells us  that a believer’s delight in God’s word is not less than what all the world’s treasures can give.  That really is an extraordinary comparison.  How does a believing heart experience this delight?  The degree of desire and delight we experience should be according to the value of the object.  We should have the greatest delight in God and spiritual things because they are the most valuable.  One of the primary effects of grace is that it motivates us to choose God for our greatest good.  In every Christian duty we experience delight.  Psalm 19:10 affirms that both the greatest profit and the greatest pleasure are to be found in believing and obeying God’s word.  The profit is compared to the value of gold, and the pleasure is compared to the sweetness of honey.  The word of God will truly enrich a person and make him happy.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Quick to Hear

James 1:19 directs us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak”.  I have often heard that this verse concerns our relationship with other people.  In personal conversation, we should be ready to hear what others have to say, and slow to voice our own opinion.  Reading Thomas Manton’s comments on this verse has given me a new understanding of it.  The context clearly shows that this command relates to our response to the gospel.  The previous verse (James 1:18) teaches that God’s word is the instrument by which we have been born again.  Verse 21, which follows, also concerns our attitude and response to the message of the gospel.  So, we are instructed here to be quick to listen to God’s word and receive it with humility.  We should highly value the privilege of hearing and reading the Bible, and be very slow to raise objections to what it teaches.  We must not be quick to arrogantly contradict it.  Doctrines that are hard for human reason to accept must be accepted nontheless.  The person who humbly responds in this way will experience the great saving power of God’s word.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Purpose of God's Commands

The controversy with the Pharisees recorded in Matthew 12:1-8 follows Jesus’ great invitation for all who are weary to come to Him for rest.  Christ’s invitation and the opposition of the Pharisees are intimately connected.  Christ offered rest to anyone who would come to Him by faith.  The controversy which followed was about resting on the Sabbath. The disagreement involved the very purpose of God’s commands and ordinances.  The Pharisees considered the act of Christ’s disciples in taking the grain in the field and eating it as a breach of God’s law.  Jesus responded that the purpose of all of God’s commands was to mercifully direct people to what would meet their deepest needs.  The result of the Pharisees misuse of God’s law was to lay heavy burdens on people.    The Christian must always understand that the commands which give direction to life are also assurances of God’s enabling power.  They are not intended to weigh us down, but to lift us up.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Strength to Make Bricks

Jesus said that we will find rest for our souls as we take His yoke upon us.  This is a picture of obeying and serving Him.  Christ’s yoke will be easy and His commands will not be burdensome if we understand their purpose.  We learn about our loving heavenly Father in the very process of serving Him.  God requires nothing of us but what is for our own good.  No duty, such as reading the Bible, praying, etc., is a mere task that we must fulfill in our own strength.  Rather, they are the means appointed by God to accomplish His purposes in us.  Every command is also a promise that God will supply all that we need to do His will.  This is one of the greatest glories of Christianity!  God is not Pharaoh, commanding bricks to be made without the means. The Lord not only gives us the straw, but also the strength to make the bricks.  When we understand the wonderful blessings that come to us by obeying God’s commands, Christ’s yoke will indeed be easy to bear.  I’ll conclude this tomorrow.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Commands and Promises

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus offers rest of soul to those who will come to Him.  Jesus gives us rest by revealing God to us.  In the next verse He tells us how this happens.  To come to Jesus, a person must “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.”  We experience rest for our souls while taking His yoke upon ourselves, that is while serving and obeying Him.  The promises that encourage and comfort us cannot be separated from commands that must be obeyed.  How can His yoke be easy?  How can God’s commands not be a burden?  (1 John 5:4)  The answer is in the nature of the obedience God requires of us.  In every duty there is a command and a promise.  We must obey the commands and believe the promises.  It is a great mercy that the Lord promises to give us the grace needed to obey every command.  More tomorrow.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Rest for the Soul

God is not Pharaoh; He does not demand that Christians make bricks without straw.  He has not given His commandments to us to weigh us down with impossible demands.  If reading the Bible or hearing it preached leaves us with nothing but a heavy burden, something crucially important is being missed.  In Matthew 11:28 Jesus offers to give spiritual rest to anyone who will come to Him in faith.  What gives the soul rest?  The previous verse tells us that no one can know the Father unless Jesus reveals Him.  Then Jesus invites all to come to Him and learn from Him in order to find rest.  These verses are intimately connected.  We must learn something from Jesus that gives peace and rest to our souls.  Clearly, it is the knowledge of God that only Jesus can reveal.  Nothing else can give true contentment to the human soul.  We must learn to come to God as the all-sufficient source of everything we need.  And only Jesus can reveal God to us in this profound way.  More on this tomorrow.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Free Will

Does the Bible teach that people have “free will?”  That depends on how you define “free will.”  People do indeed have the ability in themselves to freely choose whatever they want.  The problem is that fallen human nature only wants to do what is sinful.  And every person born into this world has a nature corrupted by sin.  So, while people may freely choose what their nature desires, the only thing that nature desires to do is sin.  People do not have the ability in themselves to do what God’s law requires.  By nature, every person is hostile toward God and is not able to obey His laws (Romans 8:7).  In order to experience true freedom a person must be “born again,” they must have a new nature.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Free to Pursue True Happiness

What really infringes on a person’s liberty is whatever prevents them from obtaining their greatest purpose in life, which is to be truly happy.  A life lived in bondage to sin can never enjoy genuine happiness.  Nothing is worse than a condition of slavery to sin.  Titus 3:3 describes unbelievers as “slaves to passions and pleasures.”  When various lusts take the throne of a person’s heart, the entire life becomes disordered.  God has provided the means to break that bondage in Christ.  When people reject Him, they are rejecting the only means that can free them from sin.  They are rejecting the only means that can make them happy; the only means by which people can enjoy what they where created for.  A final thought on “free will” tomorrow. 

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Genuine Freedom

Everyone desires freedom.  But what actually is freedom?  Most people think of it as the absence of all restraint on their lives; as being able to do whatever they please.  But doing lawlessly whatever your heart desires is actually the greatest misery that can befall a person.  The world’s concept of liberty could not be more in error.  Freedom is not being able to live as we wish; it is being able live as we should, as God intended.  The fallen human heart is enslaved to sin, and has no power to escape the misery the always accompanies sin.  Glorious liberty can only be found in Christ.  We never have greater freedom than when we are pleasing God. The epistle of James calls the gospel the “law of liberty” because it reveals to us how we can live as we should.  More tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

God's Word is Enough

In his second letter, Peter refers to his experience of seeing the tranfiguration of the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 1:16-18).  Being an eyewitness of such a glorious event is credible evidence that what Peter writes should be trusted.  Yet the apostle immediately follows this by stating that the written word of God is more trustworthy than any personal experience (2 Peter 1:19).  If this genuine experience of one of Christ’s original apostles does not carry the same weight as Scripture, what is the value of the many questionable experiences we hear of today?  One more point.  Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead He waited four days so there would be no doubt that Lazarus had died (John 11).  In contrast, modern accounts of those who have been declared legally dead, and then acknowledged as alive, all involve very short time spans, usually an hour at the most. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Genuine Resurrections?

Jesus’ statement in Luke 16:31 bears directly on the claims of those who say they have died, gone to heaven, and then have been resurrected.  They are indeed claiming that they have been resurrected from the dead.  Jesus said, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”  Why do people read such accounts?  What benefit do they get?  Those who reject the Gospel are probably seeking some evidence that heaven is real.  Jesus said that those who reject the testimony of God’s word will not be convinced even if someone is genuinely resurrected.  Christians should have no need to seek proof beyond the Bible.  The evidence of Scripture is sufficient for the believing heart.  I will have two more points on this tomorrow.