Hymn on Romans 9:20-23

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Election sovereign and free.
Romans 9:20-23.

Isaac Watts

Behold the potter and the clay,
He forms his vessels as he please:
Such is our God, and such are we,
The subjects of his high decrees.

[Doth not the workman's power extend
O'er all the mass, which part to choose
And mold it for a nobler end,
And which to leave for viler use?]

May not the sovereign Lord on high
Dispense his favors as he will,
Choose some to life, while others die,
And yet be just and gracious still?

[What if, to make his terror known,
He lets his patience long endure,
Suff'ring vile rebels to go on,
And seal their own destruction sure?

What if he means to show his grace,
And his electing love employs
To mark out some of mortal race,
And form them fit for heav'nly joys?]

Shall man reply against the Lord,
And call his Maker's ways unjust,
The thunder of whose dreadful word
Can crush a thousand worlds to dust?

But, O my soul! if truths so bright
Should dazzle and confound thy sight,
Yet still his written will obey,
And wait the great decisive day.

Then shall he make his justice known,
And the whole world before his throne
With joy or terror shall confess
The glory of his righteousness.

A Vanishing Mist

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
As I walk through my life, I find that self-sufficiency is like a tumor haunting me. I continually find myself fighting against the idea that I can do anything on my own power. It is easy for a Christian to give lip-service to grace, to talk highly of it. Oh, but to be consumed by it is rare. I spoke with someone recently over dinner, and I was astounded by how quickly I became a hypocrite. Passionately describing how fleeting life is and how precious grace is, I found such inconsistency in my own life. If I believed firmly in even what I understand of God’s sovereignty, I would be such a different Christian. Instead, I find myself often without the zeal for God that is so important to me. James 4 was a banner over that recent conversation, challenging my pride. “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” Oh, is there ever a moment free from such boasting in arrogance? What will it take for me to boast in my weaknesses? The all-sufficiency of Christ is an awful thing for the ego, casting down every idol. To be blessed with more understanding of God and more joy in God, I must be a wise steward of the understanding and joy with which He has already supplied me. If I am not pressed to the end of myself, then I will not understand the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.
“Resolved, to think much on all occasions
of my own dying, and of the
common circumstances which attend death.”

Jonathan Edwards, Resolution 9

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Be wretched and mourn and weep.
Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you….
What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
(James 4:8-10, 14b)


Monday, August 28, 2006

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The Christian Experience of Faith, Hope, Love, and Joy Unspeakable

Monday, August 07, 2006

Though you have not seen him, you love him.
Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that
is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith,
the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:8-9

When those who claim Christ doubt their salvation today, the question often on the lips of the pastor is, “Have you ever prayed and asked Jesus into your heart?” or “Have you ever accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?” Is this the essence of your Christian experience? Is that the core of your salvation that will be your refuge in times of suffering? If you summarize your salvation with those statements, will it comfort you? Will that summary stimulate your faith and encourage you unto hope? In Matthew 7, Jesus says that the Christian experience is likened unto building a house on an unshakeable foundation, so that when (not if) the rain falls and the floods come and beat upon the house, your house will stand! As we look at this text, it is important to note that some of Peter’s chief concerns are the sufferings of the elect, assurance of their perseverance, and their holiness. Are these not concerns that face us today? When we face questions like “How do I know if I am saved?”, I believe that the Christian experience goes much deeper than is often discussed. It is the experience of faith, hope, love, and joy that brings deep assurance, whereby we can go beyond the changing tide of emotionalism and stand on the solid foundation of true salvation. Through this, we may know if our faith is genuine and saving faith.

Faith, Hope, Love, and Joy
The two negative phrases “Though you have not seen him” and “Though you do not now see him” leading these sentences are reminiscent of Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Connecting this definition of faith with the entire thought in 1 Peter 1:8, we see the interconnectedness of faith, hope, love, and joy. Moreover, it will be my attempt to show you that these four things cannot be divorced from each other and are essential to Christianity. Let us now look at

  • the foundation and orientation of the faith,
  • the focus of the hope,
  • the object of the love, and
  • the center of the joy.

The Foundation and Orientation of Our Faith
With these verses, I believe that the foundation of the faith is grounded at the cross but that it is future oriented. Saving faith is assured of “things hoped for.” How does this hope in future things have assurance in faith? Recall Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Again, the hope of future mercies—for example, the ability to face tomorrow’s evils, the fact that God will continue to speak through His Word to you, and knowing that one day you will be standing in the presence of God—is the essence of faithfulness, but how were these mercies made available? All mercies are purchased at the cross and imbued with power through the resurrection. I think this is the essence of 1 Peter 1:3, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” From 1 Peter 1:9, the “things hoped for” can be summarized as the “salvation of your souls.” Therefore, saving faith hopes. In his book Future Grace, John Piper states, “Standing on the bygone grace of Christ’s death and resurrection, justifying faith is future-oriented trust in the promises of God” (p. 29). In 1 Peter 1:3-4, Peter calls this a “living hope,” and it is “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”

The Focus of Our Hope
From verse 4, our hope is in an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance. What is this inheritance? The inheritance is being kept in heaven for us. Since the inheritance is a mercy (the chief mercy), it had to have been purchased at the cross. We need to know the chief mercy that was purchased at the cross for us. Now, if we follow Peter through his letter, we approach a similar passage discussing suffering and the Christian. In 3:18b, Peter says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God….” Thus, our hope is in coming into the presence of God. For a moment, let us look at 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Notice that if we are Christians, then we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for his own possession. Do you see the assurance: we are called by God so that we may enter into His presence, a holy and acceptable people, and we are his, held by him forevermore, so that we may testify to his glorious saving power! The inheritance of the priest is God himself (Numbers 18:20).

The Object of Our Love
Now, why would we want to be in God’s presence forever? Eternity in heaven is not about pearly gates, streets of gold, freedom from sickness, or reunion with departed loved ones. Eternity in heaven is about abiding with God eternally because that fellowship is the hope of our faithful souls. According to Deuteronomy 30:6, the Lord our God has circumcised our hearts, so that we will love him with all our hearts and with all our souls, that we may live. The only hope you have for eternal life is if your heart is captivated with love for God, so how do you know if you genuinely love God? How do you know if your faith is real, your hope steadfast, and your love sincere? The clearest way to answer this question is to look at John 14:15. There, Jesus declares, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” You must walk in the way of the way of the righteous if you are a child of God. Obedience is the outpouring of your love for God because it is the evidence of possessing the Spirit of God. Ezekiel 36:26-28 gives an illustration of God circumcising your hearts and the effects. Look for the changed heart, the obedience wrought by the Spirit, and the inheritance that is promised.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”

God creates within you a love for himself, a heart that beats after Him. He births faith within you, calling you up to new life from the deadness of your sin. Then he pours his Spirit within you, bringing forth obedience, which is sanctification. Saving faith is not stagnant or hidden; it is living faith that works through love, according to Galatians 5:6. This explains why Peter so soon speaks on the holiness of his letter’s recipients, and by holiness, I mean a growing love for the things that God loves and a burning hate for the things He hates. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16). “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:22).

Joy Unspeakable
Let us summarize what we have seen up until now. Saving faith has as its foundation the cross. While grounded in this past event, the nature of faith is that it hopes for the time when we will be with God forevermore. Hope is the expression of our love for God because faith works through love with the expectation of our lives becoming living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. Hebrews 12:14 states that we strive for holiness because without it no one will see God. Here is an important question: Is it possible to have this type of faith, this type of hope, and this type of love without having joy? Let us look to Jonathan Edwards, who wrote this in his essay Religious Affections,

“And as it is with the love of the saints, so it is with their joy, and spiritual delight…. And this is…[the] difference between the joy of the hypocrite, and the joy of the true saint. The former rejoices in himself; self is the first foundation of his joy: the latter rejoices in God. The hypocrite has his mind pleased and delighted, in the first place, with his own privilege, and happiness…True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. This is the spring of all their delights…it is the joy of their joy.”

Because true salvation is based upon

  • believing in,
  • being assured of,
  • hoping for, and
  • loving of

Christ, it would be a great hypocrisy to say that such belief, assurance, hope, and love can be separated from joy. I do not think that the joy inexpressible mentioned in this verse is optional in your salvation. Believing and rejoicing are what obtain the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls. Delighting in God is the joy in salvation.

My understanding of the core of the Gospel is this: saving faith is a hope directed toward joyful delight in God which is the consummation of our love for him, founded upon the death and resurrection of Christ and upheld by the power of the Holy Spirit. Anything less than this is not genuine salvation and dangerous. A person that claims to possess all of these but has no joy is a legalist and will not obtain salvation. It is this distortion of Christianity that leads people to be givers but not “cheerful givers,” to suffer but not to “count it all joy.” True Christians rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Let us try to understand what Peter means when he says this joy is unspeakable. Now, the only way for Christians to expound upon this joy would be to describe the center of their delight, namely God. However, how do you describe the God of your salvation? Well, you cannot fully describe your God because there is none holy like the LORD; he is incomprehensible. We can name attribute after attribute, but every attribute of God is holy. For example, when we say that God is wise, his wisdom is holy. His holy wisdom cannot be compared to the wisdom that we see expressed in the world. The wisdom in this world, even at its best, is fallen, skewed by sin. Therefore, you cannot put to words the joy by which you are captivated; it is a holy joy. In other words, there is nothing comparable to the joy of a Christian because there is nothing comparable to the God of a Christian. Moreover, the joy that we have in God is the joy that Christ has in the Father. This joy found between the Father and the Son is so powerful that, as it has proceeded from the Father and Son eternally, it has been eternally personified by the Holy Spirit. In John 15:9-11, Jesus declares,

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

I believe this to be what God means in Ezekiel 36:27 when he says that he will put his Spirit within us and cause you to walk in his statutes and be careful to obey his rules (cf. Romans 5:1-5). This is the foundation for unspeakable joy.

Joy Filled with Glory
This joy may be unspeakable, but it will find its outlet. I believe that is why Peter says that it is filled with glory. When we think of glory, it is helpful to think of the radiance of holiness. So, when we say that the joy is unspeakable, which we understand to be a holy joy, the joy must radiate its holiness. I think that this is what Peter means by joy unspeakable full of glory. This joy will go public. How? If you cannot explain it, then how does it go forth? Jesus said you are let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16). Peter says we are to regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is us (1 Peter 3:15). It is joy that is evangelical. This is a joy that converts people because it is the outworking of the Holy Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the joy that you have will overflow. This is why when Jesus is asked which commandment is the greatest, he proclaims, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-21). If you are a Christian, people should be able to see your fruit, your good works, and then when they ask the reason for your hope, that is the intrinsic joy that accompanies the works, you point them to Christ who makes God’s holiness accessible.

Finding and Fighting for Joy
Some of you may be realizing that your experience with Christ has not been like this. God is not an object of exultation in your life. How do you come to grips with this text? I suggest two things that will transform your experience with God:

  • Systematically read through your Bible, praying as you go, so that your heart may be rent open and the joy of the Gospel shed abroad in your soul.
  • As you pray in other circumstances, lean on the promises of Scripture; your prayers should be saturated with Scripture.

It is my belief that joy is week in the congregations across this nation because prayer is minimal and study of the Word is a superficial search for feel-good quotes.

Let us close by looking at Hannah, a great woman of Scripture when her soul is downcast.

“After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the LORD. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, ‘O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.’ As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. And Eli said to her, ‘How long will you go on being drunk? Put away your wine from you.’ But Hannah answered, ‘No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD.’” (1Samuel 1:9-15)

Here is a woman who has been pouring out her soul before God; she is fighting for joy. God answers her prayer, and what is her response? “And Hannah prayed and said, ‘My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God’” (1Samuel 2:1-2). Her faith, hope, and love, culminate in joyful praise. Indeed, these four things are inseparable!

This message was preached at Harrison Baptist Church on August 6, 2006 by Joseph Dethrow.

Be Appalled!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Jeremiah 2:11-13
In looking at the astonishment called for in verses 12-13, we notice that it is based upon the idea of idolatry. Therefore, a correct concept of idolatry is paramount for our understanding of this text. Moreover, I hope that once we have covered this passage, we can state and understand the alternative.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:21-23)
Clearly, Romans 1:21-23 parallels Jeremiah 2:11. It is in Paul’s letter to the Roman’s that we understand that such an exchange of glory is something that all men do, and ultimately it is from this that all men are under sin (Romans 3:23). When modern evangelicals witness, Romans 3:23 is the ubiquitous verse, but I dare say that many of them have very little understanding of what it means to fall short of the glory of God. But if this is our natural state and the basis of our indwelling sin, then we need to delve into the depths of diagnosis. When the darkness is at its deepest, we see the light of the gospel brightest.

If we are to commit idolatry, we would first need to create an idol. What would be the process of creation? A few things come to mind:
  • Designing the idol,
  • Obtaining supplies (contributions), and
  • Constructing the idol.

Imagine we have created the idol. If we focus on this idol, what are we honoring?

  • Our creative intellect in its design,
  • Our wealth in its valuable composition, and
  • Our dexterity and skill in its construction.

When we fashion images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles, what is the big deal? Let us look at Genesis 1, where God fashions something in his own image.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
When God fashions man his own image, what is God honoring? Is it man? If God designed man, made the dirt, breathed into him, and molded him, then what is God honoring? Himself! Understanding this, do we now look at each other and bow down in worship? Do we sing melodies of our greatness? What are we to do? Out of God’s overflow of joy and love that he has in himself in the Trinity, he created man to reflect that glory. The reflection of that glory is where we are allowed to share in the joy that God has for himself. In the garden, we fell. Paul describes our minds since the fall as natural: “To set the mind on the flesh is death…For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:6,7). What is on great display here is the fact that left to itself, the heart is in haughty rebellion against God. We love those things which God detests and loathe those things which God loves, chiefly God Himself.

What are the consequences of this sin? This tragic exchange is expounded upon in Jeremiah 2. We see our great error. We have committed two evils:
  1. We have forsaken God, the fountain of living waters, and
  2. We have hewed cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

We will first deal with the second evil. In our idolatry, we have hewed cisterns. Cisterns are reservoirs of stagnant water. Go home tonight and set out a glass of water on your counter for one week. I doubt that you would want to drink that water. It is not fresh or cool. Moreover, these cisterns leak. The water that they provide us is temporal. Those who enjoy the book of Ecclesiastes will understand this. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25). The practical example is to look at the difficult times in your lives. Remember the three little pigs? What happened to the house made of straw and the house made of sticks? The wolf was able to invade their houses. There is very little safety in a frail refuge. Now, imagine that you are one of the little pigs in the house of straw on the bad side of town. Moreover, imagine that you have a family with several little piglets. Will your family sit around playing board games and sharing in great conversation? I think the tendency would be to always be afraid of the wolves that want to and can to tear down your house and eat you and your family. There is no safety, no joy, and no hope. Whatever safety, joy, or hope that you seemingly have is only temporary.

Now, we will deal with the first evil. Forsaking God, the fountain of living waters, is directly related to our creation of cisterns. The cisterns that we have created, as horrible as they are, will look even worse in the light of what is freely available. What is the marketability of spring water today? If you tell people that the water is from a mountain stream, it is a selling point. Why? As the water flows, it stirs itself, bubbling. It is refreshing. Near flowing water, you see lush vegetation. How awful is it that this is available and wanting nothing to do with it, we create cisterns (poorly)? Additionally, it is not just that we want nothing to do with the stream, but it is the fact that we hate it.

Having somewhat diagnosed our condition, what is the hope? Let us end on two passages.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:1-6)

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:1-12)

Abide in Christ. A good Christian man has said that whenever he prays, it is rare for him not to have a passage from Scripture in mind, and whenever he is reading the Scriptures, it is rare for him not to be praying.

Friendship with God

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

“…and the Scripture was fulfilled that says,
‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’
—and he was called a friend of God.”
James 2:23

Let us first look at James 2:23. It states that Abraham was called a friend of God. It is at the core of salvation to be able to be called a friend of God. If we were to discuss the essence of salvation, we could entertain two questions:

  1. From what are we saved?
  2. To what are we saved?

If isolated from the other, each question leads us to something other than the gospel. Hopefully, the first question is answerable. If our response is hell, then we are again only partly right. The nature of hell is that the unrelenting wrath of an omnipotent and holy God is being poured out upon its inhabitants. The second question rarely receives proper address from the pulpit or any other venue. To what are we saved? Again the location is only indicative of something else. Therefore, heaven is only the beginning of the answer. If the wrath of God is being dispensed in hell, then that points us toward the mercy and love presented in heaven. What does the mercy and love of God obtain for us in heaven?

Psalm 42:1-8
(1)As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. (2) My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (3) My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?” (4) These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. (5) Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation (6) and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. (7) Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. (8) By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

Salvation is being saved from God to God. We are saved from the wrath of God, so that we may enjoy the glory of God eternally. Eternal death will be replaced with being eternally satisfied by Him.

Therefore, I hope to show you how to determine if you are a friend of God, that you may enjoy God fully.

To deepen our understanding of what it means to be a friend of God, we will look first at four passages. There are some features that are shared by each of these accounts.

Genesis 22:11
But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”

Genesis 46:3
And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here am I.”

Exodus 3:4
When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

1 Samuel 3:10
And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”

Possible Common Characteristic to Note:

  1. God is calling someone to himself.
  2. The one being called responds positively.
  3. The name that God calls out is repeated twice.

Our main focus will be on the third characteristic. “It turns out, we find, that in Semitic culture when you say somebody's name twice it is a repetition of endearment, of deep, close friendliness” (Stuart).

This helps us understand how James (and the writer of Chronicles in 2 Chronicles 20:7) knows that Abraham is a friend of God. Let us inspect Genesis 22:11. What is the background of this passage? Why is this important?

Genesis 15:1-6
(1) After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (2) But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (3) And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” (4)And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” (5)And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (6)And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

This is what Paul is analyzing in Romans 4:3: “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” Through this passage, Paul concludes that Abraham was justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

Gen 17:1-5,15-19
(1)When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, (2) that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” (3)Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, (4)“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. (5)No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations….” (15)And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. (16)I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” (17)Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (18)And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (19)God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.

Genesis 22:1-12
(1)After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, “Here am I.” (2) He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (3)So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. (4)On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. (5) Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” (6) And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. (7) And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (8) Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. (9) When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. (10) Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. (11) But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” (12)He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

This is what James is analyzing in James 2:20-24. Let us look specifically at these verses:
(20)Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (21)Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? (22)You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; (23)and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. (24)You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

As Chris discussed last week, we see that faith, saving (and therefore justifying) faith, is accompanied by works. We are justified by faith alone, but the faith that saves is not alone. Faith begets works. Now, in James 2:23, we see that Abraham was called a friend of God. Where would such a title ever be implied in Genesis? Look again at Genesis 22:11. “Abraham, Abraham!”

What James is warning of is a person who calls himself or herself a Christian, but their faith is not working through love (cf. Galatians 5:6). There are many preachers that discuss the ability of a person to be “born again.” However, after simplifying this doctrine of regeneration to a mere decision, they leave their “convert” with no discipleship. At the root of the word discipleship, we see discipline. This etymology is often mentioned, but it is rarely explained. What does it mean to be disciplined? In essence, it means that you have been taught something and are now subject to that instruction. That makes sense, right? No…not completely. It is an incomplete definition with regard to Christianity. As a Christian, to whom are you subject? Christ! Therefore, the commands of Christ are your passion, they govern your life.

Let us now look at Matthew 7:21-23:
(21)“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (22)On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ (23) And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

There will be people that have been so deceived their whole lives that when before God, they will think themselves friends of the Lord. However, they have lived in such a way that they have no regard for the commands of the Lord. This Lord is no lord of them. The consequence is that He has no knowledge of them. They cannot be called friends of God, and that is damnable.

James 4:4
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Mark 15:33-34
(33)And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. (34)And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Do you want to be a friend of God? Being a disciple of Christ is a necessary condition for being a friend of God.

Matthew 16:24-25
(24)Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (25) For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Final Exams and the Spiritual Analogue

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I'm watching my students take final exams, and I am left wondering. Their greatest immediate concerns are their grades on this exam and this class. As a teacher, I want to make them understand the importance of being ready. This semester should have been one of preparation. This week should not have been one of cramming. Where is the joy in learning? This test should mark the end of a great semester of learning! Instead, I see misery and terror. Students hold the tests and are apoplectic. Several students will leave and be faced with failing grades in my class or other classes. I want to make something clear. I am their teacher. I love my students and would very much like for them to succeed. Where is their passion?

I am sure that many parallels can be drawn between this situation and people's spiritual lives. Since most of them are obvious, I will end with two quotes:
  • "If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory
  • "God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him." - John Piper in nearly every book he writes.

Let Us Go At Once

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A humble essay on corporate prayer, especially with regard to revival
“Thus says the LORD of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even inhabitants of many cities.The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD and toseek the LORD of hosts; I myself am going.’Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD.’”
Zechariah 8:20-22

A Note from the Author:
Being impressed by great men of God who desire revival, I have been encouraged to write an appeal to some of the men of my church to come together in corporate prayer. It should be noted the mode of prayer discussed in a corporate sense is not of a modern evangelical slant, but a historical and Scriptural prostrating of one’s self before God. This is not an exhaustive treatise on prayer-based fellowship. This is a briefer look at Scripture and historical revival. I think it is important for me to say that corporate prayer is never to replace individual prayer; however in the right context, corporate prayer can buttress an already thriving individual prayer-life. Scripture is saturated with the prayers of the righteous. It is widely held that one of the greatest spiritual disciplines is fervent prayer. Exemplars of such white-hot, God-centered prayer fuel the passion of Psalms and of Christ’s own ministry. These things are not up for debate. A Christian’s spiritual development is based upon systematically praying through Scripture. There are two venues in which a person may pray. There is the devotional, closeted prayer, and there is the edifying, corporate prayer. The devotional prayer is clearly acceptable from Scripture, and there is little done by anyone to malign such a thing. However, it is imperative that we defend corporate prayer; such things as worship, revivals, and discipleship are at stake.
In humble submission to Christ,
Joseph Dethrow
A Brief Encounter with Scripture Regarding Corporate Prayer:
In the Sermon on the Mount, we come to a passage that seemingly could be used to assert that prayer should be taken out of gatherings:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:1-8)

At first, Jesus appears to be condemning all public prayer. A closer examination, especially in the context of the whole passage, yields an alternate result. Moreover, I would say that a correct analysis of the whole passage develops a defense of public prayer based on a proper framework. Here, like elsewhere[2], Jesus cites specific behaviors of the Pharisees to elucidate a fallacy in their doctrinal framework. Many would argue from this passage that we are to pray only in closets, i.e. privately. If we read earlier in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:48, we see that we are called to perfection.[3] Then in 6:1, Jesus expounds upon the aspects of true holiness. He does this by contrasting righteousness (shown in obedience) from faith[4] and the apparent holiness of the Pharisee. Jesus makes clear the motives of the Pharisee do not flow from a pure heart[5], explaining that their “righteousness” issues from a wicked delight in the admiration of an audience rather than from a holy hunger for the honoring of God. Now we come to the difficult statement in verse 6, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Does Jesus truly mean that prayer should always be done in secret? He is not. Instead, to correct the blazing hypocritical notion of righteousness propagated by pharisaical exhibitions, Jesus shows that the motive for prayer should be diametrically opposed to that of the Pharisee’s.[6] Furthermore, the emphasis of the passage has less to do with praying with men and more to do with not praying before men. We are to pray before God.

Having had their idol of paraded righteousness for the joy of public adulation cast down, the disciples need new instruction on prayer. Therefore, Jesus shows them a model prayer built upon the rock of humble, God-exalting motives. Strikingly, Jesus gives them a corporate prayer:

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

John Piper devotes an entire sermon, “Sweet ‘Our’ of Prayer,” to the doctrine of corporate prayer, in which, he states,

When crafting a summary prayer for his disciples Jesus puts it in a form that will commend it for social or corporate use more than private use…You have to at least bring to your mind the truth that you are praying as part of a family of other believers. The prayer naturally lends itself to a group prayer because of its using “our” instead of “my” and “us” instead of “me” and “we” instead of “I”. So I see the Lord’s prayer as an invitation…to pray together with other believers. There is something self-contradictory about praying with the words “our,” “us” and “we,” but never experiencing the our, us and we in prayer.[7]

If this were the only argument to make for earnest, God-fearing, corporate prayer, I think it may be well received by most. However, it would be desirable and beneficial to view the purpose of such fellowship in prayer. We do know that God is present in a special way to answer the requests of His own, according to Matthew 18:19-20. The pressing question would then become, “How does God respond to the requests of His children?” The Scripture is replete with examples.

First, we will look at Acts 4 for one such example. Even though I will presuppose that being filled with the Holy Spirit is an experience distinct from regeneration,[8] you may differ with me on that point and still reach a similar conclusion. After Peter and John had been released by the council of rulers and elders and scribes, they met with their friends to relay the story. This gathering

…lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Act 4:24b-30)

Now, I believe that it is clear that these friends of Peter and John are believers, i.e. regenerate, before they start this God-exalting corporate prayer. Their supplication is saturated with a love for God’s sovereignty. This being the basis for their petition, they rightly view themselves as unable to speak the word of the Lord without a sustaining work of God. What is the result of this plea? “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Act 4:31). In modernity, we invite men to our gatherings to speak an evangelical message, calling this scheduled event a “revival.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said of the Church of the last 100 years, “[W]hen things are not going too well, the church does not exhort people to pray for revival, but decides to have an evangelistic campaign; she organizes one and then, of course, asks God to bless that. That is her solution.”[9] That is nowhere to be found in Scripture. What we do find is that God’s people gather together in prayer and study of the Scripture. It is then up to the sovereign Holy Spirit to bring revival. Lest we think that that such an “earth-shaking” experience of God’s presence can only occur at conversion, we read about Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Acts 16:25-26:

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.

It is important to note that the jailer was saved after this display of the glory of God. Such revivals may bring such miraculous signs as described here, but one of the necessary evidences of such a move of the Holy Spirit is always conviction. During such revivals, the Church grows and is edified, all by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit.

A Brief Encounter with History Regarding Corporate Prayer:
These citations from Scripture may squelch some resistance toward prayer-meetings, but some may relegate (wrongly) such experiences to the early Church. Of course, experiences are not enough to derive doctrine; that is the purpose of the prior study from Scripture. We can now look on recorded events from the history of our Church to see if such experiences persist beyond the early Church. Joyfully, we see such things are indeed recorded. To name just a few men: Jonathan Edwards, Blaise Pascal, Thomas Aquinas, George Whitefield, John Howe, the Wesleys, Daniel Rowlands, and John Livingstone.[10] Now, if all of these men were given to hysteria or sensationalism, then we could easily disregard their experiences. However, such a sampling of God-fearing men with this recorded in their lives needs to be examined.

Practical Applications of Hopeful Corporate Prayer:
Finally, if corporate prayer is wrong, then men stop praying with your families and pastors cease praying with the flocks you tend. However, if corporate prayer is a method by which we commune with God in fellowship with the entire body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, then we must cry out to God for a great movement lest the Church become half-hearted. When was the last time that place in which you were praying was shaken by God? It may take years of faithful, Christ-exalting, pleading with God in prayer, but you must believe that the Holy Spirit can fall upon a place.

Lloyd-Jones quotes an entry from George Whitefield’s journal for November 5, 1740, where Whitefield says:

Mr Gilbert Tennant preached first and I then began to pray and to give an exhortation. In about six minutes one cried out, “He is come! He is come!” and I could scarce sustain the manifestation of Jesus to his soul…But having heard the crying of others for the like of favour obliged me to stop, and I prayed over them as I saw their agonies and distress increase. At length we sang a hymn and then retired to the house, where the man that received Christ continued praising and speaking of Him until near midnight. My own soul was so full that I retired and wept before the Lord, and had a deep sense of my own vileness, and the sovereignty and greatness of God’s everlasting love. Most of the people spent the remainder of the night in prayer and praising God. It was a night much to be remembered. [11]

May we gather for prayer and plead with God to move; I myself am going!

[1]For an essay on this passage, see Edwards, Jonathan. “A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People, in Extraordinary Prayer, for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.” The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Ed. Edward Hickman. Vol. 2. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1995. A copy can be viewed at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library from Calvin College: <
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works2.viii.html> Also, all Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.
[2] Matthew 23:23ff
[3] When a Christian is called, he is called to a life of holiness. We fail in this, but God is conforming us to the image of His Son, Romans 8:29; cf. Romans 12:1ff. Also see n. 4.
[4] Cf. Romans 1:5, 2:13; Galatians 5:6,22-24 (see also n. 3)
[5] 1 Timothy 1:5
[6] Cf. Matthew 5:20
[7] <
http://www.desiringGod.org/library/sermons/87/010487.html> Here John Piper also lists several verses where corporate prayer is exercised.
[8] For an intense treatment of this subject, see Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Joy Unspeakable. Kingsway Publications, Eastbourne. 2003..
[9] Joy Unspeakable, p.431.
[10] Since these things occur as the Spirit wills, some are not in a corporate setting and some are.
[11] Joy Unspeakable, p. 97

Our Weakness: Fearful and Fainthearted! Our Strength: The Sovereign Grace of God!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

And the officers shall speak further to the people, and say,“Is there any man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go back to his house, lest he make the heart of his fellows melt like his own.”
Deuteronomy 20:8

I find it interesting that Moses, before sending the Israelites into the Promised Land, gives the exhortation, “When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 20:1). Let us think about the great, peaceful rest we can have in this truth. From the moment we are redeemed from the slavery of our sin, we are promised residence in the presence of God Himself.

As we struggle in this life, we wander in the desert of our sinful flesh and fallen world. Where is our vision? I hope we can say along with Paul that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:21-23). We sit in Moab, pressing forward, preparing to cross the river Jordan. We are studying the Scripture, listening to the prophets and apostles echo the glorious revelation of Christ.

We must understand the basis of our redemption is the grace of the LORD. Our salvation is the work of God without any addition from us. He is the Author and Perfecter of our faith. He did not just make me savable in the Egypt of my sin, he actually saved me. He made the waters part and slaughtered my enemies. He provided His Gospel as manna in the desert to sustain me, so that my soul would not be found emaciated. Oh, the glorious love of Christ shines forth from the Promise Land across the Jordan, entreating me to come. Do you really feel the struggle of Paul and understand that “to die is gain?” The long-awaited hope of our life is before us! Being with Christ is set before us as our greatest joy. The years of listening to the biographies of departed saints, sitting at the feet of Moses as he teaches us about the glory of God, waiting for the Promise Land…the wait is almost over. But the problem becomes evident, the last war. We must die to enter into the Promise Land.

Now, we have two options. One option is to devalue the work of God, saying that the work God does in saving someone is not enough to save that person to the uttermost. We could have a “God could do that but not this” mentality. There, we find ourselves in verse 8. We would be a dangerous, weak person. Our lukewarm attitude toward the sovereign, saving grace of God leaves us with no salvation at all. We are left hungering for Egypt, wondering why we had to journey. Does this sound familiar? I bet it does more than you think. How many of us find ourselves with disgust toward going to church, reading our Bibles, praying long prayers, or even volunteering to teach Sunday School? At the end of our lives, we may despise the “lost time,” believing it to be a waste. We wonder why we gave up our “fun” life. For us, the death will be the end. It is something to be feared and hated. If we hate the things of God, if we hate the grace of God, then we are haters of God Himself. There is a dangerous epidemic among church-goers to be half-hearted, plagued by doubt of their salvation. We have now become a church that bases the assurance of our salvation in a decision made at some revival, Vacation Bible School, or youth-camp and not the power of God’s grace.

The best option is given in the first verse of this chapter. We should not be afraid, knowing that God has already defeated the enemy. Our victory is in God. Paul encourages us with the same sentiment, “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to the God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:53-57). I do not think that it is coincidental that Paul makes this verse the foundation of the exhortation found in the next verse to be “steadfast” and “immovable.” We are called to be fixed, understanding the basis of our victory is Christ. Our hope is in Christ. This hope is so strong, so immovable that it will not waiver before the greatest threat we have, namely hell. We are to stand on the promises of God. We are to love God and all of His attributes. Our assurance should be found in the atoning work of Christ, knowing that we are to abound in the work of the Lord and that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (I Corinthians 15:58). We will be saved from the fierceness of the wrath of God the Almighty. Our hearts will not melt with fear. We will be carried into the Promise Land by the Holy Spirit with Christ glorified as the victor. We are to understand the grace that saved us is the grace that has been saving us, and it will ultimately be the grace that will save us. “And he [Joshua] said to the people of Israel, ‘When your children ask their fathers in times to come, “What do these stones mean?” then you shall let your children know, “Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.” For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever’” (Joshua 4:21-24).

Consequently, I implore the members of the Church to fight against a weak-kneed, pseudo-gospel. Christian men, stand firm and reclaim Biblical teaching, so that we may lead the Church across the Jordan.

“The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:21-22).

Amen! Soli Deo Gloria!

Army of Endeavor
by Fanny Crosby

Army of Endeavor, bear the trumpet call;
'Gainst the foe advancing, forward one and all!
Christ is our Commander; faithful let us be:
He will give to us the victory!

In His royal service, there's a work for all,
Cheering on the faint ones, lifting those that fall
Unto Him Who calls us ever faithful be:
He will give to us the victory!

Ever pressing onward in the cause of right,
Holding up the banner, walking in the light;
Keeping His commandments, great rewards have we!
He will give to us the victory!

Though the battle rages, what have we to fear?
In the wildest conflict, He is ever near.
Trusting in our Leader, faithful let us be:
He will give the victory!

The Love of God Revealed in the Cross

Be Thou my Vision O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." (Romans 5:1-11, ESV).

Within this article, it is important to not that to be justified is equivalent to be made righteous. It is important to note that foundation of this passage in Romans 5 is that we are justified by faith. It seems to me that one of Paul’s strongest openning statements of this letter to the faithful church of Rome is found in Romans 1:16, 17.

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to
everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it
the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written,
'The righteous shall live by faith.' "

To save sinners, such as us, God requires righteousness, something that we do not have even the least particle. Therefore, the good news of Scripture, literally, the Gospel, is that the righteousness that God requires is the righteousness He provides through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus.

Notice that here in verse 17, the righteousness of God is REVEALED. It is something that is on display, much like we think of the cross on Calvary, on a hill, for the world to see. The world has been shaken by the love of God for His people, purchasing their salvation in great love. Behold, He loves believers because they are clothed in this marvelous display of righteousness, namely they are covered, dripping in the pure, scarlet, righteous blood of Christ. They look like His Son.

Where does this washing of blood originate for those of us who called children of God? Notice that the righteousness is revealed from FAITH to FAITH. Faith is the basis, the foundation that cradles our lives. Through God’s merciful grace, he births faith in us (James 1:18). This faith grows to deeper faith, reaching into our hearts till it springs forth from our mouths as a fountain of life (Proverbs 10:11). This abundant life, not a life the world enjoys but our life in Christ, rejoices in hope. This hope is the hope for the glorious righteousness of God to be revealed to its fullness in our lives! Behold, this hope springs forth, cascading over our lips into our hands, so that we may serve the masses (the very opposite of Romans 3:10-18), becoming little so that Christ’s glory may be shown to be strong (2 Corinthians 12:9,10) !

Now, we can begin to see the hard words of verses 3-5:

"More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

I beg you to look at verse 3, that we are to REJOICE in our sufferings. Why? Because through the suffering that we see, we are able to endure, to persevere. As God preserves us through our trials, character is produced in us. What type character is produced in us? Let’s hold off on answering that question until we see the result of this character.

This character yields our posture on grace, so that we may stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. This hope does not put us to shame; we are “not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation…for in it the righteousness of God is revealed.”

Now, I pose the question, “What is the character that is produced in endurance?” Chiefly, we are conformed to the character of Christ.

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phi 2:5-11).

Again, we see that chief end of this character, then our hope, that is our salvation, is the glorification of God.
Clearly, we grasp more fully Ezekiel 36:25-27:

"I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put [pour] my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules."

Now, we get to the greatest issues of the Gospel. From where does our cleanness originate? Our unattractive, idol-worshipping corpses have hearts of stone, constantly hating God. The miracle of God is that the Word of God raises our dry bones to new life, giving us hearts that beat with love for Him. Under what power, does this occur? Verses 6-11 provide the basis of our hope. This is how our righteousness is obtained.

"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation" (Romans 5:6-11).

The love of God is revealed in the cross. He brings us to new life, fashions us in the image of Christ, and says He loves us because we are covered in the glorious blood of His Son. Our salvation is created in us by the workings of the Holy Spirit, through the victory of Christ at the cross, all to the glory of the Father. The ultimate joy in our salvation is being reconciled to God. When we walk obediently in sweet fellowship with God, our joy is complete, perfected.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

The Severity of God's Holiness: Wrath Deserved

In Isaiah 6:1-5, we read:

(1) In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. (2) Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. (3) And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (4) And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. (5) And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

I hope that the meaning of this passage permeates your life. Upon seeing God, Isaiah notices two things:

  1. God’s holiness. The majesty of God filled the temple, and angels proclaimed the glory the holy God. Often, we think of God as this aged man, sitting on a throne, somewhat feeble. Behold the Ancient of Days; He is anything but this decrepit figment of our depraved imagination. Diametrically opposed to this view, He is glorious and holy! Society’s miniscule command of the lexicon has dulled our understanding of so many words. Chiefly, we forget the importance of the word “holy.” Shall we continue to anesthetize ourselves to God’s chief attribute? The seraphim are even emphasizing it, repeating it three times, the Hebrew analogue of boldface! Let’s begin to delve into the meaning of “holy.” To be holy means to be set-apart. The ramifications of such a statement should astound us. Piper says, “God’s holiness is his infinite value as the absolutely unique, morally perfect, permanent person that he is, who by grace made himself accessible in Jesus Christ.”
  2. The human condition. To understand the holiness of God equips us to understand the righteousness of God. “God’s passion for his holiness is greater than his passion for you,” Piper continues. Anything that is unrighteous, namely fallen creation, deserves the omnipotent, holy, righteous wrath of the Sovereign God. Furthermore, when faced with the glory of God, we should feel our utter wretchedness. Isaiah understands this as he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Not only does Isaiah have unclean lips, but he also dwells in the midst of those with unclean lips. Without first understanding that our sin is primarily about our relationship with the Holy God, we will never understand who we are. We, like Isaiah, are sinful, and we are mired in sin. Our unclean lips our just an outpouring of our hearts, hardened and cold to our God. Not only are we are dead in our transgressions, but we are also in the midst of so many corpses that the stench of death is now commonplace. We are ambivalent to our condition.

Observe the glory of God’s mercy in Isaiah 6:6,7:

(6) Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that
he had taken with tongs from the altar. (7) And he touched my mouth and said:
“Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin
atoned for.”

Oh, great and glorious is our God, but we would be hopeless before a Holy God if he were not merciful. All people should see Isaiah as an example and cry out to God for mercy. “For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:30, 31). Isaiah later proclaims, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah
55:6). I pray that you listen to a man who has been in the presence of our Holy God and lived. Isaiah later gives us hope, “[L]et the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).

When Sorrows Like See Billows Roll

There are those days that seem hard. Those trying times come crashing at your doorstep, and you think your life will never go well again, that is, if it ever went well. I've been there, and I still have my "hard" days. Many people have had harder lives than I have had, so I'm not going to put forth some sob story, trying to convince anyone of anything.

What this leads me to is a difference. If we all have our trials, then what makes the difference? Sure, some people may have more difficult times, but is that really the difference? If so, how do you categorize hardship? It seems too arbitrary. How do you compare pain? Short answer: This emphasis is misguided. Some people are able make tribulations turn toward triumph, and others are entrapped in seeming trivialities. Even in approaching the issue on the issue of triumph, what do we consider triumph?

What is triumph? Is it Oprah, after growing up in abject poverty and molested, building an empire? Is it the starving artist who paints a masterpiece balances public appeal and critical acclaim? Is it the hopeless romantic falling in love with someone who reciprocates? We've heard many rags-to-riches stories, so is that the definition of success?

A good friend of mine, Chris, has been impassioned by a single word, "meaningless." He would probably say that Oprah's acquired wealth will be of no use to her upon dying. Her charities will eventually end. The starving artist's paintings will decay, and his fame will fade. The lovers will perish, and their love will not be "undying," as they had hoped. Ecclesiastes is a bulwark of Chris' passion. I share the same passion, and I see it heralded in James 4:14b, "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes."

Now, Chris and I see this as a great reason to rejoice! Triumph is not dependent upon this fleeting life, therefore whatever it is, it is eternal. You can even see Paul intimate such a wonderful theme to the Church at Philippi, "[T]o live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21b). Let's examine Paul's motive for such a provocative statement. Recently, Paul had been imprisoned, and he was encouraging the believers in Philippi. To provide solace, he touted the providence of God. "I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel" (Philippians 1:12). Furthermore, we know see the crux of his argument: "[Now] as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better." (Philippians 1:20b-23). Paul saw triumph as eternity with Christ. All the persecution is considered by Paul to be joy for the sake of the Gospel, i.e. the display of God's righteousness in the salvation of all who believe in Christ. There it is: true triumph is finding your ultimate satisfaction in God, having our greatest pleasure rest in worshipping Him and Him alone.

It Is Well With My Soul
by Horatio Spafford

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul!”
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought—
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to His Cross, and I bear it no more;
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend –
“Even so, it is well with my soul”
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live;
If dark hours about me shall roll
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

What's the best thing about heaven?

When I was around three years-old, I used to ask my mom to read to me about heaven. She proceeded, like the awesome mom she is, to read from Revelation 21-22. Here we are greeted by a splendid description of comfort, hope, and physical beauty. I was amazed at the precious stones whose names I couldn't pronounce, the measurements I couldn't fathom, and the purity of it all. Over the years, I've rested in the promise of God that my future home is in such a wonderful place. In the past few months, I've reviewed the passages, and I've been startled at what God has shown me. It takes my child-like faith and deepens it to a passionate love for the glory of God. I could expound on each part of the description, but let me just summarize. The beauty described isn't coincidental; it isn't brilliant because God is sustained by it. The reason there is such brilliance is because God is there. "And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper" (Revelation 21:10,11). God's glory is so great, so magnificent, that just being in His presence occasions a reflection of His glory. Here is our comfort in all of this, "And the city has no need of the sun or the moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. And the nations shall walk by its light, and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it" (Revelation 21:23,24). I have three things to mention here:
  1. The glory of Lord will be shining in the city. The very nature of Christ will be filling the city!
  2. We will walk by this light! The removal of the sun and moon signifies the removal of our temptations. We will no longer try to rely on anything other than God. I envision myself sitting inside, in front of a window, on a cold winter day, warming myself by the light shining through it. How I enjoy resting in the light and warmth! Much more than that will God enrapture me with Himself!
  3. The kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it. I think one of the morsels of comfort in this statement is that any glory that any human has is that which the Lord has provided. Therefore, God's glory in redeeming us, namely the image that has now been completely conformed to Christ, shines forth when we enter into his presence.
    I must praise God for giving me my greatest desire, my only hope, Himself.

"The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

(C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1965], pp. 1-2.)

Come Thou Fount
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

-From Come Thou Fount by Robert Robinson