Awe, Not Ecstasy

(This is a portion of my sermon introduction from Sunday, April 6.)

April 15, 2014

 

For the last month or so, whenever I have scanned through the headlines, a particular group of people have been catching my attention, skydivers.

It started when I noticed a story about a sixteen year old.  Her dad bought this “experience” for her birthday.  This was her first jump.  She jumped out of the plane moments after her dad did.  But, her shoot didn’t open.  Thirty-five hundred feet later she crashed into the ground and lived.  The doctors are expecting her to make a full recovery.

But just a few days ago, a woman with over 1500 jumps under her belt, died when her parachute didn’t open.  In the aftermath, another woman, who jumped with her said, “Yeah, it’s sad, but it also happens … It just happens.”

About two weeks ago, I watched a video on YouTube of a man jumping off of the Freedom Tower in New York City.  After about ten seconds he pulled his parachute and landed safely in the middle of the street.

Even though the deaths per jump ratio is incredibly low, I was still curious about the motivation.  One man summarized most of the comments that I found.  He said, “For me, it’s an incredible buzz as I step off the platform; it’s very cleansing; it’s very exciting; and it’s highly addictive.”

Despite the rush, he says it’s an overall calming experience.

“I never think about emails I should write home, and people I haven’t called, and tasks around the house I haven’t done,” he said. “It gives you a moment of absolute clarity where you’re just admiring the view and concentrating on the next six seconds.”

I wonder how many churches in America have this same type of attitude as they plan their worship services.  Of course, instead of trying to produce “clarity” for six seconds, the aim is probably sixty minutes.

I wonder how many people go to church on Sunday mornings looking for “clarity?”

When you come to corporate worship, what are you looking for?

Excitement?  or Amazement?  Ecstasy or Awe?

I suppose at this point I should stop and walk you through your own expectations for church.  But I am going to leave you to do that at lunch time, as you prepare for evening worship!

What I want you to recognize is that it makes a difference.  What you look for in a worship service will determine where and whom you will worship. 

If you are looking for excitement in a worship service, if you are looking for a service that will get you up and will make you have a good time and will cause you to leave that place with good feelings, then the god you are going to worship is the god that is all about pleasing you!

But, if you are looking to enter into the worship of the God who created the world out of nothing, and, if you are looking to enter into the worship of a God who demands and deserves worship because He is holy, just, perfect, and lovely, in such a service, your response will not be excitement, but awe.

In such a service you will become reminded of or become aware of the greatness of your sin and rebellion, but you will also become aware of or be reminded of the greatness of the grace and mercy found in the blood of Christ.  And you will be filled with awe that such a mighty God would offer Himself as the Substitute under His judgment so that you can rightly and boldly enter into His presence to worship Him.

Now where do we learn of this great work of God?  Where do we learn of the King of the Universe that offers himself on the altar in order to purchase a people for himself?  There is but one place.  The Word of God.

In March of 2007 Christianity Today an article was written by an anonymous professor called, “My Conversation with God.”  The writer had always heard about other people “hearing God speak,” only this time it supposedly happened to Him.  Of course, I don’t buy it, but as I was reading comments about it, I came across this one.

The comment reads, “I really believe that the Lord is going to be moving in new and unique ways among all Christians, particularly among leaders and Pastors. Watch for healing and spiritual gifts to informally break out in churches and places where they have never been recognized before. This is like a small first wave. Look for more to come later.”

Do you know what this comment is about?  Bring on the excitement!  Bring on the hoopla!  They claim God still speaks today apart from the Word, so go practice Yoga, or contemplative prayer, or any number of other eastern mystical practices, and your faith will become exciting.  Add a lightshow, put on some sort of a rock-concert every Sunday, and get people in a frenzy over God, and Christianity will take back the culture.

But, let me tell you, the pursuit of the exciting is the world’s way of doing business.  And when the world has its way, the ordinary ways of God get pushed down and trampled on by society.

But, these two parables and the fulfilled prophecy in our text today (Matthew 13:31-35) reveal to us that the kingdom of heaven does not grow by the world’s means.  The kingdom of heaven does not grow by the pursuit of excitement, but it grows as the ordinary means of grace are made use of by God’s people.

As God’s people are filled with awe at the revelation of the Living Word –Jesus Christ- in the Written Word- the Bible- that’s when the kingdom of heaven expands and grows.

I had a brief conversation with a friend this week, and I was describing to him the difference between Awe and Ecstasy.  I was describing to him how awe bubbles up within us as we consider what someone else has done or is doing.   Ecstasy erupts in us when something amazingly good happen to us.

So he said something like, “It’s kind of like the difference between standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon and riding a zip line down to the bottom.”  What a great picture.

Awe tends to be an attitude of amazement focused on someone or something besides ourselves.  Whereas, ecstasy tends to be an emotion of excitement focused on ourselves.

So, in our text today [Matthew 13:31-35], what we have are 3 things that are designed to stir up awe within us over the kingdom of heaven, and specifically the King of heaven, instead of creating excitement and ecstasy over “what is going on in my life.”

Awe, not ecstasy is the product of revealed truth.  Are you in awe because of what God has revealed of Himself?

Hebrews 12:28, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.”

For Christmas this year, my family received a variety of The Story Bible-type books, aimed at the different ages of our family members.  These books are authored by Max Lucado and Randy Frazee. 

 

I don’t like being disappointed with Christmas gifts so I usually have low expectations –plus when I am pleasantly surprised, it seems even greater!  But these books went beyond being a disappointment for me.  The only book I really wanted for Christmas this year was a puritan’s commentary on the book of Song of Solomon.  Instead, I found Lucado.

 

The best way I can describe reading Max Lucado is like trying to eat a 3 inch perch.  There is a tremendous amount of energy, caution and inspection in order to find even the smallest nutritious bite in such a small fish.  With Lucado, a tremendous amount of energy, caution and discernment is needed to pick out all of the bones and scales of his near-heretical beliefs.  And then, what you are left with is the smallest particle of nourishment.  Simply put, He is not worth it.

 

Just like eating chocolate will give you a burst  of energy , but then leave you hungering for something more, something substantial, something filling, something healthy, so too reading Lucado will give emotional energy to your faith in a quick burst, but that energy, passion and emotion will quickly fade away and in its place a hunger will remain.  Too often, people will go back to the same food source that left them hungry and malnourished in the first place.  So Lucado is worth the time and effort need to glean anything of value.

 

The primary reason why Lucado will only ever be good fiction writer (from an academic standpoint), and not a good biblical writer is because he does not have a good view of the Bible.  He does not stand on the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, even though he would probably say otherwise.  This is most clear when you see that many, if not most, of the OT stories he reduces to a moral purposes instead of a redemptive purpose.

 

Let me give you two examples.

 

The story of David and Goliath.  Lucado summarizes the story, “God helped David be brave. You can ask God to help you be brave too.”  This summary contains absolutely nothing redemptive.  Therefore, he has complete missed the purpose of it.

 

David was acting like a king is supposed to act.  A king is to defend his people.  A king is to give his life for His people.  Saul failed, but David didn’t.  David was offended by the Goliath’s defiance toward God and threats towards God’s people.  Therefore, David acted to honor God and defend God’s people.

 

The issue is that we need a king like David to rule over us.  We need a king to defend the glory of God in us and to defeat the evil that is in us.  We, on our own, are helpless, pitiful, and weak.  We cannot save ourselves from the goliaths in our lives.

 

Another example of Lucado’s poor treatment of Scripture is how he handles Isaiah 6.  Once again, the redemptive element is completely missed.  He makes zero mention of the Isaiah’s sin and the sacrifice upon the altar. 

 

In fact, Lucado teaches the exact opposite of what this story teaches.  Lucado says, “God wanted Isaiah to tell the people to stop doing bad things and to do what is right.”  Lucado then summarizes this section.  “God doesn’t give up on his people.  God won’t give up on you.”  Lucado’s message from Isaiah 6 is “Try harder,” and I find this greatly offensive.

 

The redemptive purpose and the most important part of Isaiah 6 is the sacrifice upon the altar.  If you remember, Isaiah entered into the very throne room of God and was terrified because the Seraphim were praising God as “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”  And in the presence of a Holy God, Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me.  For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.”  Isaiah is identifying himself a sinner deserving of damnation just like the rest of Israel!  And the only reason he could remain in God’s presence, let alone speak to God, is because the sacrifice on the altar was applied to Him.

 

Now, we know from Hebrews 10:19-21 that Christ has opened up heaven by his own blood being poured out upon the altar.  Therefore, it was nothing less than the blood of Christ that spared Isaiah and enabled him to commune with God.

 

Don’t tell me to try harder.  Tell me that God made the perfect atoning sacrifice for my sin!  Tell me that I am able to enter into God’s presence because of the death of Christ.  Tell me that I can serve God because I have been covered by the blood of Jesus.  But don’t tell me to try to be good, because that is something I can never do apart from the atoning work of Christ.  The only way I can be good before God is if the perfect sacrifice is applied to me by the grace of God.

 

So Lucado’s treatment of Isaiah 6 not only makes a mess of the content of that chapter, but His treatment is actually an attack on the very gospel of hope that sinners desperately need.

 

Is everything that Lucado says wrong?  Of course not.  A blind squirrel finds a nut from time to time.  A dead clock is right twice a day.  (To Lucado’s credit, there appears to be a significant change on his views of eternal security, even though it is still defective.) But, Lucado repeatedly fails to see the redemptive purpose of God’s word.  So my issue with Lucado is why would I want to rely on such a defective handling of the Word of God which is the only infallible authority for faith and practice?  He robs me of the very grace I need by twisting God’s redemptive acts in moral stories.

 

I know these are strong words.  I know that this seems like I am going overboard against a guy that “only has a different theological position” than I do.  But if only you the reader could see the damage that his views have done to the precious life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ, then you would understand that this isn’t just a theological issue.  This is a heaven and hell issue.  This is a life and death issue.

 

So I can’t have Lucado in my house where my children might pick him up at some point and come to believe that what he is espousing is the truth, when it is nothing more than another deception.  There is too much at stake.

This is a sermon from Robert Murray McCheyne.  He explains what a relationship with Christ is about.  It is a must read.

 

Song of Solomon 2:2-3 “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters. As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet unto my taste.”   

 If an unconverted man were taken away into heaven, where Christ sits in glory, and if he overheard Christ’s words of admiring love towards the believer, he could not understand them, he could not comprehend how Christ should see a loveliness in poor religious people whom he in the bottom of his heart despised. Or again, if an unconverted man were to overhear a Christian at his devotions when he is really within the veil, and were to listen to his words of admiring, adoring love towards Christ, he could not possibly understand them, he could not comprehend how the believer should have such a burning affection towards one unseen, in whom he himself saw no form nor comeliness.

 So true it is that the natural man knows not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him. There may be some now hearing me who have a rooted dislike to religious people, they are so stiff, so precise, so gloomy, you cannot endure their company. Well then, see here what Christ thinks of them, ” As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” How different you are from Christ ! There may be some hearing me who have no desires after Jesus Christ, who never think of him with pleasure ; you see no form nor comeliness in him, no beauty that you should desire him ; you do not love the melody of his name ; you do not pray to him continually. Well then, see here what the believer thinks of him, how different from you ” As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.” O that you would be awakened by this very thing, that you are so different from Christ, and so different from the believer, to think that you must be in a natural condition, you must be under wrath.

Doctrine. The believer is unspeakably precious in the eyes of Christ, and Christ is unspeakably precious in the eyes of the believer.

 I. Inquire what Christ thinks of the believer “As the lily among the thorns, so is my love among the daughters.”

 Christ sees nothing so fair in all this world as the believer. All the rest of the world is like thorns, but the believer is like a beautiful lily in his eyes. When you are walking in a wilderness all overgrown with briers and thorns, if your eye falls upon some lonely flower, tall and white, and pure and graceful, growing in the midst of the thorns and it looks peculiarly beautiful. If it were in the midst of some rich garden among many other flowers, then it would not be so remarkable, but when it is encompassed with thorns on every side, then it engages the eye. Such is the believer in the eyes of Christ.” As the lily among thorns so is my love among the daughters.”

 (1.) See what Christ thinks of the unconverted world. It is like a field full of briers and thorns in his eyes.

 1. Because fruitless. ” Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” So Christ gets no fruit from the unconverted world. It is all one wide, thorny waste.

 2. Because, when the word is preached among them, it is like sowing among thorns. ” Break up your fallow ground and sow not among thorns.” When the sower sowed, some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them ; so is preaching to the unconverted.

 3. Because their end will be like that of thorns; they are dry and fit only for the burning.  “As thorns cut up shall they be burned in the fire.” “For the earth, which is often rained upon and only bears thorns and briers, is rejected, and nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned.”

 My friends, if you are not in a Christian state, see what you are in the eyes of Christ – thorns. You think that you have many admirable qualities, that you are valuable members of society, and you have a hope that it shall be well with you in eternity. See what Christ says you are thorns and briers, useless in this world, and fit only for the burning.

 (2.) See what Christ thinks of the believer. ” As the lily among thorns so is my love among the daughters.” The believer is like a lovely flower in the eyes of Christ.

 1. Because, justified in the eyes of Christ, washed in his blood, he is pure and white as a lily. Christ can see no spot in his own righteousness, and therefore he sees no spot on the believer. Thou art all fair, my love, as a lily among thorns so is my love.

 2. A believer’s nature is changed. Once he was like the barren, prickly thorn, fit only for burning; now Christ has put a new spirit in him ; the dew has been given to him, and he grows up like the lily. Christ loves the new creature. ” All my delight is in them.” ” As the lily among thorns so is my love among the daughters.”

 Are you a Christian? Then never mind though the world despises you, though they call you names; remember Christ loves you, he calls you “my love.” Abide in him, and you shall abide in his love. If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed.

 3. Because you are so alone in the world. Observe, there is but one lily, but many thorns. There is a great wilderness all full of thorns, and only one lonely flower. So there is a world lying in wickedness, and a little flock that believes in Jesus. Some believers are cast down because they feel solitary and alone. “If I be in the right way, surely I would not be so lonely. Surely the wise, and the amiable, and the kind people I see round about me, surely; if there were any truth in religion, they would know it.” Be not cast down. It is one of the marks of Christ’s people that they are alone in the world, and yet they are not alone. It is one of the very beauties which Christ sees in his people, that they are solitary among a world of thorns.

 “As a lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.” Do not be discouraged. This world is the world of loneliness. When you are transplanted to yon garden of God, then you shall be no more lonely, then you shall be away from all the thorns. As flowers in a rich garden blend together their thousand odors to enrich the passing breeze, so, in the paradise above, you shall join the thousands of the redeemed blending with theirs the odor of your praise. You shall join with the redeemed as living flowers to form a garland for the Redeemer’s brow.

 II. Inquire what the believer thinks of Christ. “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.*’

 1. Christ is more precious than all other saviors in the eye of the believer. As a traveler prefers an apple tree to every other tree of the wood, because he finds both shelter and nourishing food under it, so the believer prefers Christ to all other saviors.

 When a man is traveling in eastern countries, he is often like to drop down under the burning rays of the sun. It is a great relief when he comes to a wood. When Israel was travelling in the wilderness, they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and seventy palm-trees, and they encamped there by the water. They were glad of the shelter of the trees. So Micah says that God’s people “dwell solitarily in the wood” and Ezekiel promises “they shall sleep in the woods.”

 But, if the traveler be hungry and faint for lack of food, then he will not be content with any tree of the wood, but he will choose out a fruit tree, under which he may sit down and find nourishment as well as shade. He sees a fair apple tree; he chooses it out of all the trees of the wood, because he can both sit under its shadow and eat its pleasant fruits. So is it with the soul awakened by God. He feels under the heat of God’s anger ; he is in a weary land ; he is brought into the wilderness ; he is like to perish ; he comes to a wood ; many trees offer their shade ; where shall he sit down ? Under the fir tree? Alas! What fruit has it to give?  He may die there. Under the cedar tree, with its mighty branches? Alas!  He may perish there; for it has no fruit to give. The soul that is taught of God seeks for a complete Savior. The apple tree is revealed to the soul. The hungry soul chooses that evermore. He needs to be saved from hell and nourished for heaven. “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.”

 Awakened souls, remember, you must not sit down under every tree that offers itself. “Take heed that no one deceive you; for many shall come in Christ’s name, saying, ‘I am Christ,’ and deceive many.” (Matthew 24:4-5) There are many ways of saying peace, peace, when there is no peace. You will be tempted to find peace in the world, in self-repentance, in self-reformation. Remember, choose you a tree that will yield fruit as well as shade. “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.” Pray for a choosing faith. Pray for an eye to discern the apple tree. Oh!  There is no rest for the soul except under that Branch which God has made strong. My heart’s desire and prayer for you is, that you may all find rest there.

 2. Why has the believer so high an esteem of Christ?

 Ans. (1.) Because he has made trial of [proven by experience] Christ. “I sat down under his shadow with great delight.” All true believers have sat down under the shadow of Christ. Some people think that they shall be saved because they have a head-knowledge of Christ. They read of Christ in the Bible, they hear of Christ in the house of God, and they think that is to be a Christian. Alas, my friends, what good would you get from an apple tree, if I were only to describe it to you ; tell you how beautiful it was, and how heavily laden with delicious apples ? Or, if I were only to show you a picture of the tree, or if I were to show you the tree itself at a distance, what the better would you be? You would not get the good of its shade or its pleasant fruit. Just so, dear Brethren, what good will you get from Christ, if you only hear of him in books and sermons, or if you see him pictured forth in the sacrament, or if you were to see him with your bodily eye ? What good would all this do, if you do not sit down under his shadow? O my friends, there must be a personal sitting down under the shadow of Christ, if you would be saved. Christ is the bush that has been burned yet not consumed. Oh! It is a safe place for a hell-deserving sinner to rest.

 Some may be hearing me who can say, “I sat down under his shadow.” And yet you have forsaken him. Ah! Have you gone after your lovers, and away from Christ? Well, then, may God hedge up your way with thorns. Return, return, O Shulamite! There is no other refuge for your soul. Come and sit down again under the shadow of the Savior.

 Ans. (2.) Because he sat down with great delight.

 1st. Some people think there is no joy in religion, it is a gloomy thing. When a young person becomes a Christian, they would say, Alas! He must bid farewell to pleasure, farewell to the joys of youth, farewell to a merry heart. He must exchange these pleasures for reading of the Bible and dry sermon-books, for a life of gravity and preciseness. This is what the world says. What does the Bible say? “I sat down under his shadow with great delight.” Ah! Let God be true, and every man a liar. Yet no one can believe this except those who have tried it. Ah! Be not deceived, my young friends; the world has many sensual and many sinful delights; the delights of eating and drinking, and wearing gay clothes ; the delights of revelry and the dance. No man of wisdom will deny that these things are delightful to the natural heart, but oh!  They perish in the using, and they end in an eternal hell. But to sit down under the shadow of Christ, wearied with God’s burning anger, wearied with seeking after vain saviors, at last to find rest under the shadow of Christ, ah!  This is great delight. Lord, evermore may I sit under this shadow! Lord, evermore, may I be filled with this joy!

 2d. Some people are afraid of anything like joy in religion. They have none themselves, and they do not love to see it in others. Their religion is something like the stars, very high, and very clear, but very cold. When they see tears of anxiety, or tears of joy, they cry out, “Enthusiasm, enthusiasm!” Well, then, to the Law and to the Testimony also. “I sat down under his shadow with great delight.” Is this enthusiasm? O Lord, evermore give us this enthusiasm! May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing! If it be really in sitting under the shadow of Christ, let there be no bounds to your joy. O if God would but open your eyes and give you simple, child-like faith, to look to Jesus, to sit under his shadow, then would songs of joy rise from all our dwellings. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say, rejoice!

 3d. Because the fruit of Christ is sweet to the taste. All true believers not only sit under the shadow, but partake of his pleasant fruits; just as when you sit under an apple tree, the fruit hangs above you and around you, and invites you to “put out the hand and taste;” so, when you come to submit to the righteousness of God, bow your head, and sit down under Christ’s shadow, all other things are added unto you.

 First, temporal mercies are sweet to the taste. None but those of you who are Christians know this, when you sit under the shadow of Christ’s temporal mercies, because they are covenant mercies. “Bread shall be given you; your water shall be sure.” These are sweet apples from the tree Christ. O Christian, tell me, is not bread sweeter when eaten thus? Is not water richer than wine? and Daniel’s pulse better than the dainties of the King’s table.

 Second, afflictions are sweet to the taste. Every good apple has some sourness in it. So it is with the apples of the tree Christ. He gives afflictions as well as mercies. He sets the teeth on edge.  But, even these are blessings in disguise; they are covenant gifts. Oh! Affliction is a dismal thing when you are not under his shadow. But are you Christian?  Look on your sorrows as apples from that blessed tree. If you knew how wholesome they are, you would not wish to be lacking them. Several of you know it is no contradiction to say, “These apples, though sour, are sweet to my taste.”

 Third, the gifts of the Spirit are sweet to the taste. Ah! Here is the best fruit that grows on the tree; here are the ripest apples from the topmost branch. You who are Christians know how often your soul is fainting. Well, here is nourishment to your fainting soul. Everything you need is in Christ. “My grace is sufficient for thee.” (2Corinthians 12:9) Dear Christian, sit much under that tree feed much upon that fruit. “Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love.”  (Song of Solomon 2:5)

 Fourth, they are promises of glory. Some of the apples have a taste of heaven in them. Feed upon these, dear Christians. Some of Christ’s apples give you a relish for the fruit of Canaan, for the clusters of Eshcol. Lord, evermore give me these apples; for oh! They are sweet to my taste.

 

St. Peter’s Church, Dundee, Scotland, 1837 

About a week ago, I was reminded of the importance of beginning our gospel presentation with the truth of God’s word, specifically in relation to the total depravity of man.  If we start from a faulty premise, then the solution to the problem of sin will be faulty as well.

I listened to a children’s message where the speaker was explaining Romans 6:23.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”  To illustrate this, the speaker began with a cup of clear water, and told the children that when we sin, our lives become corrupted by sin.  Then the speaker took an eye dropper and added what appeared to be a black ink.  The clear cup of water then became black.  The speaker said this is what happens when we sin.

Next, the speaker held up a white cross and explained that it is the cross of Christ that deals with the sin.  Some substance was then released from within the cross that changed the black water into white water.

I know what the speaker’s intentions were.  But the problem with this illustration wasn’t that the cross deals effectively with sin, but how the cross effectively deals with sin.  In this picture, the speaker presented Christ as something that is added to our lives to make everything better.  But this isn’t the full Biblical picture of Christ’s atonement.  Christ is indeed “added” to a person, but the guilt of sin is taken away also!

2Corinthians 5:17 & 21 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. . . .For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

There is a dual transaction that takes place at conversion.  Not only is Christ’s righteousness credited to the believer, but the believer’s guilt is credited to Christ who paid for it by his sacrifice upon the cross. 

This is what happened to the Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6.  He entered into the heavenly temple and instantly became aware of his great sinfulness.  In order to deal with Isaiah’s sin, Christ’s righteousness wasn’t simply added to what was there.  The angel took a coal from the altar and touched his lips (which symbolized the application of the atoning sacrifice) and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

There is a cost in converting to Christ and it is no less than dying to self.  Paul’s language stresses this.  We don’t simply add something to what exists, but the old is removed and the new is born.  The language of Scripture backs this up.

“You must be born again.” John 3:7

“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them.” Ezekiel 11:19

“And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

“Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.” 1 Cor 5:7

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” 2Cor 5:17

“For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”  Gal 6:15

“Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph 4:24

“Seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Col 3:10

“To the one who conquers . . . I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone.” Rev 2:17

Not only does Scripture teach the creating of something new, but Christ expressly denies that the new is added to what already exists.

Matthew 9:17 says, “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

So as I considered again the speaker’s illustration, it became clear to me that the reason the explanation was faulty was because the basic premise was faulty.  We do not enter into this world with a clean slate.  We are not pure water.  Because of Adam’s sin we are born sinners, and then we sin because that is our nature. (Ephesians 2:3)

If we simply view sin as a contaminate that is added to our lives, then all that needs to happen is to remove the contaminate.  But if we view sin as the corruption and distortion of everything that we are, then we need to be remade.  We need to become a new creature.

This is how the cross deals with our sin.  Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Our justification (which is different from our sanctification though in some respect the processes are very similar) is accomplished by the death of the sinful nature and the regeneration of a new nature. 

So for the illustration to have been biblically accurate, the speaker should have begun with a cup of black water and vacuumed out the black water into the cross and simultaneously poured clean water back into the cup.

Now that would be an illustration worth showing our children!

Have you recently experienced the pain of losing a close friend?  Or maybe, does the memory of such a loss still troubles you?

 Recently, I have been reading through some letters by the 17th century puritan John Newton, the author of the hymn Amazing Grace.   In this particular letter, Newton is writing to Mrs. Wilberforce in 1769.  Mrs. Wilberforce is the aunt to the well-known William Wilberforce who was instrumental in abolishing slavery in the English empire.  As an encouragement to her, Newton writes a brief commentary on Psalm 62:5 – “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.”

 In examining this letter, I have broken it down into 5 sections in order to make it easier to understand. 

#1) a theological truth, with great benefit to our souls

#2) a practical application to us

#3) an illustration to assist in application

#4) a return to the application

#5) a final exhortation to submit to the theological truth.

Newton writes:

“(#1) What reason have we to charge our souls in David’s words, “My Soul, wait  thou only upon God!”  A great stress should be laid upon that word only.  We dare not entirely shut Him out of our regards, but we are too apt to suffer something to share with Him.  This evil disposition is deeply fixed in our hearts; and the Lord orders all His dispositions towards us with a view to rooting it out; that being wearied with repeated disappointments, we may at length be compelled to betake ourselves to Him alone. 

“Why else do we experience so many changes and crosses?  Why are we so often in heaviness?  We know that He delights in the pleasure and prosperity of His servants; that He does not willingly afflict or grieve His children; but there is necessity on our parts in order to teach us that we have no stability in ourselves, and that no creature can do us good but by His appointment.

“(#2) The Lord gives us a dear friend to our comfort; but ere long we forget that the friend in only a channel of conveyance, and that all the comfort is from Himself.  To remind us of this, the stream is dried up, the friend torn away by death, or removed far from us, or perhaps friendship ceases, and a coolness insensibly takes place, we know not how or why:  the true reason is, that when we rejoiced amiss in our gourd, the Lord, for our good, sent a worm to the root of it.

“Instances of this kind or innumerable; and the great inference from them all, cease from man, cease from creatures, for wherein are they to be accounted of?  My soul, wait thou only, only upon the Lord, who is (according to Hebrews 4:13) He with whom we have to do for soul and body, for time and eternity!

“(#3) What thanks do we owe, that though we have not yet attained perfectly this lesson, yet we are admitted into that school where alone it can be learnt: and though we are poor, slow scholars, the great and effectual Teacher to whom we have been encouraged and enabled to apply, can and will bring us forward! . . . Though all are very dunces when He first receives them, not one was ever turned out incapable, for He makes them what He would have them to be. 

“Oh that we may set Him always before us, and consider every dispensation, person, thing, we meet in the course of every day, as messengers from Him, each bringing us some line of instruction for us to copy into that day’s experience!

“Whatever passes within us or around us may be improved (when He teaches us how) as a perpetual commentary upon His good Word.  If we converse and observe with this view, we may learn something every moment, wherever the path of duty leads us –in the streets, as well as in the closets—and from the conversation of those who know not God, as well as from those who do.

“(#4) Separation of our dear friends is, as you have observed, hard to flesh and blood; but grace can make it tolerable.  I have an abiding persuasion that the Lord can easily give more than ever He will take away.  A time of weeping must come, but the morning of joy will make amends for all.  Who can expound the meaning of that expression, “an exceeding and eternal weight of glory?” 

“The case of unconverted friends is still more burdensome to think of, but we have encouragement and warrant to pray and to hope.  He who called us can easily call others; and He seldom lays a desire of this sort very closely and warmly upon the hearts of His people, but when it is His gracious design sooner or later to give an answer of peace.

“(#5) However, it becomes us to be thankful for ourselves, and to bow our anxieties and reasoning before His sovereign will, who does as He pleases with His own.”

 

The exhortation of this letter is that we ought to wait only on the Lord.  We ought to understand that all good things come from God and are given to us by God in order that we might better learn of His wonder, grace and love.  Yet, we see in the application of this to good friends, how readily we will ignore it to the detriment of our souls.

How quickly will we get angry at God when a beloved friend is taken from us!  Yet, in these very moments we must remember that God is teaching us that “there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)  No matter how close and how much of a benefit a friend is to us, they are a gift from God for our sanctification and growth in faith.  God sent them our way, not as an end in themselves, but to direct us to the Perfect Friend.  “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”  (John 15:13)

When we lose a friend, in the midst of our sorrow, let us remember that God is sovereignly orchestrating all things “for the good of those who love God and have been called according to His purposes.” (Romans 8:28)

So let us wait on the Lord, and ONLY on the Lord.

I was reading through chapter 5 of Martha Peace’s  Book Attitudes of a Transformed Heart.  And this chapter introduction was so good that I decided I was going to use it to introduce our time of confession of sin Sunday morning.  Therefore, I also needed to post a blog on it in order to prepare myself and those of you who read this blog.

 

She wrote.

“He just “crossed the line!”  You may have said that to yourself concerning your child who is misbehaving.  Or perhaps you have tolerated a neighbor’s loud, noisy parties until one night when there were partygoers out in your yard making loud revelry outside your window.  You call the police because by coming into your yard, they have “crossed the line.”  This “line” that you set is arbitrary.  What one neighbor or parent would tolerate another may not.

 I have found that Christians have a “line” that they will not cross regarding their sin against God.  Most of us would not rob a bank or have an abortion.  Most would not commit adultery or take illegal drugs.  Most would never even think of going on a drinking binge until they passed out on the floor.  Yes, unfortunately there is a line that we will not cross regarding sin.  The reason I say “unfortunately” is because there are sins that we will commit as long as we do not cross the “line” of our own standard.  God’s standard, however, is far more pure and holy than ours.  He also has a line, but it is not arbitrary.  It is the straight edge of His Law.  All sin cross His line, not just the big ones.  It is not all right with God for us to not commit adultery but to gossip.  Neither is it acceptable for us not to get drunk, but to worry.

 God’s standard is not arbitrary, nor is it graded on a scale.  It is completely pure and righteous.  All that we do or think (including everyday, mundane actions such as eating or drinking) is to be done exclusively for the glory of God Most High.  God is the King of glory.  He is (because of who He is and what He has done) worthy of all honor and praise.  To glorify God means to call attention to His worth and to proclaim His excellencies.  We are to do this as we are to love Him – with all our heart.  God’s glory should be our supreme delight and is our highest good.  It should be something that we seek and greatly desire.”

 

As I thought about this concept of “crossing the line” it struck me that this was in fact the Pharisee’s heart.  The purpose of drawing our own line is always and only self-serving.  We may draw the line in order to tear others down.  We may draw the line in order puff ourselves up.  But either way, we draw the line because we disagree with God’s line.  So while I might give token lip service to God’s line, I would rather live by my line.

 

But God’s line leaves no room for us.   In fact Romans 3:23 says I have fallen short of God’s glory.  This strikes at the heart of my sinful nature.   We would rather pray the Pharisee’s prayer, “Lord, I thank you I am not a sinner like those people,” than to pray the sinner’s prayer, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”    Jesus compared these two men in Luke 18 and said in verse 14, “I tell you, this man [the sinner] went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

We grow in humility and grace when we compare ourselves to God’s perfect “line” rather than our own.  This is why the Psalmist wrote in 1:1-2, “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.”

 

God’s law is good.  Let us delight ourselves in it and in our Savior who enables us, by conviction and transformation, to grow in holiness.

This past Sunday we had a man interrupt our worship service.  We were five minutes from finishing.  I was in the middle of my sermon’s concluding remarks when a man walked into the back of the sanctuary, and with a loud voice, asked one of our deacons if they could move a vehicle that was blocking the gate.  This man works for an organization that rents out some church property.

 Though this deacon responded appropriately, he was still very troubled.  How could someone be that disrespectful? Not only was he disrespectful to the people who have treated his organization with great tenderness and benevolence, but his disrespect toward God was palpable.

 As I thought about how to handle this situation, my thoughts went to several stories in the Bible of people disrespecting God.

 Uzzah and the Ark  2 Samuel 6:3-8

3  And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, 4  with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark. 5  And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 6  And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.  7  And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God. 8  And David was angry because the LORD had burst forth against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzzah, to this day.

 King Uzziah and leprosy 2 Chronicles 26:16-21

 16  But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.  17  But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, 18  and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God.”  19  Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense.  20  And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him.  21  And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land.

 Ananias and Sapphira  Acts 5:1-11

 1  But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2  and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  3  But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4  While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”  5  When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.  6  The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.  7  After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  8  And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9  But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”  10  Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  11  And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

 And as I thought about these three stories, they had a couple of things in common.

 First, the guilty parties did not consider the holiness of God to be something to be concerned with.  Uzzah thought nothing of touching the very object where God’s presence would be manifest.  King Uzziah thought nothing of the sacredness of those who serve in the temple.  Ananias and Sapphira thought nothing of telling a little white lie to make themselves look good in front of the Church.

 God does not take lightly to people who show disrespect to the very places and people where He has chosen to put His name.   Isaiah 42:8 says, “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” 

 Second, they deserved exactly what they received, if not more!  Two of the three stories resulted in the death of the offender.  That King Uzziah lived was by mercy alone.  Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death . . .”  and Ezekiel 18:4 says, “the soul who sins shall die.”

 I don’t know where this man stands spiritually.  I have not had a conversation with him about God, the Church, or anything in the Bible.  But my concern in this blog is not so much for Him.  God will surely deal with Him as God has so determined to do.  My concern in this blog is for the people who call themselves Christians and yet do the very same thing.

 The third thing these people had in common is that they belonged to the visible people of God.  If God could levy such punishment upon those who were numbered as His people, is there any reason why God should not level such judgment against us when we disrespect God? 

 Ezekiel 36:21-23 says, But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came.  22  “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.  23  And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.

 But do not lose heart!  God is a God of holiness, justice and righteousness.  But He is also a God of compassion, mercy and grace. 

 Consider the case of Miriam.  The story is found in Numbers 12.  She is blatantly disrespectful of Moses and therefore of God as well.  Verse 2 is emphatic that her grumbling was actually against God.  “And the Lord heard it.”

 Miriam suffered some dreadful consequences for her disrespect.  She became leprous.  She was shamed before the people.  And she was excluded from the people for seven days.  Yet, how God dealt with Miriam was much different from how God dealt with Korah and the others who assembled in utter disrespect for Moses.  In Numbers 16 we have God destroying those who showed disrespect. 

 God had every right to bring this same punishment upon Miriam, but He didn’t.  Instead, God reconciled her to Himself.  2 Corinthians 5:17-18 explains this.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.   All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself.”

 Thus, for those who call themselves Christians, we must be ever striving not to show disrespect to our Lord in word, thought, or deed.  For it is by God’s grace alone that we have been reconciled to Him.  And He has done this in spite of the fact that our sinful nature is programmed for disrespect.  This good news is found in 1 Corinthians 6.

 1 Corinthians 6:9 -11 says, “9  Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10  nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.   11  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

 So what should our attitude be towards those outside the family who show contempt and disrespect for God?  We must continue to hold up God for who He is, and we must continue to hold out the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The graciousness of God goes beyond just the visible people of God.  There is hope for those outside the visible family for God to be merciful to them, too.  One of the best examples is King Nebuchadnezzar.

 Even though he witnessed the power and glory of God when Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams were interpreted, when Daniel was preserved in the Lion’s den, and when the three men were thrown into the fiery furnace, King Nebu grew proud and arrogant.  And his life became one of utter disrespect for God.  So God sent the king another dream which resulted in King Nebu being reduced to insanity and living with the animals.  But at the end of seven years of this, God reconciled him.

 And king Nebuchadnezzar responded in humility and worship.   “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation.”  (Daniel 4:34)

 The last recorded words of King Nebuchadnezzar are found a few verses later.  He says, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:37)

 Let us pray that God would be gracious and reconcile those who are outside the body just as He did King Nebuchadnezzar.

The common struggle of the Christian life is the pursuit of holiness.  How does a person who professes faith in Jesus Christ grow in that faith and become more like Jesus Christ?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism #35 asks the question, “What is Sanctification?”  The given answer is “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man, after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”

 The process of being renewed has been a topic of much debate.  Even now, it is becoming a growing controversy in PCA circles because a few well-known preachers are straying from the Westminster definition.  The crux of this debate is a person’s behavior.  Some have argued that sanctification just happens to those who have been justified.  Others have argued that sanctification happens because of our justification.  Still others have said that there is no difference between our justification and our sanctification.  Marshall has navigated these turbulent waters, not just theoretically, but experientially.   

 Walter Marshall was born in 1628.  At age 11 he went to study at Winchester College.  He entered Oxford College in 1648 and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1652.  Four years later he was appointed to the pastorate of a nearby town.  In 1662 he was faced with a dilemma.  The Act of Uniformity was passed and ministers of the Church of England were asked to give proof of Episcopal ordination and their conformity to the Book of Common Prayer.  Like many other Puritan pastors (perhaps as many as 2000), Marshall decided not to compromise his faith and conform to the requirements.  Thus, he had to leave his pastorate, his income, and his home.

 Sometime later a friend directed him to an independent church in another nearby town.  He served there faithfully for eighteen years until he died in 1680.  Like many pastors, Marshall wrestled with depression.  Though for Marshall, his depression was not over the unrepentant people he ministered to, but the sin that remained in his own heart.

 Marshall tried many of the remedies commonly taught in his own day (which also, unsurprisingly, appears to be the same thing taught today.)  He read books from the renown preach Richard Baxter.  He even went and met with Richard Baxter in order to get help for dealing with his own sense of sin.  The answer from Baxter was unhelpful because he told Walter he was being too legalistic!

 Finally, Marshall went and met with Dr. Thomas Goodwin, one of the Westminster Divines.  Marshall gave him “an account of the state of his soul, and particularizing his sins, which lay heavy upon his conscience.”   Dr. Goodwin replied by telling him that he had forgot to mention the greatest sin of all, the sin of unbelief, in not believing on the Lord Jesus for the remission of his sins and sanctifying his nature.

 It finally sunk in.  Marshall understood that it was “the evil heart of unbelief that lay at the root of all his fears, and all of his want of success in his striving after holiness.”  So Marshall began studying and preaching Christ like he had never done before. 

 In 1680, as he was lying on his death bed, Walter Marshall said to those nearby, “I die in the full persuasion of the truth, and in the comfort of that doctrine I have preached to you.”  Then, with much emotion he quoted Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  He closed his eyes, breathed his last, and died at the age of 52.

 This work The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification was the fruit of his life’s pursuit of holiness.  Contrary to popular preachers, sanctification does not arise out of our justification or out of our obedience to the law, or out of thin air.  The heart of sanctification is our union with Christ and is therefore developed and grown by the right exercise of faith.

 Marshall states that this chapter, chapter 12, is the principle direction “to which all the foregoing and following principles are subservient.”

 Make diligent use of your most holy faith for the immediate performance of the duties of the law, by walking no longer according to your old natural state, or any principles or means of practice that belong unto it; but only according to that new state which you receive by faith, and the principles and means of practice that properly belong thereunto; and strive to continue and increase in such manner of practice. This is the only way to attain to an acceptable performance of those holy and righteous duties, as far as it is possible in this present life.

 This is what it all boils down to.  Our faith in Jesus Christ is to be the primary instrument for receiving guidance, instruction, and teaching, and for evaluating and motivating us to the obedience of God’s law for God’s glory alone.  Since it is by faith that we are united to Christ, it must be by faith that we enjoy Him, that we love Him, that we obey Him, and that we find the strength to do these things.  We must believe that God will give us the heart to enjoy, love and obey Christ.

 He writes:  “Would you be strengthened to submit to the hand of God with a cheerful patience in bearing any affliction, and death itself? The way to fortify yourselves is to believe assuredly that your ‘afflictions, which are but for a moment, do work for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’; that Christ is your gain in death and life; that His grace is sufficient for you, and His strength made perfect in your weakness; and that He will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able: and will, at last make you more than conquerors over all evil. Until you attain to such persuasions as these, you will be prone to fret and murmur under the burden of affliction and to use indirect means to deliver yourselves, notwithstanding the clearest convictions to the contrary.”

 This leads us one of the most common questions regarding our growth in grace and faith.  Why doesn’t God sanctify us wholly and perfectly this side of eternity?  Marshall answered, “They are in a new state, free from the guilt pollution, and punishment of sin, and so from the wrath of God, all miseries, and death itself, while they are in this world; yea, all the guilt, pollution, and punishments of sin, and all evils whatever, which they are subject to according to their natural state, do them no harm according to this new state, but work for their good:  and are no evils, but rather advantages to them, tending to the destruction only of the flesh, and to the perfection of the new man in Christ.

 By allowing us to struggle against the old nature, God drives us to Christ for our daily and moment by moment sustenance.    “We must know that our old state, with its evil principles, continues still in a measure, or else we shall not be fit for the great duties:  1) of confessing our sins, 2) of loathing ourselves for them, 3) of praying earnestly for the pardon of them, a just sorrowing for them with a godly sorrow, 4) of accepting the punishment of our sins and giving God the glory of His justice, and of offering to Him the sacrifice of a glory and contrite spirit, 5) of being poor in spirit, and 6) of working out our salvation with fear and trembling.”

 “Therefore, your way to a holy practice is first to conquer and expel such unbelieving thoughts by trusting confidently on Christ, and persuading yourselves by faith that His righteousness, Spirit, glory and all His spiritual benefits are yours, and that He dwells in you, and you in Him. In the might of this confidence, you shall go forth to the performance of the law; and you will be strong against sin and Satan, and able to do all things through Christ that strengthens you. This confident persuasion is of great necessity to the right framing and disposing our hearts to walk according to our new state in Christ. The life of faith principally consists in it. And herein it eminently appears that faith is a hand, not only to receive Christ, but also to work by Him, and that it cannot be effectual for our sanctification except it contains in it some assurance of our interest in Christ.”

 “Such persuasions as these, when they are deeply rooted, and constantly maintained in our hearts, do strongly arm and encourage us to practice universal obedience, in opposition to every sinful lust; because we look on it, not only as our duty, but our great privilege, to do all things through Christ strengthening us.”

I am sitting at my oldest son’s swim lessons and contemplating the Christian life.  There is much in common between the two.  In order to survive in the sea a person must be able to swim.  In order to learn how to swim, a person must practice and train.  In order to practice and train, a person must be instructed.  Before a person can be rightly instructed, he must be convinced of his need to learn. 

 So too it is in the Christian life.  In order to survive the chaotic mess of life and enjoy and glorify God, a person must have a genuine faith in Jesus Christ.  In order to develop and strengthen that faith and thereby ensure that such faith is genuine, we must train in godliness.  In order to train in godliness, we must be instructed in right doctrine, since it is right doctrine that governs our faith.  But, simply having right doctrine is not enough.  There must be with it a heart that desires to enjoy and glorify Jesus Christ.

 This is where the rubber meets the road as they say.  We must have 1) a heart that is endowed with love for Jesus, 2) a persuasion of our reconciliation with God, 3) a persuasion of our everlasting enjoyment of God, and 4) a persuasion of a God-given strength and will to exercise that faith.  This 4-fold endowment was the topic of chapter 2.  Chapter 3 directed us to the truth that these 4 endowments belong to the believer by virtue of their union with Christ by faith.

 Now in Chapter 11 Marshall directs us to the very topic of exercising our faith in Christ.

 He writes, Believe on Christ in a right manner without delay, and then continue and increase in faith; that so enjoyment of Christ, and union and fellowship with Him, may be begun, continued and increased.

 Chapters 4-10 were instructional chapters.  Now Marshall begins to explain how those instructions work themselves out in our lives.  He says, “Having already discovered to you, the powerful and effectual means of a holy practice, my remaining work is, to lead you to the actual exercise and improvement of them, for the immediate attainment of the end.”

 James Hervey re-writes this directive like this.  It is therefore belonging to the practical part of the Christian life, to maintain the same immediate trust and confidence, in dependence on the divine faithfulness, not to suffer us to be confounded, that so our enjoyment of Christ, union and fellowship with Him, may be continued and increased in us.

 Contrary to some new teaching that sanctification happens by means of our justification, Marshall lays out for us that sanctification results from rightly exercise of faith.   This is why he writes that we must endeavor diligently to perform the great work of believing on Christ.

 The only way we can live a life that is pleasing to God is if we live by faith.  Romans 14:3 says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

 Marshall also quotes Jesus in John 6:29 “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  This verse explains john’s statement in 3:17 that those who don’t believe are already condemned. 

 Life is an either/or.  It is black and white; live by faith, or live by works.  This then raises the question of what is faith?  A common acrostic for faith is “Forsaking All, I trust Him.”  Faith is considering the things and events in life and trusting that God is true to his Word and that all of the promises of God are Yes and Amen in Christ.

 Take romans 8:29 for example.  That verse says, “All things work together for the good of those who love God and who have been called according to His purposes.”

 That verse says all things.  Do You believe that?  When you get hit by a falling tree branch, or when your pastor gets hit.  Do you believe that God works out all things? 

 When your two year dies, like what happened recently to a young couple I know, after a day or two in a coma after the car accident.  Do you believe that God works out all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes?

 This is the context in which Paul says, whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.  How often do we consider the events of life apart from the context of Romans 8:29?  So Marshall directs us, if we are to grow in our sanctification, if we are to become more like Christ, we must endeavor to perform the great work of believing on Christ, right here, right now, and in all circumstances, whether good or bad.

 Consider Job’s words after he had lost all of his children and his wealth, after his health had failed, and after his bitter wife told him to curse God and die.  “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”  (Job 2:10)

 So how can we live by faith?

 Marshall gives us 7 statements by which we can evaluate our faith in order to assure us that our faith is a faith securely grounded in the truth of the gospel and upon Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the gospel.

 1)  You must believe with a full persuasion that you are a child of wrath by nature, as well as others; fallen from God by the sin of the first Adam; dead in trespasses and sins; subject to the curse of the law of God, and to the power of Satan, and to insupportable misery to all eternity; and that you cannot possibly procure your reconciliation with God, or any spiritual life and strength to do any good work, by endeavoring to get salvation according to the terms of the legal covenant; and that you cannot find any way of escape out of this sinful and miserable condition, by your own reason and understanding, without supernatural revelation, nor be freed from it, except by that infinite power that raises the dead.

 2) You are to believe assuredly, that there is no way to be saved, without receiving all the saving benefits of Christ; His Spirit as well as His merits, sanctification as well as remission of sins, by faith.

 3) You are to be fully persuaded of the all-sufficiency of Christ for the salvation of yourself, and of all that believe on Him; that His blood cleanses from all sin (1John 1:7).

 4) You are to be fully persuaded of the truth of the general free promise, in your own particular case, that if you believe on Christ sincerely, you shall have everlasting life, as well as any other person in the world, without performing any condition of works to procure an interest in Christ; for the promise is universal, Whoever believes on Him shall not be ashamed (Romans 9:33), without exception.  And if God exclude you not, you must not exclude yourselves; but rather conclude peremptorily, that, how vile, wicked and unworthy soever you be, yet, if you come, you shall be accepted as well as any other person in the world.

 5) You are to believe assuredly, that it is the will of God you should believe in Christ, and have eternal life by Him, as well as any other person; and that your believing is a duty very acceptable to God; and that He will help you, as well as any other person, in this work, because He calls and commands you, by the gospel, to the believe in Christ.

 6) Add to all these, a full persuasion of the incomparable, glorious excellency of Christ, and of the way of salvation by Him.  You are to esteem the enjoyment of Christ as the only salvation and true happiness, and such a happiness has in it unsearchable riches of glory, and will make our cup to run over with exceeding abundance of peace, and joy, and glory, to all eternity.

 7) Lastly, you must endeavor to draw near with full assurance of faith (Hebrews 10:22) trusting on Christ confidently for your own particular salvation, upon the account of that general promise, that whosever believes on Christ shall not be ashamed.  You must check yourselves for all doubtings, fear, staggerings, concerning your own salvation by Christ, saying with the Psalmist, “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 and my God.” (Psalm 42:11)

 Thus we conclude from Marshall that the core of our sanctification is faith in Christ alone.  There is nothing else capable of keeping us united and bound to Christ in the sea of turmoil than believing and trusting in Christ to save us and perfect us.

Doubt is one of the greatest enemies that the Christian must face. Doubt cannot be ignored for long. It cannot be talked down. It cannot be willed away. Doubt is strong. Its grasp is nearly unbreakable.

In the story of Pilgrim’s Progress, doubt is a castle with a large and terrible dungeon. It is ruled over by the giant Despair. Giant Despair had offered them the means of putting themselves out of misery, even while he promised to make life more and more miserable. The weight of doubting castle and the viciousness of the giant brought the pilgrims Christian and Hopeful to the end of themselves. Though they held on as long as they could, they both came to the conclusion that they would die in their prison. The briefest glimpses of sunlight strengthened them slightly, but, being without bread and water, they were failing.

Those who have read Pilgrim’s Progress know that it is an analogy of what Christians face in this life. This book is filled with wisdom and truth to guide us to our savior Jesus Christ. And so it is in the story that the two Pilgrims who were imprisoned in doubt and suffering at the hands of despair found their only way of escape lay in the key called Promise.

This chapter in the Gospel Mystery of Sanctification has a particularly encouraging application for those striving for the Celestial City. Walter Marshall writes in his tenth direction for believers:

That we may be prepared by the comforts of the gospel to perform sincerely the duties of the law, we must get some assurance of our salvation in that very faith by which Christ Himself is received into our hearts. Therefore, we must endeavor to believe on Christ confidently, persuading and assuring ourselves, in the act of believing, that God freely gives to us an interest in Christ and His salvation, according to His gracious promise.

Christians all have to deal with doubt, but we must first learn how to do so. Otherwise, doubt will entrap up and hold us captive. Those in captivity to doubt will ask questions like, “Is it worth it? Is this ever going to end? Am I ever going to change? Does God really love me?”

These questions don’t just go away without answers. They may be pacified for a time, but their ugly heads will rear themselves again and again, until they either destroy faith or faith destroys them. So where do believers find the grace to strengthen their faith against doubt and despair? The ordinary means of grace, and specifically the promises of God found in those ordinary means.

Though Marshall aims to take his readers to the assurance found in the promises of God, he begins by showing the inadequacy of assurance by good works. He refers to this as reflex act of faith. By this he means that there is some comfort to be found in examining ourselves. We ought to examine our motives, our thoughts, our desires, our words, and our deeds. These things might all manifest the fruit of the Spirit being worked in us.

However, our final source of assurance is not in ourselves and it is not found in reflecting upon our own character, whether it is good or bad. Our source of assurance must be the very same faith that made us cling to Christ in the very beginning of our walk! It is the character of God that must give us assurance. God is faithful, true, compassionate, omnipotent, benevolent, and wise. The Westminster Confession of Faith describes God in chapter 2.

There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his won glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty.

This is where we must find assurance. God is who He has revealed himself to be. This is the key that frees us from the prison of doubt and despair. For God has promised to those who trust in Christ justification, adoption, sanctification, more faith, eternal security, the inner presence of the Holy Spirit, the righteousness of Christ, access to the throne of God, an advocate for us when we sin, forgiveness of sin, cleansing from sin, and on and on this list could go.

This list of blessings belongs to the believer because God is true to his Word. Consider Paul’s words in 2Corinthians 1:20-22, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”

In conclusion, remember the story of Doubting Thomas. Thomas was one of the twelve apostles. He watched Jesus raise at least 3 people from the dead. He watched Jesus perform untold healings. He watched as Jesus calmed the sea with mere words. Thomas belongs to the group of men who would change the world.

Yet, because of his doubt, because he doubted that Jesus was who He said He was, Thomas removed himself from the source of life and hope and found himself imprisoned by doubt and despair. Even when the other apostles brought him the good news of the resurrection, Thomas couldn’t embrace Christ.

Yet, Christ, being very God of very God, having promised that He would lose none of those who belong to Him, came to Thomas and met. Jesus said to Thomas in John 20:27, “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’

Christ made good on his promises to Thomas and Thomas believed Jesus and answered him, “My Lord and my God.”

Christ came to Thomas in his doubt and said, “Touch me.” In the same way Jesus promises that if we will come to him with our doubts and find our assurances in His promises, then we will find the comforts of the gospel, and thereby pursue the works that God has called us to.

Psa 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!