Repenting For Forgetfulness

How’s your memory? For some of us, forgetting something is a slight inconvenience, and for others, it’s a matter of missing a deadline, being unprepared for an important event, or leaving someone hanging. Many of my older friends (80s-90s) complain about not remembering things. But, I’ve been using phone calendar reminders for many years, so it’s hard for me to relate (except when I open the fridge and wonder what I was going for). Remembering our commitments and responsibilities is essential if we are going to be trusted. We easily forget those things that we’re not wholly devoted to or when we are distracted by things of this world. God’s nation, Israel, had a memory problem that prevented them from staying in the promised land, despite God’s many warnings to them before they entered. As a result, they were exiled, and only those who faithfully remembered God returned to the holy city Jerusalem in ruins. God often uses consequences to bring us back to him if we forget that He is our only hope and source of fruit and blessings. “‘Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband, so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel, declares the Lord.’ A voice on the bare heights is heard, the weeping and pleading of Israel’s sons because they have perverted their way; they have forgotten the Lord their God. ‘Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness.’” (Jeremiah 3:20-22)

Consider Yourself Warned

The book of Deuteronomy is full of promises and warnings for God’s people who are about to experience prosperity after decades of roughing it in the wilderness with God as their guide, king, and provider. Moses spoke for him, saying, “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3) Moses reminded God’s people of his command to remember and not forget Him when they prosper to restrain their self-righteous pride to fulfill his purpose of glorifying him among the nations. The description of what might (and did) happen is vivid, leaving Israel without excuse. “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Deuteronomy 8:11-18) Perhaps today we might say, “Don’t forget the Lord who has given you people who love you, gifts, skills, education, clothing, shelter, and most of all Jesus Christ, who died and rose for your eternal reconciliation with him, to fulfill his purposes for you.” We must repent of our forgetfulness and self-centered attitudes for what God has done and is doing to serve Him with full confidence in all circumstances.

Humbled to Remember God

Why do we need to be humbled to remember the one who designed, created, and saved us? Prosperity and comfort are strong influences that cause us to become prideful. “Pride is a ‘barrier’ sin,’ and the wall that it erects in not only between the sinner and God but also between the proud sinner and other sinners. Pride guarantees broken relationships that cannot be fixed apart from contrition and humility. Pride has always been a problem of created beings. It was the sin of the fallen angels. It was the sin of Eve and then of Adam in the garden…Pride was one of the most destructive problems among the kings of Israel and Judah…The sin of pride is one of the marks of the last days. Paul warned Timothy, ‘But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.’ (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Did you notice how many of these eighteen marks relate directly to the issue of pride? Have you considered whether you personally bear any of these marks? Among the many commands that God issues to the proud are these potent words with promise: ‘Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted’ (Matthew 23:12).” (1) Why would we want to be exalted by God? We want to be useful to him in leadership, service, prayer, or encouragement of others. Have you thanked your pastor and church staff for their devotion to God during October, pastor appreciation month? Will you repent of your forgetfulness of all the good that the Lord does through them?

Remember What the Lord Has Done

Moses reminded God’s people of God’s command to remember and not forget Him when they prosper to restrain their self-righteous pride. “In the land of plenty, pride comes from forgetting the wilderness and failing to apply its lessons in the good land. Massah is where Israel tested God. In reality, Israel was being tested by God. The phrase ‘it is he who gives you power’ is an explicit corrective to the proud words in 8:17. Israel’s future wealth will be evidence of God’s faithfulness to keep covenant as it is this day.” (2) “You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (8:18) “Remember is a keyword in this chapter, along with its antonym ‘forget.’ Remembrance is demonstrated in obedience. The wilderness test was to reveal the state of Israel’s heart. The testing was also to teach Israel that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Real life derives directly from God and trusting his word. This was the learning that Israel needed in its heart if it was to pass the test in the land [of prosperity].” (3) I don’t know about you, but I would rather repent than face testing by God to learn the lesson of obedience through remembrance. Let us not think this lesson was only for Israel in the Old Testament. I used to have a little calendar-type devotion on my kitchen counter and flip it every morning. I realize now that remembering God as I fixed my coffee was a good habit, even if the passage didn’t make an impression. “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Related Scripture: Deuteronomy 7:17-18; 9:4-6; Psalm 78:15-17; Isaiah 2:12; Hosea 12:7-9; 13:5-6; 1 Corinthians 4:7; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6.

Notes

  1. Roberts, Richard Owen, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, pp. 185, 187, Crossway, 2002.
  2. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Deuteronomy 8:11-17, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  3. ESV Study Bible, Deuteronomy 8:2-3, Ibid.

October 21, 2021

Will You Cry Out to God?

Has God rescued you from something dangerous or compromising? About thirty years ago, around the age of forty, I was engaged to be married. As a relatively new believer, I was occupied with many worldly pursuits. God rescued me from an unhappy marriage, as he had rescued me many times before. (In fact, my life’s story might be called “Delivered!”) My fiancé and I had a significant conflict just weeks before the wedding, so we went to couples counseling instead of getting married. The Lord used a wise Christian counselor to bring me to my senses and even overcome some of the unresolved issues that led to my fears of singleness. God rescued my fiancé in a completely different sense. He is a stay-safe person who had been stressing out while I had been squelching my adventurous side, unbeknownst to us both. Our counselor started opening our sessions by asking him: “Do you want to be safe or happy?” Of course, he wanted both, but his happiness was, at that time, linked to a marriage of taking more risks than was comfortable. We are all faced with a similar question regarding our Christian faith: Do we want to be comfortable or joyful? When we are unwilling to be uncomfortable about our sin and weaknesses, we sacrifice our joy. All of our energy goes into avoiding a problematic issue or decision as we unconsciously move through our daily routines. But if we are willing to be uncomfortable (but not unsafe), God will rescue us. After my fiancé chose safety and broke off our engagement, I continued counseling, facing my demons and finding resolution for some of my long-held conflicts. Later I was called by God to the mission field, and my singleness allowed me to serving God and his people in Africa. My fiancé was happily married to a teacher within a year of our breakup. In our passage today, we will see that God attends to the cries of the faithful who are crushed and brokenhearted, delivering them from all their troubles. So the question is, will we will allow ourselves to be crushed and brokenhearted over sin, to cry out to Christ for relief, having already been delivered from sin’s condemnation, and are therefore safe?

God Sees and Hears Our Cries

“The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” (Psalm 34:15-19) “[These verses] present a mature and very balanced view of life, pointing to the deliverance God provides for those who fear him but not overlooking the fact that, in spite of God’s favor, the righteous nevertheless do frequently suffer in this life. David himself had troubles; the psalm is a hymn of praise to God for delivering him out of them. So becoming a Christian does not mean a trouble-free existence. P. C. Craigie writes, ‘The fear of the Lord is indeed the foundation of life, the key to joy in life and long and happy days. But it is not a guarantee that will be always easy…It may mend the broken heart, but it does not prevent the heart from being broken; it may restore the spiritually crushed, but it does not crush the forces that may create oppression.’ Deliverance is one thing. Exemption from trouble is another.” (1) “It is the constant practice of real believers, when in distress, to cry unto God, and it is their constant comfort that he hears them. The righteous are humbled for sin, and are low in their own eyes. Nothing is more needful to true godliness than a contrite heart, broken off from every self-confidence. In this soil every grace will flourish, and nothing can encourage such a one but the free, rich grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (2) This question will beg to be answered throughout the life of a believer: Am I willing to be crushed and brokenhearted over sin and cry out to Christ for relief and comfort, having already been delivered from sin’s condemnation?

God’s Care for the Righteous 

“The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:16-17) It’s not as if God is “against everyone that sins; for the righteous are not without sin; they have sin in them, and they do no good without it; but against them that live in sin, whose course of life is a series of wickedness, and they are workers of iniquity; and have no sense of sin, nor sorrow for it, go on in it without shame or fear; against these the face of the Lord is, he shows his resentment, and stirs up his wrath.” (3) God knows we will sin, have trouble, and need his help. That, in itself, is a great comfort, is it not? The more we run to the Lord for help, the greater our dependence on him, our union with Christ, and our submission to the Holy Spirit. We can’t expect to want to approach God with our sin until we’ve tried it a few times, or a few thousand times, in my case. We don’t become skilled at anything until we’ve practiced it. Professional bakers, athletes, and doctors must spend years developing their skills before they are considered competent. As the regenerated, we recognize our unholiness before God and the need to grow through our sanctification. So we cry out to God, knowing that he hears and delivers us, even through difficult consequences of our sins. “The righteous are taken under the special protection of the Lord, yet they have their share of crosses in this world, and there are those that hate them. Both from the mercy of Heaven, and the malice of hell, the afflictions of the righteous must be many. But whatever troubles befall them, shall not hurt their souls, for God keeps them from [further] sinning in troubles. (4) Will I turn my heartaches over to Christ, at the expense of my comfort, knowing that he will bring me the peace I desire?

Delivered From Many Afflictions

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” (v. 19) “It is only by the righteousness of Christ that men are righteous before God: and upon these the eyes of the Lord are; not only his eye of Providence, to watch over them, protect them, and supply them with good things, but his eye of love; with complacency and delight he looks upon them, as clothed with the righteousness of his son; and it is with pleasure he looks upon them, that being well pleasing in his sight…nor does he ever withdraw his eyes from them…and his ears unto their cry; for though they are righteous, they are sometimes in distress…who, though they are justified from sin, and are saved from wrath, yet have many afflictions; which are ‘evils’ in themselves, as the word may be rendered, and are very troublesome and distressing; and these are great and grievous for quality, and many and abundant for quantity…but the Lord delivereth him out of them all; as Christ was, and all his people will be…And then the sense is, that many are the sins committed by righteous persons; for there are none without sin, in many things they all offend; yet they shall not perish by them, but they shall be delivered from them; as, from the dominion of them by the power of grace, and from the guilt of them by the blood of Christ, and from condemnation for them through his righteousness; so hereafter from the very being of them, and all molestation and disturbance by them.” (5) Knowing that we are safe in Christ, will we not trust him with our most hideous burdens in repentance and relief? What do you need deliverance from? “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.” (John 9:31)

Related Scripture: Psalm 33:18; 51:17; 145:18; Isaiah 61:1; Luke 15:17-24; John 9:31; Acts 12:11; 2 Timothy 3:11.

Notes

  1. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 34 , Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  2. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Psalm 34:11-22, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/psalms-34.html 
  3. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Psalms 34:15-19, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-34.html
  4. Henry, Ibid.
  5. Gill, Ibid.

October 14, 2021

Repentance and The Lord’s Prayer

I have a friend who has asked for prayer for her ten-year-old grandson, who doesn’t do his homework. I disliked school and had no aspirations until I chose to get a master’s degree. Then I began to enjoy the learning process, to achieve my goal in education. Later, when I was working full time, I had a mission or focus according to my assignments or objectives every workday. School or work is easy compared to our home lives or retirement because we have specified tasks and assignments. When we’re home, we’re often tired or rushed and occupied with family or personal tasks, so we may not think about why we’re doing them. We lapse into whatever is easy, familiar, or comfortable. But God calls believers to pay attention to our lives and live for him, rather than for worldly satisfaction or conformity. How do you refocus during the day or evening? I keeping an evening thanksgiving journal and also think about what I’ve heard in church or come across in my Bible studies. Our Christian Ed class is studying the Lord’s prayer this term, so I have found myself praying it to remember my biblical focus. * Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will on earth and in them, and for God’s provisions, forgiveness, and protection. He said, “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) This is a humble prayer of praise and trust. When we pray it or pray “like” it, we are  seeking God’s help to submit to him for our provisions and protection. Perhaps while praying we repent for not appreciating how God has already provided what we need, or how he has forgiven and protected us. 

Praying For God’s Will and Kingdom

This model prayer begins with praise for a loving, heavenly Father who is not of this world but completely “other.” He is the “holy, holy, holy” God of Isaiah’s vision (Isiah 6:3) “The idea of praying to God as ‘Our Father’ conveys the authority, warmth, and intimacy of a loving father’s care, while in heaven reminds believers of God’s sovereign rule over all things. The concern of this first petition is that God’s name would be hallowed—that God would be treated with the highest honor and set apart as holy…The presence of God’s kingdom in this age refers to the reign of Christ in the hearts and lives of believers, and to the reigning presence of Christ in his body, the church—so that they increasingly reflect his love, obey his laws, honor him, do good for all people, and proclaim the good news of the kingdom.” (1) “The will of God may be said to be done by us, when our wills are resigned to his; when we patiently submit to every adverse dispensation of providence; when our hearts and actions are, in some measure, conformed to his law; when what is done, is done in faith, with a view to his glory, and without dependence upon it…These desire to do the will of God, as it is done in heaven, constantly, and without any interruption; and perfectly and completely.” (2) Now, which of us will proudly proclaim that we are passionate for the kingdom of God as we should be in our hearts, as sincere lovers of Christ? Ungodly, false pride must be confessed and repented if we want God’s will to be done in us, others, and the world.

Looking to God to Be Our Provider

“Give us this day our daily bread…” (v. 11) Here, we humbly recognize God as the first cause of every single thing that exists, of all that we have been given. He is the Creator of all natural resources, intellectual powers, spiritual fruit, mercy, providential circumstances, and ruler of time. Gill continues, “It is said to be “daily” bread, and to be asked for “day by day”; which suggests the uncertainty of life; strikes at all anxious and immoderate cares for the morrow; is designed to restrain from covetousness, and to keep up the duty of prayer, and constant dependence on God; whom we must every day ask to ‘give’ us our daily bread: for he is the sole author of all our mercies; which are all his free gifts; we deserve nothing at his hands: wherefore we ought to be thankful for what we have, without murmuring at his providences, or envying at what he bestows on others.” (3) If we claim to have nothing else to confess, we must admit and renounce our proclivity to take our provisions for granted. I was delayed today in writing this draft. But just as I was starting to think about my options to pick it up later (which would not be ideal), I received a text message that the people with whom I am meeting are running about an hour late. Perfect! I could not have predicted that God would so generously provide the exact time I need to keep writing and I wouldn’t have known to ask for it. We are Jesus’s disciples who need to pray for God’s will on earth and in us for his provisions, with humility and repentance. 

Speaking of Repentance 

Now we get to the heart of the passage for our purposes here, “…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (v. 12). “[Our sins] are called ‘debts’ because…we owe satisfaction to the law and justice of God. The proper debts we owe to God are love, obedience, and gratitude…what is here requested is a manifestation and application of pardon to the conscience of a sensible sinner; which, as it is daily needed, is daily to be asked for.” (4) We are also taught by Christ to ask, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (v. 13). You and I know with absolute certainty that something will catch our attention, distract us from what’s right and needful, or overtake us, and may cause us to sin— today or over the following days. The more we prepare for these temptations and stumbles, the easier it will be to see them quickly, confess them, and turn away from them in repentance. As we grow in holiness we learn that sin always has consequences, most of which are not canceled just because we confess and repent, so we want to keep watch, being ready to confess our thoughts, attitudes, heart’s desires, and motivations.

Easy Repentance is a Myth

“It is a myth to say that repentance consists merely of turning from the evil I have done. No one has come to genuine repentance who has not repented both of what they have done and of what they are…Our great problem is not merely that we sin but that we are sinners. And when we come to repentance it is never enough to turn from what we have: our sin. It is mandatory that we turn from what we are: sinners. Face the facts: every one of us was born in sin. Sin has a vice-like grip on our lives. It has contaminated everything we are and do. You might have repented a thousand times of specific sins you have committed, but it is not until you repent of what you are that true repentance begins…If a person does not know that he is a sinner, he will not suppose he has any particular need of repentance…The contrasting subjects of pride and humility are among the most prominent themes in the Bible. Pride serves as a great barrier between the proud and repentance…Pride guarantees broken relationships that cannot be fixed apart from contrition and humility…Among the many commands that God issues to the proud are these potent words with promise, ‘Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted’ (Matthew 23:12).” (5)

Learning to Avoid Sin 

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  (v. 13) When we pray to be delivered us from evil, we are asking for the Lord’s protection from a sinful person’s influence, or focus of an event, idea, book, blog, movie, TikTok or Instagram entry, to not pull us into its grasp. “The meaning here most likely carries the sense, ‘Allow us to be spared from difficult circumstances that would tempt us to sin’…Trials and hardships will inevitably come to believers’ lives, and believers should ‘count it all joy’ when trials come, for they are strengthened by them (James 1:3–4). Nonetheless, believers should never pray to be brought into such situations but should pray to be delivered from them, for hardship and temptation make obedience more difficult and will sometimes result in sin.” (6) The longer we study biblical theology, the wiser we will become about the need for heart-felt confessions and repentance, and how to pray to avoid unnecessary sin. “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

Related Scripture: Matthew 5:48; 6:15, 26, 32; 15:13; 18:35; Mark 14:36; Luke 11:13; Romans 8:15; 1 Corinthians 10:12-13; Galatians 4:6; Ephesian 4:30; Colossians 2:13-15; 2 Peter 2:9.

Notes:

  • You can listen to the classes, starting with the first one, at:

 https://www.trinityboerne.org/mediaPlayer/#/audio/https%3A%2F%2Fwww.csmedia1.com%2Ftrinityboerne.org%2Fprayer-1.mp3

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Matthew 6:9-13, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Matthew 6:9-13, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-6.html
  3. Gill, Ibid.
  4. Gill, Ibid
  5. Gill, Ibid
  6. Roberts, Richard Owen, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, pp. 179, 185, Crossway, 2002.
  7. ESV Study Bible, Ibid.

October 7, 2021

Walking With the God of Jacob

Have you started a new job or a vacation recently? Maybe you’ll be traveling again for the first time in a couple of years due to COVID. Do you remember what you do (or are doing) to be ready? We prepare for vacations by considering our travel requirements, where we’ll stay, how long we’ll be at a destination, and then we plan each day, perhaps the night before. Every day, we should also begin as if we have a new spiritual job or journey because our old nature will take over if we don’t, causing us to backtrack instead of moving toward our destination of greater sanctification. If we are preoccupied with ourselves, unfinished plans, or unresolved issues, we will not be ready for whatever opportunities God may present to us. Hopefully, we prepare ourselves for worship on Sundays to receive the blessings that God’s family and presence have for us. But we should also prepare for every other day since his Spirit lives in us, and we are his temple. How do we prepare? We pray praising for God’s character, offering thanksgiving, repenting, and submitting our requests to him. If we eliminate confession and repentance, we will find ourselves unprepared for new challenges God provides for our spiritual growth and resulting blessings. In the Old Testament, Israel sought God’s presence in the tabernacle and then in the temple. When David was troubled, he called on God in the temple, whose Spirit was thought to dwell there. “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.” (Psalm 18:6) While David didn’t restrict his prayers to his worship in the temple, those prayers were vital to him, and he must have prepared well. David’s prayerfulness exceeded that of his forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but followed their example of submission and (sometimes delayed) repentance. 

Blessings and Conditions of Answered Prayer

“God has made many of the gracious benefits He offers us conditional. Blessings like answered prayer, acceptable worship, and the forgiveness of sins are conditional. We know that God could act without our prayers but that He has chosen to work through our prayers. Although He has assured us that His ear is attentive to our prayers, He has also made it clear that there are certain requirements that must be met by praying people, including praying in faith, praying from clean hearts, praying in God’s will, and praying in Jesus’ name. We speak of these as conditions of answered prayer. God has granted the creatures He made the privilege of worshipping Him, but even this worship of God is conditional. We know that if God is big enough to be worshipped, He is big enough to insist on who can worship Him and when, where, and how worship is acceptable. He has laid down requirements such as ‘Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.’ (Psalm 24:3-4)” (1) Let’s take a closer look at Psalm 24 to see how God blesses those who are near him with pure hearts, clean hands, and his righteousness. And in so doing, repent for the purity of our hearts. Our desire for inner cleanliness from lingering sin will lead to good works and receiving God’s blessings through Christ’s righteousness.

God’s Call for Heart Purity

“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.” (Psalms 24:3-6) In these few verses, David expresses the desire to worship by ascending the hill of the Lord and standing in his holy place, that is, in the temple. “A soul that knows and considers its own nature, and that it must live for ever, when it has viewed the earth and the fullness thereof, will sit down unsatisfied. It will think of ascending toward God, and will ask, What shall I do, that I may abide in that happy, holy place, where he makes his people holy and happy?” (2) As the New Testament temples of the Holy Spirit, we are not only always in the closest proximity to God but he is working out his holiness in us. Rather than trying to take on the impossible task of cleaning our hands (conduct) and purifying our hearts (to desire God’s will), we rejoice that the Spirit is asserting his power in us. He compels us to confess what is false (the world’s values) and reject the deceitfulness of empty promises and hope in that which is temporal. “We make nothing of religion, if we do not make heart-work of it. We can only be cleansed from our sins, and renewed unto holiness, by the blood of Christ and the washing of the Holy Ghost. Thus we become his people; thus we receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of our salvation. God’s peculiar people shall be made truly and for ever happy.” (3)

Jacob’s God

David calls the Israelite worshippers “the generation of those who seek…the face of the God of Jacob.” (Psalms 24:6) But we are even more those who seek him because he first sought us through Christ. “By His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus Christ provided the way of atonement for all repenting and believing sinners. He Himself paid their debt in full. But he did not do so to enable them to begin to accumulate another debt of sin. No! This same death, burial, and resurrection of Christ made possible a life free of accumulating sin for every sinner who goes on repenting and believing. To suppose that one can enjoy the benefits of the atonement without living repentantly is a travesty against the mercy of God, and is unthinkable for those who love God with their heart, soul, strength, and mind.” (4) Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were ordinary sinners like us, yet also the patriarchs who the Lord called to be the source of blessing for Israel. David knew God to be the salvation of Israel, which is the greatest blessing. “He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.”(24:5-6) Jacob’s God called him to confession in a wrestling match when Jacob wouldn’t let go of the Lord until he received the blessing of forgiveness and reconciliation with God. After being blessed and having repented of his deceitfulness, God renamed him Israel, and he declared, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” (Genesis 32:30) Having the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have Jacob’s God in us, to help us return to him as Jacob did. We are blessed to know Christ more intimately the more time we spend with him. We have the opportunity to continue our journey with him freshly and energetically every day, realizing that we have wandered away for a time. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle!…The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory! SelahLift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” (Psalms 24:7-10)

Related Scripture: Deuteronomy 10:15-16; 1 Samuel 6:19-20; Numbers 6:23; Psalm 15, 16–19; 26:6; 33:5; Proverbs 15:8; Isaiah 1:11–17; 33:15-16; Micah 6:8; John 14:1-3; 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Peter 1:22-23.

Notes

  1. Roberts, Richard Owen, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, pp. 76, Crossway, 2002.
  2. Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Psalm 24:1-6, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/psalm-24.html
  3. Henry, Ibid.
  4. Roberts, pp. 77-78, Ibid.

September 30, 2021

Christian Heart Obedience

The Australian TV show I’ve been watching on Prime has become more of a reality drama than a cooking competition. The producers have seen value in using highly opinionated, vocal participants to stir up the conflict between “teams.” I regret this turn but appreciate the struggle that most of the calmer, more reasonable participants have to maintain the dignity of the competition by confronting the pot-stirrers. I wouldn’t like to see a group of sixteen people allow one or two to get away with flagrant insults and nasty remarks at a dinner party setting that’s about cooking. Have you ever confronted someone’s outrageously unkind or mean remarks? How do we deal with sarcasm or irreverence from unbelievers about God or Jesus Christ? Are you offended when someone uses God’s name irreverently? I am so disappointed in the world’s use of OMG as if saying that is better than saying, “Oh, my God!” disrespectfully. If we have been transformed by God’s Spirit for holy living in, with, and through Jesus Christ, we are not those people. Our desire to glorify God overcomes the world’s pressure to conform to cultural fads. Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians speaks of the triumph of God’s grace over the power of sin in Chapter 6. Christ frees believers from enslavement to sin to be obedient from the heart, yielding to his righteousness for sanctification. In verses 17-19, Paul mentions our former enslavement to sin three times, naming our former masters as lawlessness, sin, and impurity. But we should live as those who are no longer enslaved to sin but have transformed hearts, wanting to obediently offer confessions and repentance for sanctification. Now we are harassed by corruption as a hated power, struggling for victory, confronting it rather than yielding to its impurity and lawlessness.

Obedience From the Heart

Paul writes, “Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” (Romans 6:17-19) Our confession at church on Sunday, based on Micah 4:1-5, was particularly relevant to our study. “Gracious God, we confess that we have not pursued godliness as we should. Forgive us where we have walked in the ways of this world or not trusted in your judgments. Enable us to trust more and more in the victory of Christ over sin and death. May the peace of Christ flourish in our relationships and our lives.” God has already transformed Paul’s readers’ hearts at regeneration, giving them the Holy Spirit to grow in holiness and their love of righteousness. Now they, and we, “have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (v. 17). “By ‘the form of doctrine,’ is meant the Gospel, which is the ‘doctrine’ of the Scriptures, of Christ and his apostles, and is sound and according to godliness…so such are who have a spirit of Gospel liberty, in opposition to a spirit of bondage; who live by faith on Christ…whose repentance and obedience are influenced by the grace of God, and who are zealous of good works, without any dependence on them…and this is the obedience of faith: the reason why faith is expressed by obedience is, because faith receives truth upon the veracity of God, and not upon the dictates of carnal reason; and is always more or less attended with external obedience to the will of God; and that is rightly performed only by faith. And this obedience…was ‘from the heart’; and was real and sincere.” (1) Sometimes, we arrive at heart obedience by first practicing external obedience; stepping out in faith brings us to the end of ourselves to submit our hearts to the Lord. However, it is far better first to seek that in our hearts which hinders our obedience, confess, repent, and enjoy the fruit for ourselves and others. 

Set Free from Sin

Paul knows that the source of our obedience can only be God’s work in us, “having been set free from sin, [we] have become slaves of righteousness” (v. 18). It is crucial to understand what we have been set free from to encourage our continued confession and repentance. “Being then made free from sin…Not from a sinful nature; nor from a corrupt heart; nor from vain thoughts; nor from sinful words; nor from sinful actions altogether; but from the damning power of sin: sin brought all men under a sentence of condemnation…but the blood of Christ sprinkled on their consciences frees them from it; though fresh sins committed bring fresh guilt, which requires the continual application of the blood of Jesus for pardon and cleansing: but what is chiefly designed here is freedom from the servitude of sin, as appears from the context. Now God’s elect are not released voluntarily by their former masters; nor is their freedom obtained by their own power and will; but it is of God, Father, Son, and Spirit; and the Gospel is generally the means of it, and happy are those persons who are blessed with it! They are rid of a bad master; are freed from the worst of bondage; will be no more servants, as before; are delivered from the power, and out of the kingdom of darkness; are heirs of heaven, and shall enjoy the glorious liberty of the children of God: and for the time present are become the servants of righteousness…they give up themselves to a course and life of righteousness, in which there are true honour, peace, and pleasure.” (2)  Freedom brings with it relief and joy. Is there any better way to enjoy God’s love, holiness, and pleasure fully than to bring him our remaining sin for our sanctification, for more effective service and sweet fellowship with our brothers and sisters?

Our Natural Limitations versus God’s Grace

“I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (v. 19). “Paul has been using the analogy of slavery to make his point…Either we must serve sin, or we must serve God. There is no neutral ground. This is Paul’s main point. But do we really believe this? If we understood it and really believed it, would we sin as frequently or as easily as we sometimes do? Would we take sin lightly and be as casual in the pursuit of righteousness as we often are?…The phrase ‘righteousness leading to holiness’ [sanctification] teaches that the practice of outward godliness leads to inward godliness; that is, doing right things actually brings a person along the pathway of spiritual growth. There is no secret formula for holiness [sanctification], no magic recipe. The only means is to realize what God has done for us and then discipline the parts of our bodies—our minds, eyes, ears, tongues, hands, and feet—to act accordingly…God has already done everything necessary for our salvation and given us everything we need to live a consistent Christian life. So, if we fail to do it, it is either because we have not been taught what God has done and therefore do not know how to conduct ourselves as Christians, or we are just too sinful or lazy. If this command had been laid upon us prior to our conversion, we would not have been able to do it…This demand is utterly reasonable. In fact, anything contrary to it is unreasonable. Before we were saved, we served sin; that was consistent and reasonable. But now that we are converted, it is equally reasonable that we should serve God…The failures we have in trying to live a holy life are due almost entirely to our failure to realize these truths or to our laziness or sin in failing to apply them to our conduct.” (3) Christ freed the Roman believers and us from enslavement to sin, to be obedient from the heart, presenting ourselves to his righteousness for our sanctification. But will we remember and live like those who are no longer enslaved to sin but have transformed hearts? Like those who want to obediently offer confessions and repentance for sanctification? Will we reject our world’s endearment with conflict and opinionated “rights?” “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4)

Related Scripture: 1 Kings 8:35-36; Micah 4:1-5; John 17:15-20; Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:20-24; Colossians 3:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7; 2 Timothy 1:13; 1 Peter 1:14-15; 1 John 2:15-17.

Notes:

  1. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Romans 6:17, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/romans-6.htm.
  2. Gill, Romans 6:18, Ibid.
  3. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series,” Romans 6:15-18, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

September 23, 2021

Running Your Race Unhindered

I took up running once in my life when I was about forty years old. Well, it was more like jogging than running. My course consisted of nicely tarred, quiet neighborhood streets, so there weren’t many things to stumble over. But marathon runners encounter all kinds of things that may impede their progress—uneven ground, a rock in the shoe, a sudden rain shower, or a little twig that trips them. They don’t stop and call the race a failure, staying mired in their temporary trouble. They stop to fix it and quickly catch up with their running companions or competitors. They look forward to crossing the goal line. Our spiritual race is similar; we have hindrances with which we must deal, to make progress in our personal growth. Some are clinging sins that weigh us down. So we stop, confess, repent, and move forward with greater peace and joy. We don’t stop trusting Christ or backslide by being morose about our sin. The author of Hebrews exhorts us with an “image of running the race that is set before us…” He writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Shedding Old, Weighty Sins

“By the sin that does so easily beset us, understand that sin to which we are most prone, or to which we are most exposed, from habit, age, or circumstances. This is a most important exhortation; for a while a man’s darling sin, be it what it will, remains unsubdued, it will hinder him from running the Christian race, as it takes from him every motive for running, and gives power to every discouragement.” (1) When I think of my “darling sins” a few come to mind, such as selfishness, coveting comfort, and sometimes choosing convenience over service. Others’ might be suspicion of others’ motives, gossip, idolatry (of politics, education, beauty, etc.), or obsession with entertainment. “The NIV describes the hampering effects of a clinging robe which then may refer to those sins of drifting, dullness, lack of spiritual exercise, or immaturity, which could lead one to lose the race of life.” (2) Gill writes that the allusion “seems to be runners in a race, who…drop whatsoever is ponderous and weighty, run in light garments, and lay aside long ones, which entangle and hinder in running.” (3) Today an entire industry has grown up around the desire for runners to have the best, lightest possible clothing and shoes for running. Shouldn’t our desire for spiritual growth at least equal, if not exceed our passion for a good physical run? We will only grow spiritually by shedding our clinging sins and keeping our spiritual eyes on Christ’s finished work for encouragement and endurance. 

Our Christian Race

Maybe some of you are or have been marathon runners; many of us haven’t even contemplated the idea for ourselves. However, every believer is called to run a race that will last a lifetime in this world for a guaranteed prize, Christ’s presence and fruit. We need to rest from time to time, and we thirst and hunger for the end. But what makes us the weariest are things that we don’t recognize, over which we trip. Here is the need for confession and repentance. The Holy Spirit is gracious to let us (or cause us to) stumble, so we will be able to remove the impediment and run more effectively toward our Him. “The Christian race is run [in] is this world; the prize run for is the heavenly glory; the mark to direct in it, is Christ…this race is ‘set before’ them, by God; the way in which they are to run is marked out by him in his Word…it is a motion forward, a pressing towards the mark for the prize, a going from strength to strength, from one degree of grace to another; and to it swiftness and agility are necessary; and when it is performed aright, it is with readiness, willingness, and cheerfulness: it requires strength and courage, and a removal of all impediments, and should be done ‘with patience;’ which is very necessary, because of the many exercises in the way; and because of the length of the race; and on account of the prize to be enjoyed, which is very desirable, [Christ himself].” (4)

Jesus—Our Prize, Forerunner, and Champion

Christ has gone before us, taking on himself the burden of our sinfulness, offering his forgiveness and liberation from a life of continual unholiness. We grow spiritually and run with him best by shedding our clinging sins, keeping our spiritual eyes on his finished work for encouragement and endurance. “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (12:2) Jesus is our companion, champion, forerunner, pioneer, prize, perfecter, strength, wisdom, and encouragement to continue our race when we have gotten stuck or slowed down. “Because of His exemplary life, therefore, which included accepting the opposition from sinners, Christians are encouraged to consider him, to study carefully His life of steadfast endurance so that in their experience they may be able to decide for the same path of suffering, if loyalty to God demands that, rather than the way of easy relief. Thus they will finish the race though weariness may tempt them to give out and quit. The life of Jesus, therefore, is a call to perseverance, for the contest is ‘not a short dash to glory, but a distance race calling for endurance.’” (5)

We look to Jesus as the finisher (perfecter) of our faith. “A believer should be always looking to Christ…he is the author or efficient cause of [our faith]…and he is the finisher of it; he gives himself, and the blessings of his grace, to his people, to maintain and strengthen it…he prays for it, that it fail not; he carries on the work of faith, and will perform it with power; and brings to, and gives that which is the end of it, eternal life, or the salvation of the soul.” (6) All we need to do is pay attention, keep going, and repent of the clinging sins that are holding us back. We can’t do this just once because sanctification is an ongoing process for our cleansing step by step. My little dog loves to play with an insecure puppy in one dog park who insists on staying under a picnic table where her owner sits. Unfortunately, the dirt under the table becomes like a mud pit after a few minutes of them climbing on top of each other, slobbering, panting, and tumbling. My dog is a long-haired white dog; the other dog is short-haired and brown. Guess which one is almost unrecognizable after their playtime. I have learned that it will take about five different cleaning sessions and a full day for me to get the black dirt out of the fur around his face. I have to remove one layer of soil at a time, to expose the next one, and thankfully, he appreciates each cleaning. The Spirit reveals each layer of clinging sins I need to confess and repent of. He provides the cleansing power, but I must want him to apply it. “Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Hebrews 10:35-39)

Related Scripture: Romans 8:35-37; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Ephesians 4:22-24; Philippians 2:7-11.

Notes:

  1. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Hebrews 12:1-11, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hebrews-12.html 
  2. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Hebrews 12:1-2, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.
  3. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Hebrews 12:1,  studylight.org/commentaries/geb/hebrews-12.html.html
  4. Gill, Hebrews 12:2, Ibid.
  5. Zondervan, Ibid.
  6. Matthew Henry, Ibid.

September 17, 2021

Renewing Our Hearts and Spirits

The other day I tracked a lot of mud through the hall and into my apartment at 6 am when I took out the dog, half asleep. Later, on our long walk, I spilled the water on myself rather than the ground when checking the rain gauge.ThenI tipped the coffee grounds while filling up a canister.I felt like a mess. That same day, while walking at the park, a bird pooped on me in a conspicuous place on my top. Now I really was a mess. Surely this is a picture of my messy heart. I think I have my life and myself under control, but there’s muck and sins, some not so little messes that I don’t even know exist. It’s not a pleasant thought, but it’s biblical. Jesus said, “First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:26) Before Christ’s incarnation, God repeatedly called his people, Israel, to repent, throw off their sins, and make themselves new in their hearts and spirits to live with him. In my last devotion, we meditated on God’s broken heart over the sins of his people. Today we will see that God expected Israel to do what was necessary, on their part, to recommit themselves to him with a new heart and a new spirit. “In Ezekiel 18, [Ezekiel] appears…to focus on the moral responsibility of the individual. Of course, this reading sits well with modern individualism (which rightly stresses individual moral accountability)…the exiles are pressed to repent and take responsibility for their moral lives. Thus the appeal is to make yourselves ’a new heart and spirit.’” (1)Here is the Word“Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (Ezekiel 18:30b-32) God preserved the prophet’s message to call us to repent, throw off our heart sins, and renew our devotion to Christ. 

Repent, Turn, and Cast Away

“Man…is perpetually changing. He sets his mind on the things of God but quickly forgets…He wrestles through the issues of eternity and determines to walk in obedience to all of God’s commands but quickly turns aside after idols. His mind fluctuates more than the weather; his emotions churn like a seething cauldron; his will seems utterly unwilling and unable to fix itself in a single direction. At one point he is determined to follow God, at another juncture to follow himself. He loves God enthusiastically but briefly, and the world with abandon but with interruptions. He determines to follow the straight and. Narrow road life eternal but wastes his life on byways. The call to repentance is ever before him. He hears the heart cry of God to ‘turn and live, for why will you die’ (Ezekiel 18:30-32). But will he heed the cry?” (2) God never ceases to call us to turn away from our sins, casting them off, living with him in his Spirit for his pleasure and glory. Jesus did not die for us to have one experience of repentance but to have a life of joy and grace under his gentle, easy yoke. 

A New Heart and a New Spirit

How can God expect Israel to “…make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (v. 31b)? “In repentance Christ turns a heart of stone into flesh. The heart is the ‘premum vivens,’ the first thing that lives, and it must be the ‘premum vertens,’ the first thing that turns. The heart is that which the devil strives hardest for. Never did he so strive for the body of Moses as he does for the heart of man. In religion the heart is all. If the heart be not turned from sin, it is no better than a lie…it is odious to make a show of turning from sin while the heart is yet in league with it….God will have the whole heart turned from sin. Sure repentance must have no reserves or inmates. Turning to God makes for our profit. Our repentance is of no benefit to God, but to ourselves. If a man drinks of a fountain he benefits himself, not the fountain. If he beholds the light of the sun, he himself is refreshed by it, not the sun. If we turn from our sins to God, God is not advantaged by it. It is only we ourselves who reap the benefit…[There has been] a change wrought in the heart. The flinty heart has become fleshy. Satan would have Christ prove his deity by turning stones into bread. Christ has wrought a far greater miracle in making stones become flesh.” (3) Don’t we want to continue Christ’s process of sanctification by keeping our hearts soft, pliable for God, molded by the Holy Spirit? The Spirit will work in our favor if we only turn to God in repentance. 

Our Heart’s Desires Sanctified

“There is a current debate over whether a desire can be sinful…Some people say, and I think this is incorrect, that those desires are neutral and it’s whether or not you act on them…In Protestant theology even our desires must be sanctified… ‘For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.’ (Romans 8:13) Living God’s way…means putting to death the sins of our [old nature]. When was the last time you cleaned behind your refrigerator…or washer and dryer? So what happens? The only time you clean behind there, except for this afternoon because you’re thinking about it now, is when you move. And what happens when you move to a new house and you move that washer and dryer? Oh, you’re embarrassed, you’re ashamed. Can you believe all that [filth]…oh, that’s where that is! And the idea of the Spirit’s work in our life is that the Spirit will move the fridge, in our life, so to speak, the hard areas in our life…He will move the washer and dryer to clean behind it. This is the process of sanctification…Remember, sin is not just the bad things that we do, it’s the attitude of our heart, our inner thought life.” (4) Once the Spirit removes our blinders and sheds light on the dark recesses of our hearts, it is up to us to sweep out the filth—or maybe vacuum, or even power wash our hearts if need be. Whether with tears, weariness, or relief, we must repent, throw off our heart sins, and continually renew our devotion to Christ. 

Christ’s Call for Heart Repentance 

Paul writes, “Since we have [God’s] promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1) Ezekiel declares, “Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (v. 32) “The design of the exhortation is to convince men of their want of such a heart; of the importance of it: and which, through the efficacious grace of God, maybe a means of his people having it, seeing he has in covenant promised it to them. The Targum renders it, ’a fearing heart, and a spirit of fear,’ that is, a heart and spirit to fear, serve, and worship the Lord…The sense is, that he takes no pleasure in the afflictions, calamities, and captivity of men, which are meant by death here; but rather that they would repent and reform, and live in their own land, and enjoy the good things of it; which shows the mercy and compassion of God to sinners…I take no delight in your present deaths, your captivity; it would be more agreeable to me would you turn from your evil ways to the Lord your God, and behave according to the laws I have given you to walk by, and so live in your own land, in the quiet possession of your goods and estates.” (6) I don’t enjoy avoidable messes in my house or myself; I have to put up with unavoidable ones. But God takes no delight in our calamities that result from unconfessed and lingering sinfulness, no matter how deeply hidden it might be. Just like cleaning up mud, coffee grounds, we must clean our hearts. “God does not command what cannot be done, but admonishes us to do what is in our power, and to pray for what is not.” (7) God called his people Israel to repent, throw off their sins, and make themselves new hearts and spirits to live. We must repent, throw off our heart sins, and renew our devotion to Christ if we want to live the good spiritual Life with him. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalms 19:14)

Related Scripture: Exodus 20:17; 1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 19:14; 24:4; Jeremiah 9:24; Ezekiel 20:7; 33:10-11, 14-16; Hosea 14:1-2a; Romans 8:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:5.

Notes:

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Ezekiel 18:1-32, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Roberts, Richard Owen, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, page 44, Crossway, 2002.
  3. Watson, Thomas, The Doctrine of Repentance, pp. 58, 53-54, Banner of Truth Trust, 2016, (1668).
  4. Pastor Allen’s Sermon, Romans 8:12-17, 9/5/21, https://www.trinityboerne.org/sermons/sermon/2021-09-05/the-rights-that-really-matter
  5. ESV Study Bible (Matthew 5:28), Ibid.
  6. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Ezekiel 18:31b-32, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ezekiel-18.html
  7. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Ezekiel 18:30-32, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/ezekiel-18.html

September 9, 2021

God’s Broken Heart

Our hearts are breaking for the people of Afghanistan, Haiti, Louisiana, soldiers who defended freedoms in Afghanistan, and those who lost their lives there. Everyone is asking, “Was American’s longest war for nothing?” So I’ve been searching for good news, and here is a little that I found. “Muhibullah Sharif, a Kabul-based economist said the US and its allies’ contributions towards building institutions cannot be overlooked… ‘Before the US invasion, there were many fake and regional currencies in circulation, Afghanistan was not represented in any regional or international trade organizations and there was no private sector, but now all that has changed for good’, he said…Iqbal Barzgar, a Kabul-based political analyst said that the US presence has left both positive and negative impacts on Afghanistan. He also argued that Washington and its allies helped to build the country’s ruined infrastructure and injected unprecedented amounts of money into the local economy. ‘For the past 20 years, a young and educated new generation has entered the country’s social arena, a centralized government has been formed, and new opportunities have been created that were never imagined before the US invasion’ he said.” (1) Throughout history, there have been similar wars, tragedies, and grave disappointments. That’s why having a Biblical Worldview is essential—knowing that God is sovereignly using these events to draw people to himself because he is the good, holy, but wrathful Lord of Lords and King of Kings. God never does anything “for nothing,” for no purpose. While he often allows us to do that which is wholly opposed to him, he nonetheless delights in our repentance when we turn back to him, our only eternal, true hope. Anything else disappoints God, to the point of breaking his heart. Present crises tear up our hearts but imagine how much disappointment God must endure, if we may use anthropomorphic language.

Israel’s Degeneration

Hoping in political solutions, material remedies, or national interventions isn’t wrong if we realize their limitations. Only hope in the risen Christ for eternal peace, and spiritual prosperity will fulfill our soul’s desires. Israel had to learn this lesson, and even after God sent many prophets to direct his people, they remained stubbornly gripped by temporal fixes. The Lord used Israel’s enemy nations to bring them to their senses after breaking his heart with their idolatry. God poured out his grace and mercy on the nation for many years, yet both the northern and southern kingdoms degenerated beyond his tolerance. Kind of like the condition of Afghanistan in slow motion, on a spiritual level. God’s prophet Ezekiel informed God’s people that because they had broken God’s heart with their repugnant evil, he would do what was necessary for them to reverence him as the Lord. “Those of you who escape will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations. And they shall know that I am the Lord. I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them.” (Ezekiel 6:9-10) The Lord had given Israel so many chances to repent. They had God himself, his law, kings, and land, yet the nation refused to honor him, breaking his heart. “‘Paul gives a warning that every unrepentant person ought to heed: ‘But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed’ (Romans 2:5). God’s hatred of unholiness is the very reason hell exists. All sin is against God’s name, God’s person, and God’s holiness. David would never have sinned so wickedly against his God had he kept this truth close to his heart. But instead of focusing upon the person of his God, David focused upon himself, his desires, his pleasures. In doing so he forgot the God who made him, the very God of holiness whom he had actually intended to serve faithfully with all his heart. It was not until the person of God came back into focus in David’s life that renewal came. It was the realization of this truth that drew him to repentance. If you will daily remind yourself of the person of our God, you will find it a perpetual motivator to repentance.” (2) Today, we need to do what God was calling Israel to do, acknowledge and repent of our evil attitudes, viewpoints, desires, opinions, thoughts, words, and deeds, taking God’s Word seriously for our sanctification.

Our Degeneration and Repentance

John Gill writes on Ezekiel 6:9, “I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from me: by committing spiritual adultery, which is idolatry…and they shall loathe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations…when men remember God, against whom they have sinned, and consider how grieving sin is to him; and when they are broken for it themselves, they then loathe their sins, and themselves for it; and where all this is there is true repentance.” (3) If God would do whatever was necessary for Israel to reverence him as the Lord, imagine what he might do for us who are reborn in Christ when we broke his heart with our repugnant sins. “Every sin that a believer commits is against the body and blood of Christ. Whether it be a sin of commission or a sin of omission, it is against the Savior who died in your place. Whether you think of sin as minor or whether you know it to be major, it is against the Lord who has already suffered much for you. Every day you lingerie an unrepentant state you add to the grief of the Savior whose body was broken and whose blood was shed for you. How can you add to His sufferings? Every celebration of the Lord’s Supper is intended to vividly remind you of this suffering. Every remembrance of His crucifixion, every reminder of the tender atoning work of Jesus Christ on your behalf, serves as a powerful call to repentance. Will you heed this call?” (4) We should ask Christ to reveal our unholy attitudes, viewpoints, desires, opinions, thoughts, words, and deeds, also asking him to help me repent. Shouldn’t our hearts break over sin as God’s does?

God’s Sovereign Work is Never For Nothing

“And they shall know that I am the Lord. I have not said in vain that I would do this evil to them.” (Ezekiel 6:9-10) We hesitate to pray for God to do “whatever is necessary” for our loved ones to come to Christ, but God doesn’t hesitate to do precisely that. When God had offered Judah’s King Ahaz the opportunity to be assured of his power and purpose, Ahaz refused to “test God.” Instead, he depended on Assyria and other nations for Israel’s security. So, God had Isaiah proclaim, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.” (Isaiah 7:10-17) God’s solution to his broken heart is to mercifully give us his only Son’s life and heart for all eternity. God pours out his steadfast loving-kindness on us through Christ. Repentance is the balm for the brokenhearted and delights our Lord. Let’s not act like people who are spiritually dead. Instead, let’s acknowledge and repent, taking God’s Word seriously for our sanctification. When people discuss the tragedies of Afghanistan, Haiti, Louisiana, California, or other chronic crises, let’s be a voice and body for God, having sought his cleansing forgiveness for our fears, anxieties, unjust judgments, and desire for people’s approval. We have these opportunities to be spiritual ambassadors and encouragers. “I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 26:44-45)

Related Scripture: Leviticus 26:40-45; Jeremiah 23:9; Ezekiel 16:61-63; 20:33-34; 36:31-32; Matthew 26:41; Luke 21:36; Romans 3:19-20; James 5:8; 1 Peter 1:13-15; 4:7-8.

Notes

  1. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/asia-pacific/experts-debate-achievements-of-us-in-afghanistan/2283040
  2. Roberts, Richard Owen, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, p. 160, Crossway, 2002
  3. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Ezekiel 6:9,  https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ezekiel-6.html
  4. Roberts, Ibid, p. 167.

September 2, 2021

A Repentance Like Esther’s

Have you had your DNA tested? I have some friends who have spent a considerable amount of time over the years investigating their ancestors. For some, it’s a hobby, but for others, it’s out of peer pressure and curiosity about this fad. If you did get yours tested, did it affect your life positively or negatively? Or was it just a distraction from the life that is going on all around you? I haven’t used a DNA service because right now I am very busy with things in my here-and-now life but I will when I transition out of this season of ministry. I briefly considered getting my DNA tested for a new reason that just came up recently. Since I was born into a Jewish family, I am often asked about my heritage, especially by those fascinated with all things Jewish or Israel. Knowing my DNA will probably not change anything in the way I minister or view myself. Lately I am learned that people are fascinated by supposed “Jewish DNA.” Some even believe that the Jews have Abraham’s DNA. I wonder how anyone could possibly know what Abraham’s DNA was, as I am not aware of any archeological finding of his physical body. I spent a few days thinking about it and was distracted from my Bible studies and writing. I’m beginning to think that my ministry should include a caution about not getting distracted from Christ and the gospel. This week I was led to meditate on and write about one well-known Old Testament personality’s repentance. Esther was faced with a conundrum and so are we when distracted by the world’s influences. 

Esther’s Persian Life Verses Mordechai’s Jewish Loyalty

Esther was a young Jewish woman married to the Persian King, living in his palace, detached from the Jewish community. When the Jews were threatened with extinction in Persia, she was confronted by her uncle Mordecai. Esther repented of her disinterest, called on her community of faith to pray, and acted upon her new freedom to be faithful to God. Like Esther, we should recognize and confess our detachment from the world’s pressures to conform, even to the DNA craze, and refocus on Christ, to bear the fruit of repentance by our fellowship in the body of Christ and witness for God. “The whole Book of Esther is…about the one character who never appears on stage, never speaks, and is never actually spoken to: God. Nowhere is that more true than in chapter 4, where Esther must place her life in the hands of the unseen, unheard, and unrecognized God. This portrayal of Mordecai and Esther and the Jewish community with them as…people whose entire lives are built around theological presuppositions whose existence and implications they studiously ignore…The author’s literary artistry…highlights a very real conundrum that pastors wrestle with on a weekly basis. Simply put, it is this: ‘How can people who confess an orthodox creed week after week so easily and completely lose track of the implications of that theology whenever problems emerge in daily life?’ Mordecai’s worldview may have been based on a solid theology, but he had difficulty connecting that theology to the issues of everyday life. In times of crisis, for all our orthodox theology, our own first response is frequently the whimper of resignation or human strategy rather than the bark of robust faith in God. We believe in God, but in practice react to life’s crises as if we were virtual atheists.” (1) 

Mordecai’s Faulty Practical Theology and Esther’s Ignorance

Mordecai’s partial practical theology caused him to respond to Haman’s hatred of him and his people by lamenting and fasting as letters went out “in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, [and] there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. When Esther’s young women and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed. She sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them.” (Esther 4:1-4) The text reads that Esther was “deeply distressed,” but most commentators hold the view that what disturbed her was Mordecai’s appearance and actions, not the reason for them since she probably didn’t know about the king’s decree “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods” (3:13). It’s possible for us to be so engrossed in politics, work, family lineage, sports, shopping, or TV watching that we don’t see and appreciate the need for a gospel influence and biblical worldview. I can’t help thinking of the present situation in Afghanistan as we approach the deadline for the U.S. to evacuate people. We should be openly lamenting and praying while Christians are hiding, targeted for execution by the Taliban. We should recognize and confess our detachment from the world’s pressures to conform and refocus on Christ, to bear the fruit of repentance by our fellowship in the body of Christ, and witness for God. 

Mordecai’s Good Theology and Esther’s Repentance

After Mordecai refuses to remove his sackcloth and ashes—to stop grieving and lamenting with the Jews—Esther sent a messenger to learn the reason for his anguish (4:4). Mordecai held nothing back from Esther: Haman’s fury that Mordecai wouldn’t bow to him, Haman’s determination to kill Mordecai and the Jews, and the vast sum of money Haman promised to give to the King. In particular, “Mordecai also gave [Esther’s messenger] a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people” (4:8) Mordecai’s response isn’t entirely faultless, as he seems to appeal to the King rather than to God, or at least it appears that way. He’s human, like us. And Esther’s first response is one born of fear because anyone who wasn’t invited to speak to the king was doomed. Ironically, Esther’s fear of execution was the same fear that Mordecai had for the Jewish people. He sent her a message with a confrontation: “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.” (4:13-14a).Mordecai’s statement reveals his trust in God’s sovereignty lies his: “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’” (4:12) Esther not only embraced his admonishment but acted biblically after her repentance. “Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.’” (Esther 4:15-16)

Esther’s God-Given Courage

When we sincerely confess and enjoy repentance, the Holy Spirit is unfettered to give us the power to act boldly, joyfully, and biblically. Esther acted “without any explicit promises from God to protect her, or to bring about a successful conclusion to her mission…There are no guarantees of success when we stand up for God, if success means getting what we want…God had committed himself to maintain a people for himself, not so that they could be comfortable, but so that they could bring him glory…It was up to God how to glorify himself through Esther’s obedience, whether by delivering the people through her or allowing her to be martyred in his service, but he would be glorified one way or another. It is the same for us, when we step out in faith, however weak and trembling. We cannot know ahead of time how God will choose to use us…[And] if it is true that a mediator was needed to intercede with King Ahasuerus, how much more do we need a mediator to intercede for us with God, the Great King…he is the great King of kings, the sovereign ruler of the universe, against whom we have rebelled. Fallen, sinful people cannot therefore simply saunter into his presence, unannounced and uninvited. On the contrary, his edict has gone forth against us, declaring us worthy of death because of our sin…Jesus Christ is the true mediator between God and man…far from being comfortably isolated from his community, as Esther was, Jesus identified with us fully…For him, ‘If I perish, I perish’ meant not just the potential probability of death, but the absolute certainty of the cross.” (3) We have been invited to seek our Father’s mercy through this lovely Old Testament picture of intercession on behalf of God’s vulnerable people, whether they be Jews, Afghans, Haitians, or any other people group of unbelievers. But before we can intercede prayerfully, we must repent of our indifference, detachment, self-absorption. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11)

Related Scripture: Genesis 43:14; Nehemiah 1:4-11; Daniel 6:1-9; Romans 13:11-13.

Notes:

  1. Duguid, Iain, Esther and Ruth – Reformed Expository Commentary, Esther Chapter 4, P & R Publishing, 2005.
  2. Duguid, Ibid.
  3. Duguid, Ibid 

* I highly recommend reading Duguid’s Commentary.August 26, 2021

Groaning for the World

When’s the last time you groaned about something? Not when you groaned at a bad joke. Sometimes I grunt at Far Side cartoons, but that’s a kind of fake groan. A sincere cry is deep and full of pain. Have you injured yourself and groaned as you felt your body part break or get pulled unnaturally? Most of us groan for ourselves when we are needy or in agony. But parents, grandparents, and closes relatives know what it’s like to lament deeply over someone else’s pain or trouble. And, right now, we’re groaning for the residents of Afghanistan and Haiti, which is appropriate. So is moaning internally when we have conflicts with others or are frustrated in our plans. Pain makes us cry when we lovingly feel someone else’s pain. But we probably don’t moan in love as much as we should because we don’t love as we are called. How often or deeply do we mourn over the destiny of the unsaved, condemned to eternal damnation for their unbelief? I have been on my knees (figuratively, at least) for the salvation of some people for over thirty years. By God’s grace, I have matured in Christ and no longer think I know what they need or try to convince them to believe in him. Now I humbly ask the Lord to intervene and share my love for God with them whenever possible. But I rarely groan passionately for them. I hope that these devotions on repentance will continue to significantly impact my view of how compassion and confession lead to sincere repentance on my part and for everyone.

A Model of Lamenting

In Psalm 102, the psalmist, in lonely agony, calls to God for quick help. He intends to see God praised and worshipped for his compassion on the doomed. He models calling on God with groans. On this side of the cross, we remember Christ’s agony, endured for our deliverance. The psalmist laments those who are doomed to condemnation. “Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry come to you! Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call! For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace. My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread. Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh. I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop…Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be Lord may praise the Lord: that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the Lord looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord, and in Jerusalem his praise, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.” (Psalms 102:1-7, 18-22) Let’s face it, we don’t usually pray like this. Last Sunday our church family confessed together: “Precious Savior, we come to you confessing our pride. We confess our arrogance and tendency to think we are always in the right. Give us hearts that are responsive to your will and way. Make us quick to repent and seek your kingdom first. In so doing, we pray we would show froth your gospel, not just in holy living, but also in humility, sorrow over sin, repentance that leads to life and enduring joy.” If we let our sorrow for the unsaved sink in and repent of our intellectualism and detachment, we will be more useful to the Lord for the sake of the gospel.

A Model of Vulnerability and Christlikeness 

The psalmist honestly and transparently writes about his suffering, partly due to his enemies taunting him, “who deride me use my name for a curse” (v. 8). However, he also acknowledges God’s “indignation and anger,” implying that he has deserved it for his sin (v. 10). As a result, he feels his life is like smoke, his bones burning in a fire, a withered heart, no appetite, loud groaning to his depths, and feeling utterly alone and cut off (vs. 3-7). It’s not easy to yield to Christ’s call for deep humility and weakness, but it’s essential if we are to move past our issues in concern for others. We aren’t loving, gracious, and kind to others when we are caught up in our fears, pride, or anxieties. It’s only when we are willing to pour out our hearts to God that we can focus on the needs of others with the love of Christ, as God works repentance in us. Otherwise, we serve half-heartedly in our own strength, usually unaware that we are doing so. The psalmist calls on God to answer his prayer quickly so that he can put his mind and heart to the people of Zion (vs.1-2). “Good men are always for speedy answers of prayer; they would have them the day, the hour, the moment they are calling upon God.” (1) Job repeatedly voiced his desire to meet with the Lord “Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know what he would answer me and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me. There an upright man could argue with him, and I would be acquitted forever by my judge.” (Job 23:1-7) “Blessed be God, we may know where to find him. He is in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself; and upon a mercy-seat, waiting to be gracious. Thither the sinner may go; and there the believer may order his cause before Him, with arguments taken from his promises, his covenant, and his glory.” (2) 

A Model for Moving On

“Having broken the damaging preoccupation with self that so often strangles our spiritual lives, the psalmist now finds himself thinking about other situations and other people and praying confidently for them…[In verses 18-22] he prays for the rebuilding of Jerusalem…his concern for the city embraces his concern for the people in it. When the people of God cease thinking about themselves so much and begin thinking about the state of things around them, particularly our cities and those who are suffering in them, then God may indeed hear our prayers and send a revival. [He also prays for] the conversion of the Gentile nations, whom he sees coming to worship God at some future day. This is nothing less than a worldwide missionary outlook, a view that has always marked the church in its best periods. We need it today… [A third thing he prays for is] the church of the future. One of the most fascinating things about the transformed, global outlook of the psalmist is that he sees his own time relating to a future time, for he is sure that what God is about to do to save and deliver his people will be recorded in writing to be a source of blessing for the future church. (v. 18)” (3) 

Are we willing to groan for the world, not just ourselves and our immediate circle of family and friends? Are we going to remember Christ’s agony, which he endured for our deliverance, and those who are doomed to condemnation? “Most of the nations of the world are beset with national sins that demand repentance. Abortion defiles entire lands. Sexual promiscuity blackens every corner of the earth….The persecution of God’s children is a national evil that cannot escape punishment…National repentance must start somewhere. Why shouldn’t it start with you? If your repentance is in place, ask God to give you a voice that others will hear.” (4) We must ask ourselves, “Is my repentance in place?” Only then are we able to effectively pray for repentance for others and the world. “‘Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,’ says the Lord; ‘I will place him in the safety for which he longs.’” (Psalms 12:5)

Related Scripture: Exodus 2:23-24; Deuteronomy 31:19; Job 30:24-31; Psalm 22;22, 29-31; 72:11; 79:11; 84:1-4; 142:1-2; Isaiah 65:24; Zechariah 9:14-17; Romans 8:20-25; 15:4-7; 2 Corinthians 5:1-5; James 4:14.

Notes:

  1. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 102:1-2, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-102.html
  2. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Job 23:1-7,  https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/job-23.html
  3. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series,” Psalm 102, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  4. Roberts, Richard Owen, “Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel,” pp. 292, Crossway, 2002.

August 19, 2021