Christ, Our Blessed Hope

Do you think about the past as much now that we’re into 2022? Perhaps, like me, you’re thinking more about future plans for 2022. But isn’t it our past that influences our future desires, goals, and plans? ”A growing body of research suggests that [thinking about the future] can make our lives more meaningful. Humans aren’t alone in having some ability to consider the future, a process that scientists call ‘prospection.’ After all, your dog gets excited when they see you holding a leash because they anticipate a walk is imminent; your cat may show similar excitement at the sound of a can being opened…But prospection’s unique benefits to humans extend beyond that of other animals…We can make predictions about our own futures based on what we’ve learned about other people’s experiences and even from characters in books and movies…Studies suggest that prospecting about your future can enrich your life…How we think about the future doesn’t just influence our own lives. It can also influence how we treat other people; [when we make plans to help others, we will be more likely to carry them].” (1) While these kinds of psychological articles are helpful to an extent, they fall way short of the way God created our minds and psyches. When God created humans, it was in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). Thinking about an eternal life with God in perfection and glory can’t be compared to a dog’s excitement about a walk or our plans for a vacation, new home, new job, or retirement. Our human efforts to imagine the future are based on our earthly experiences. But God’s plan of glorification for believers is based on the omnipotent, supernatural, incomprehensible provision of Jesus’s return and a new earth and heaven. We know about this glorious future from God’s revelation of his redemptive plan in Scripture and Christ’s first incarnation. God gives us many good reasons to think about Christ’s past sacrificial atonement, which inspires us to live well now, knowing that the future will be even more blessed.

Christ, God’s Historic Incarnate Grace

“The human soul is the most like God of anything that has ever been created…If man were not made in the image of God, redemption would not be possible. Those who have tried to think of man as coming into this world without a Creator are, in fact, denying man’s redemption. Only what was created in the image of God can be restored by God. Part of my worship each day is to celebrate this marvelous truth. I am redeemed because I have been created in the image of God. Although sin has all but destroyed that image, God’s grace is greater than all of man’s sin put together.” (2) “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14) (3) In this passage, Paul describes Christ as the incarnate grace of God, our blessed hope, and our sanctification. My aim here is to encourage us to take hold of the blessedness of Jesus Christ. We will begin as Paul does here, looking back to Christ’s appearance as the “word [who] became flesh” (John 1:14). God’s grace appeared for salvation, redemption, and purification for a people of God’s possession (Titus 2:11, 14a). “The grace of God is the source of all spiritual blessings that are bestowed upon sinners…The grace of God is of the most tremendous practical significance for sinful men. It was by grace that the way of redemption went out into the world…[that] sinners receive the gift of God in Jesus Christ…they are justified…enriched with spiritual blessings, and finally inherit salvation.” (4)

Our Blessedness Now in Christ

“God’s love is ‘invincible’ because of Christ’s coming…In Ephesians 2, verse 6, Paul says that we are, right now, seated with Christ in heaven. That means that if you are in Christ, you are eternally invincible as he is…’Whatsoever Christ is freed from, I am freed from it. It can no more hurt me than it can hurt him now in heaven.'” (5) The effect of our faith is “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope,…purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:12, 13a, 14b) “These verses provide the theological basis for the practical instructions given in [Titus 2] vs. 2-10, showing that the saving grace of God and the redemptive suffering of Jesus Christ are directed toward the purpose of the godly living and good works of God’s redeemed people.” (6) We can and should embrace the blessedness of Jesus Christ for our sanctification, as the incarnate grace of God and our blessed hope for eternity. 

Christ, Our Blessed Hope for the Future

Paul reminds us of the best thing that will ever happen to us because of our “…blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (v. 13b) “Looking for that blessed hope…Christ, who is our hope, and Christ in us the hope of glory, who is blessed for evermore…to be looking for this, is to be desiring it with the heart and affections set upon it, longing to be in the enjoyment of it, and yet waiting patiently in the exercise of faith and hope…and there is good reason for a regenerate man so to look for it; since it is his Father’s gift of free grace, and is laid up for him…Christ will come in his own glory, in the glory of his deity, particularly his omniscience and omnipotence will be very conspicuous; and in his glory as Mediator, which will be beheld by all the saints; and in his glory as a Judge, invested with power and authority from his Father, which will be terrible to sinners; and in the glory of his human nature, with which it is now crowned; and in his Father’s glory, in the same he had with him before the world was, and which is the same with his…and as the Judge of the whole earth. Now this the Gospel directs, and instructs believers to look for, to love, to hasten to, most earnestly desire, and yet patiently wait for, most firmly believing that it will be.” (7) “From the doctrine of Christ’s second coming, we are exhorted to purity and godliness. This is the effect of real knowledge. True Christians look for new heavens and a new earth; freed from the vanity to which things present are subject, and the sin they are polluted with…He is faithful, who has promised.” (8)

Christ, Our Real Hope

“Biblical Hope is a firm conviction that the future promises of God will be fulfilled. Hope is not mere wish projection, but an assurance of what will come to pass. ‘We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain’ (Hebrews 6:19).” (9) “When we take the incomparable God as our God, we are incomparably blessed…This incomparable God is ours. We have a title to Him. This is the great privilege of heaven’s favorites…(Rev. 21:3) This God is our God forever and ever! Our immortal soul has an immortal God—an immortal good. We will be forever with this incomparable God. This comforts us in the midst of all the persecutions and afflictions that befall us in this world.” (10) Your dog or cat isn’t able to be so comforted, looking to you as a “god.” But we are full of faults and disappointments. Christ is our perfect, incarnate grace of God, our blessed hope, and sanctification. Won’t we take hold of the blessedness of Jesus Christ for our sanctification? “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)

Related Scripture: Exodus 19:5-6; Psalms 67:1-2; Ezekiel 37:23-24; Ephesians 1:6-7; 2:7-9; 1 Timothy 2:4; 6:17; Titus 3:4-7; 2 Peter 3:11-13.

Notes:

  1. Allen, Summer, “How Thinking About the Future Makes Life More Meaningful,” 2019, Greater Good Magazine. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_thinking_about_the_future_makes_life_more_meaningful
  2. Author’s note: “Salvation to all people” refers to all kinds, classes, races, and tribes of people. This is not a statement to support universal salvation, and is consistent with the rest of Scripture.
  3. Tozer, A. W., “My Daily Pursuit Devotions for Every Day,” January 19, Bethany House Publishers, 2013.
  4. Berkoff, L., Systematic Theology, p. 71, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1993. 
  5. Ortlund, Dane, “Gentle and Lowly,” p. 178, Crossway, 2020.
  6. The Reformation Study Bible, Titus 2:11-14, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.
  7. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Titus 2:13, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/titus-2.html
  8. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, 2 Peter 3:11-18,, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/2-peter-3.html
  9. Reformation Study Bible, “Hope” article, p. 2206, Ibid.
  10. 10. Swinnock, George, “The Blessed and Boundless God,” p. 103-4, Reformation Heritage Books,  2014, Kindle Edition.

January 20, 2022

Christ Our Blessed Savior

January 2022—are you doing things that no longer require doing and are possibly hindering your change for the better? I’m not just thinking about all the adjustments we’ve made for Covid, but the routines that have become automatic. The beginning of the year is an excellent time to consider why we do what we do when we do it. “Having a routine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can help you stay organized, be productive, or even, according to some researchers, find meaning…However, not all routines are created equal, and failing to examine or alter our habits can have a limiting or deadening effect on our lives…Moving through a series of them can set us on autopilot throughout our day, which can lead us to lose touch with ourselves and our immediate experience—be it sensory or emotional. For example, scrolling through our phone on our morning train commute can seem pretty innocuous, but we may be missing out on sights, sounds, or even smells that would enliven us in some way, inspire a specific feeling, or spark our imagination. Similarly, the list of items we pressure ourselves to include in our evening routine may be taking up time we could use to connect with loved ones. Whatever our habit patterns may be, it’s worth considering the ways in which they may be cutting us off from a more vital way of engaging with the world [or with God]. A particular routine may make us feel more secure or unchallenged, muting some of our fears around uncertainty. However, it may also be closing us off to our sense of awe, curiosity, or excitement…There are tangible ways to strike a balance between making our daily life feel calm and stable and opening ourselves up to new and energizing experiences…We may explore what it would mean to break out of a fixed identity or a role we impose upon ourselves.” (1) The author of this article refers to routines in our functional roles as father, mother, wife, daughter, son, boss, student, business owner, or minister. But what about our roles as children of the living God—the son or daughter of Jesus Christ? Do our lives and routines reflect our blessedness in “Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Romans 9:5)? 

Jesus is God

The apostle Paul opens his letter to the believers in Rome with a confession of Christ’s deity… “who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…” (Romans 1:1-6) If we are going to ascribe God’s blessedness to Christ, we must first recognize that he is fully God. James Boice helps us understand why this is not more explicit in Scripture. “There is an obvious reticence among the New Testament writers to say starkly that ‘Jesus is God,’ and for good reason. Without explanation, a statement like this might be understood as teaching that God left heaven in order to come to earth in the person of the human Jesus, leaving heaven without his presence. Each of the New Testament writers knew that this is not an accurate picture. Each was aware of the doctrine of the Trinity, according to which God is described as being one God but existing in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since Jesus is the Son of God, it was customary for them to call him that, rather than simply ‘God,’ reserving the unembellished word God for God the Father. This is why Jesus is not often called God explicitly. Yet, although it is unusual to find Jesus called God for the reasons just given, it is not the case that he is never called God. We think of the Gospel of John, for instance. At the very beginning of that Gospel…’the Word’ is identified as Jesus…(1:1-2)…[and] in Thomas’s great confession, which is the Gospel’s spiritual climax. ‘Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”‘ (20:28).…Hebrews 1:8 calls Jesus ‘God’ by applying Psalm 45:6–7 to him: ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever’…[and] in Titus 2:13–14, where Paul writes, ‘We wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ’…Like many other commentators and Bible teachers, I find Romans 9:5 to be one of the most sublime testimonies to the full deity of the Lord Jesus Christ in all the Bible.’” (2)

Christ is Blessed Forever

In Romans 9, Paul expresses his deep sorrow for his Jewish brothers and sisters who do not know Christ. After all, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.” (9:4-5) Paul not only affirmed the blessed and eternal deity of Jesus Christ but lived as a man who was blessed forever by Jesus Christ’s divine saving grace, wishing that others would also be redeemed in Christ. John Piper was tremendously affected by Paul’s testimony in Romans 9:5. “I was on sabbatical from teaching at Bethel College. My one aim on this leave was to study Romans 9 and write a book on it that would settle, in my own mind, the meaning of these verses. After six years of teaching and finding many students in every class ready to discount my interpretation of this chapter for one reason or another, I decided I had to give eight months to it. The upshot of that sabbatical was the book, The Justification of God. I tried to answer every important exegetical objection to God’s absolute sovereignty in Romans 9. But the result of that sabbatical was utterly unexpected―at least by me…what I did not expect was that six months into this analysis of Romans 9 God himself would speak to me so powerfully that I resigned my job at Bethel and made myself available to the Minnesota Baptist Conference if there were a church who would have me as a pastor…As I studied Romans 9 day after day, I began to see a God so majestic and so free and so absolutely sovereign that my analysis merged into worship and the Lord said, in effect, ‘I will not simply be analyzed, I will be adored. I will not simply be pondered, I will be proclaimed. My sovereignty is not simply to be scrutinized, it is to be heralded…The God of Romans 9 has been the Rock-solid foundation of all I have said and all I have done in the last 22 years.” (3) We, like Paul and Piper, are to live as those who are are blessed forever by Jesus Christ’s divine saving grace.

The Blessedness of Christ is Ours

“That which establishes souls, is, the plain preaching of Jesus Christ. Our redemption and salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, are, without controversy, a great mystery of godliness…the gospel is revealed, not to be talked of and disputed about, but to be submitted to…all the glory that passes from fallen man to God, so as to be accepted of him, must go through the Lord Jesus, in whom alone our persons and doings are, or can be, pleasing to God…Remembering that we are called to the obedience of faith, and that every degree of wisdom is from the only wise God, we should, by word and deed, render glory to him through Jesus Christ; that so the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be with us for ever.” (4) Through humility and submission to Christ, we live as those who are blessed. Do we? Or are we moving through these first days of 2022 on autopilot? “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11)

Related Scripture: Psalm 102:27; Romans 1:24-25; 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Colossians 1:16-19; 1 Timothy 6:15-16; Revelation 4:11; 5:12; 7:9-12.

Notes:

  1. Firestone, Lisa, “Why It’s Important to Break Routines, Psychology Today,” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201910/why-it-s-important-break-routines
  2. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series,” Romans 9:5 , Baker Books, Software version, 1998. 
  3. Piper, John, “The Sermons of John Piper, The Absolute Sovereignty of God: What Is Romans Nine About?” Romans 9:1-5, 2002,  http://www.desiringgod.com 
  4. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Romans 16:25-27, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/romans-16.html

January 13, 2022

Our Blessed God

Will 2022 be a good year for you? Is your answer based on your experience over this first week of January or your plans for later this year? How can we be sure to have a good year? Maybe you’re January started with a balance sheet like mine. I have no plans to travel in 2022, a new, more restrictive monthly budget, and I am sad about the death of friends in 2021. I have an allergy to the cedar that is seasonably high right now and am changing my diet because my LDL is up, and I gained some weight over the holiday season. In addition, I’m not looking forward to revising all my legal documents this month. On the plus side, I have wonderful friendships, great neighbors, lovely ministry activities, a new study on God’s blessedness, other Bible studies to lead, and church ministry that is always uplifting. We quickly sink under the conditions of our circumstances, as if they should determine the quality of our lives. Lowering my LDL, losing weight, and completing legal paperwork are not enough to satisfy. A more extensive understanding of God and his ways might do it, especially as I engage with others who are also growing in their faith. If I want 2022 to be glorious, it can’t be about me. Having a curious, hopeful, and optimistic expectation of what the Lord might teach me and do in the lives of my family, friends, church family, and neighbors is something to look forward to. What will give you satisfaction this year when we reach December 31, 2022? How about a greater understanding and appreciation of God’s blessings for his church? If you’ve been following my blog for two or more years, you have probably noticed that I always focus on God’s character and attributes in January. We start with God because profitable spiritual growth begins with Him—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God draws us away from our circumstances to find our blessedness in Him. So we’ll spend 2022 meditating on biblical blessedness. The world may trivialize and mock us for even whispering the phrase, “I’m blessed,” but Christians genuinely are blessed beyond anything the world can imagine. I pray that God will transform our understanding of biblical blessedness, emanating from his character and works. 

God’s Constant Glory and Blessedness

In 1 Timothy’s introduction and doxology, Paul notes God’s divine glory and blessedness. He writes about “…the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” in 1 Timothy 1:11. He concludes the letter exalting God, “who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (6:15-16) “Our eternal happiness consists in large part in our perfect knowledge of the blessed and boundless God. When we ‘see him as he is,’ we will be like Him in holiness and happiness. We will be fully satisfied with His love and likeness…We know His beauty and bounty and love Him. We know His power and faithfulness and trust Him.” (1) As we consider God’s blessedness, we are struck by his “otherness”—being completely different and separate from us, whose blessedness seems fleeting and temporary. “In only a handful of instances in the New Testament is God explicitly said to be ‘blessed’…here and in a few other passages, Paul ascribes blessedness to God himself. The seventeenth-century commentator William Burkitt (1650-1703) rightly noted that Paul used the word here to signify thereby unto us, his transcendent mercy and excelling goodness, in that being infinitely happy in the enjoyment of himself and his divine perfections, and incapable of any profit from, or advantage by, his creatures, he was yet pleased to give us his Son, his gospel, his Holy Spirit, to qualify us for, and bring us to, the enjoyment of himself…The word ‘blessed’ is a signal to dig deeper, to say something about the nature of God behind the good news [of the gospel] being announced…When God is conspicuously Godlike, and shines forth with the comprehensive majesty that belongs to the divine life, we call that the divine glory. What the glory of God is outwardly, the blessedness of God is inwardly. It answers the question, ‘What is it like to possess all of the perfections of God in their totality?’ To have these perfections is to be blessed…it is the foundation of creaturely blessedness: Because God is immeasurably blessed, creatures can be blessed in their proper measure.” (2) Paul was caught up in the Spirit, seeing God as He truly is, perfectly blessed and independently sufficient. Yet God does not use his independence to separate himself from us. Instead, he generously shares his blessedness with us. 

God’s Independent Blessedness

We get caught up in wanting to be independent. Older folks won’t give up their cars, and younger people want to work without too much accountability from a boss who hovers. Kids want phones, and toddlers want to do what they want to do. But God alone, who is genuinely independent, models biblical interdependence and freedom under his sovereign grace in Christ. Jesus, who could have been satisfied to remain in heaven, chose to give up his independence for our sakes. God “who is blessed in himself, in his Son and Spirit, in the perfections of his nature; who is God all-sufficient, has enough in himself for himself, and for all his creatures; who is the fountain and the author of all blessedness, temporal, spiritual, and eternal, which any of them are, or shall be possessed of: and only Potentate…his kingdom rules over all other kingdoms; and he has his power and government from himself, whereas all other potentates have their power from him.” (3) “…he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords…” (1 Timothy 6:15) “God is blessed without reference to us And the notion that blessedness belongs essentially to God, without reference to creatures and without waiting to see how the world process is going to work out…For [Friedrich ] Schleiermacher, all Christian theology had to be derived from a consciousness of having been redeemed, so every doctrine already bore the marks of God being engaged with us redemptively. There was no way to back out of the system and say anything about God in Himself without reference to us: God was always with reference to us. But at least in the mode of praise and adoration, a doctrine like blessedness requires us to say what God is in himself, leaving ourselves quite definitely out of the picture…The situation is exactly similar to the doctrine of the immanent Trinity, where we admit that God would have been Father, Son, and Holy Spirit even if the Father had never sent the Son or Holy Spirit. God is blessed without reference to us. With these doctrines about the eternal God, there is a need to hold your breath and admit it’s not about you.” (4)

When I ask one of our staff members, “How are you,” he always responds with, “I’m blessed.” But he’s not referring to anything he has or has done. He thanks God for knowing him and his knowledge of Christ. Unfortunately, though, most people who say they are blessed are talking about something they possess or can do with God’s help. But what about when we don’t have anything special to report? Are we still blessed? The answer must be yes if we belong to Christ because Christ is blessed. Paul understood God’s unique, divine glory and blessedness. But perhaps we’re more like Job, who thought he knew the Lord fully only to have his understanding of God exposed as incomplete. May God begin to work in us to transform our understanding of His blessedness through his glory. Let’s look forward to ending 2022 with a higher, more complete view of our Lord and our blessedness in him. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7) “And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.” (Job 42:12)

Related Scripture: Job 37:22-23; 38:4-7, 19-21; 42:1-5; Psalm 9:10; 104:1-3; Romans 9:5; 2 Corinthians 11:31; 1 John 3:2; Revelation 17:14.

Notes

  1. Swinnock, George, “The Blessed and Boundless God,” Reformation Heritage Books, 2014, Kindle Edition.
  2. Sanders, Fred, “The Gospel of the Glory of the Blessed God [Part 1],” Reformation 21, January 2015. https://www.reformation21.org/articles/the-gospel-of-the-glory-of-the-blessed-god.php
  3. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Timothy 6:15-16, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1-timothy-6.html
  4. Sanders, Fred, “How to Teach the Doctrine of Blessedness [Part 4],” January 27, 2015, Reformation 21—https://www.reformation21.org/articles/how-to-teach-the-doctrine-of-the-blessedness-of-god-part-4.php

January 6, 2022

Repenting Year In and Year Out

Did you have Christmas visitors who brought their dogs with them last weekend? I hear about family gatherings where there are up to seven dogs in the house when everyone is together. It can get pretty crazy and I hear people say they wish their relatives would train their dogs. Living in a one-bedroom apartment in a retirement community means that I don’t have many visitors at home. I do realize my dog’s inability to obey and the need to keep training him, but I am reluctant because it’s the last thing I feel like doing when I am alone at home. It’s easier to forget it, until I need him to obey me. Likewise, it’s natural for us also to get comfortable with our responses to God’s Word at an average level of obedience. Instead we ought to be aware of our need to continually examine our obedience to God, recognizing areas where we have become comfortable with resistance, rebelliousness, or partial obedience. Only by meditating on Jesus’s perfect righteousness and love can we see where we fall short, and yes, we are always falling short. But God, in his love and mercy, through his Spirit, provides forgiveness and works in us to change for the better. If we don’t admit our shortcomings and embrace his sanctification, we will live our entire lives unable to obey as fully as we should. James, cautions us to remember the teaching we have received and put it to use. He writes, ”…receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (1:21-25) We are blessed when we put God’s Word to work, including regular confession and the resulting repentance. This passage couldn’t be more appropriate to end our year of study on repentance since biblical “blessedness” is the topic for my 2022 devotions.

Doing After Hearing—Repenting After Confession

“If we heard a sermon every day of the week, and an angel from heaven were the preacher, yet, if we rested in hearing only, it would never bring us to heaven. Mere hearers are self-deceivers; and self-deceit will be found the worst deceit at last…Let the word of truth be carefully attended to, and it will set before us the corruption of our nature, the disorders of our hearts and lives; and it will tell us plainly what we are. Our sins are the spots the law discovers: Christ’s blood is the laver the gospel shows. But in vain do we hear God’s word, and look into the gospel glass, if we go away, and forget our spots, instead of washing them off; and forget our remedy, instead of applying to it.” (1) Confession is good, but repentance is better. It is a relief to have God forgiveness after a confession. But looking back and seeing that other sins are no longer present is even better. However, before we can expect to repent, with God’s help, by the Spirit’s power in us, we need to “…receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (1:21) “Hearing the word without action is self-deceptive, while hearing that results in doing the word is a blessing. Being doers of the word, and not hearers only is the only proper response to the Word of God (not only the gospel but the entirety of Scripture), allowing it to take root in one’s life.” (2) James exhorts God’s people to meekly receive and use God’s perfect, liberating Word by God’s power for perseverance and eternal blessedness. Likewise, we should continue to receive Scriptural commands with humility, remembering who we are in Christ, freed from condemnation and those who persevere, blessed by him.

Putting Conviction of Sin Into Action

James continues, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” (1:23-24) “When one sees imperfections (as when looking in a mirror), common sense says something should be done about it.” (3) It’s at simple as that—if I look in the mirror and see my hair out of place before going to a meeting, I am going to fix it. To confess of a sin and not ask God to help me repent is much worse than doing nothing about my messy hair. Working to cover my bald spots is natural for me as a woman at my age. But there will come a time when I won’t be able to hide them, like men who have to accept them. It’s good to be who and what we are, rather than try to cover up our insufficiencies or failures. After all, God sees everything about us, all the time. Confession should be a time when we see ourselves as God sees us. It’s only then that we can tell where we fall short and need his help to put the gospel to work. When we will continue to receive Scriptural commands with humility, remembering who we are in Christ, freed from condemnation and those who persevere, we are blessed by God with peace and joy. “God is after our heart and mind. He wants us to love Him with all our heart and with all our mind (Matthew 23:37)… It’s so familiar to hear about how much the Lord forgives sin, and perhaps that’s the ultimate expression of His safety (safety from His wrath), but rarely do we talk about this aspect of His character. There is safety in God…If God is bringing the sweet grace of conviction, He will provide the sweet grace of escape, forgiveness, and repentance.” (4)

The Blessing of Repentance 

“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (v. 25) In James, the law of liberty refers to the gospel, and of course, the ultimate blessing is eternal life in Christ that we start living at the moment of regeneration. The gift of salvation isn’t just for later, when we are on our deathbeds, but is to be lived now as the best possible life we can have with the indwelling Holy Spirit. As I considered this truth, I landed in Psalms 91:14-16. “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” “Long life is a blessing frequently promised to the righteous in the Old Testament, but the promise is not necessarily for a prolongation of days but rather for a complete or full life…These verses also make a point that has been developed several times already—the promises are for those who trust in or love God. Therefore, they are blessings that some believers miss out on, simply because they are always fretting and do not trust God as they should.” (5) “Faith lays hold upon the Lord Jesus with a firm and determined grasp…Christ Jesus never ceases to strengthen and sustain faith by the loving embrace and all-sufficient support of His eternal arms. Here, then, is established a living, sensible, and delightful union which casts forth streams of love, confidence, sympathy, complacency, and joy, whereof both the bride and bridegroom love to drink. When the soul can evidently perceive this oneness between itself and Christ, the pulse may be felt as beating for both, and the one blood as flowing through the veins of each. Then is the heart as near heaven as it can be on earth, and is prepared for the enjoyment of the most sublime and spiritual kind of fellowship.” (6) “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.” (Galatians 2:20) I’ll keep training my dog, GG (God’s Gift), since his job is to bless others who enjoy his calmness, which increases daily. Hopefully, my spiritual growth will be as evident as his physical transformation. “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” (Proverbs 4:18) Happy New Year!

Related Scripture: Psalm 1; Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 8:21, 28; John 13:17; Romans 2:13; 1 Corinthians 15:2; Galatians 5:1, 13; James 2:12-20; 3:13; 1 Peter 2:16.

Notes

  1. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, James 1:22-25, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/james-1.html
  2. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, James 1:21-22, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  3. ESV Study Bible Notes, James 1:23–24, Ibid.
  4. Newbell, Trillia J., “Fear and Faith,” p. 31, Moody Publishers, Kindle Edition
  5. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series,” Psalms 91:14-16, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  6. Spurgeon, Charles, “Morning and Evening Devotions,” December 28 Morning, Barbour Books, 2018.

December 30, 2021

Prepared to Humbly and Joyfully Worship Christ

Every year I struggle with my devotion at two particular times: Easter and Christmas. But after the struggle comes the blessing of having been brought closer to God through my studies of Scripture. This devotion is no exception; tying repentance to the worship of Christ at his first incarnation is a challenge. While many Christians struggle, grieving over lost ones, or are ill, hospitalized, or emotionally weak, I think that most of us rebel against the idea of intentionally dealing with difficulties while the world continually invites us to buy gifts, party, and make culturally traditional meals. But I have a friend who has been leading a GriefShare* group in our church. She was widowed a few years ago and felt compelled to continue working through her grief over this Christmas season, challenging as it is. Some of us need to follow her example, so our grief doesn’t prevent us from worshipping Christ; instead, it pushes us closer to him for comfort. Others need to remove hindrances to worship, such as distractions or anxieties about 2022, over which we have no control, repenting of our stress and fears. Scripture encourages us to do whatever it takes to be Christ-worshippers. The wise men traveling from the east are good models. They studied, prepared their gifts, and traveled far, searching for Jesus, to humbly worship him at his birth. Let’s do whatever it takes for us to draw close to Jesus in humility, prepared to worship him as the promised Messiah, fulfilling Old Testament prophesy.

Planning for Worship

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2) John Gill writes, “According to the Ethiopians, these wise men were three, whose names they give us; the name of him that offered the gold, was Annoson; he that offered the frankincense, was Allytar; and he that offered the myrrh, Kyssade. The Papists call them the three kings of Colen, and say they lie buried in that place.” (1) Specificity about Scriptural references gives us the ability to defend God’s Word and our faith in our Savior rather than yield to the cynicism of unbelievers. The Bible contains 456 details about the Messiah in 333 prophecies, written before 400 BC and 1400 BC. Dr. D. James Kennedy went on to say that the mathematical probability of only 48 prophecies being fulfilled is like packing a marked electron into a line of electrons one inch long, counting them at 4 per second for 19 million years, day and night. They would cover the whole earth, making a line 38 trillion miles long around it. Multiply that number of electrons by a billion. If a blind man from a spaceship can pick out the marked electron, this is the probability of one man fulfilling 48 Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. (2) “The wise men likely traveled with a large number of attendants and guards for the long journey, which would have taken several weeks. For example, if they had come from Babylon by the main trade route of about 800 miles, averaging 20 miles per day, the trip would have taken about 40 days.” (3) The wise men’s journey to find the promised king was a direct fulfillment of Scripture. “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.” (Isaiah 60:4) Any doubts we have about God’s plans coming to pass, as specified in the Bible, should be given up, overwhelmed by the fact that Jesus came as promised and the events that surrounded his birth were foretold. Who are we not to worship Jesus in humility and repent of our little outbursts of cynicism or doubt?

Motivated and Prepared to Worship Christ

We all admit that shopping for gifts and making traditional Christmas goodies in no way prepares us to worship Christ. There are other things we should do to prepare for worshipping him. One way is to remember that we are celebrating the most important birthday in the history of the world. We need gifts for Christ, not for others or ourselves, unless they encourage faith in him. The wise men dropped everything in their everyday lives, brought the most expensive presents to him, and used their resources to set out on a long trip. What will we give to Jesus today? Teachers of preschoolers know this poem [or song] originally commissioned by a children’s choir in England to raise money for a children’s hospice: “What can I give Him as small as I am? If I were a shepherd, I’d give Him a lamb. If I were a wise man, I’d do my part. I know what I’ll give Him, I’ll give Him my heart.” (4) This two-part children’s chorus asks the question any child might ask about what gift to give at Christmas, and answers our question about what to give Christ—our hearts, fully devoted, cleansed by his righteous blood of our worldly anxieties or attractions. Recognizing our smallness at this time leads to rejoicing in Christ’s infinite, eternal love, redemption, and rulership, preparing us to worship him as the promised Messiah, who fulfills prophesy. We will appreciate what the prophets proclaimed, knowing that Jesus will do all the Bible declares during these last times between his incarnations. “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17) God’s joy is ours in Christ.

Worshipping the Messiah in Humility With Joy

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” (Matthew 10:10-11) “Very probably before this, their hearts were sad, their countenances dejected, and they [were] greatly discouraged, having taken so great a journey, and as yet to so little purpose. They had been at Jerusalem, where they expected to have found him that was born king of the Jews; they had been at court, and conversed with men of the greatest figure and intelligence, and could get no tidings of him; people of all ranks and degrees seemed to be troubled at the account they brought; no body cared to go along with them to Bethlehem: all these circumstances no doubt were discouraging to them; but as soon as they saw the star their spirits revived, joy filled their hearts, cheerfulness appeared in their countenances; and they pursued their journey with inexpressible delight, till they came to the place where the illustrious person was they were seeking after…Upon the sight of the young child, they fell down on their knees or faces to the ground, agreeably to the custom of their country, and worshipped him as a king; giving him the same civil honour and respect, as they were wont to do to their own kings and princes.” (5) “Is a soul busy, seeking after Christ? Would it worship him, and does it say, Alas! I am a foolish and poor creature, and have nothing to offer? Nothing! Hast thou not a heart, though unworthy of him, dark, hard, and foul? Give it to him as it is, and be willing that he use and dispose of it as it pleases him; he will take it, and will make it better, and thou shalt never repent having given it to him.” (6) But repent, we must, of our lack of humble, joyful worship as Christ deserves, by removing all obstacles; it’s a most worthy struggle. We may have a sad countenance or a painful body, but our hearts and souls shall sing with delight at the incarnations of our Savior, both past and future. “Thou who art love beyond all telling, Savior and King, we worship thee. Emmanuel, within us dwelling, Make us what thou wouldst have us be. Thou who art love beyond all telling, Savior and King, we worship thee.” (7) “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” (Zephaniah 3:14)


Related Scripture: Genesis 25:6; 43:11; Numbers 24:17; 1 Kings 4:30; Psalms 72:10; Isaiah 60:6; Jeremiah 23:5; 30:9; Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 2:7, 16; Revelation 18:13; 22:16.

Notes:

*For more information about GriefShare: https://www.griefshare.org

  1. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Matthew 2:10-11, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/matthew-2.html
  2. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Matthew 2:10-11, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-2.html
  3. Kennedy, James D, Coral Ridge Ministries DVD, “Is Jesus God?” A sermon on “Prophecies Concerning the Messiah” (This sermon may no longer be available, as the old DVD was given to me by a friend, whose daughter had purchased it years ago.)
  4. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Matthew 2:1-2, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  5. Baptist Hymnal, #208, https://hymnary.org/text/what_can_i_give_him_poor_as_i_am
  6. Gill, Ibid.
  7. Henry, Ibid.
  8. Hymn, Houghton, Frank, “Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendor,”

December 23, 2021

Repenting of Nonchalance Toward Christ

What do you feel strongly about? Are you concerned about the environment, abortion, Covid, your country’s politics, or cultural re-definitions of gender and marriage? What do you feel indifferent about? Maybe some of these same things, or possibly what is happening in the world in foreign nations, that doesn’t directly affect you? Most terms for indifference, including apathy, nonchalance, disregard, unconcern, obliviousness, or dismissiveness have a negative connotation. But we might be unconcerned with something wisely and biblically. Not being overly concerned about how many gifts we give at Christmas or having the perfect meal on Christmas Day is probably a good thing. Being oblivious to particular musical or clothing fads will likely serve us well since they come and go so quickly and have no eternal value. However, as Christians, we are called to care about the world and the people of the world in a particular way. At Christmas time, we ought to be demonstrating Christ’s love for people more than love for the world’s latest shiny things. In his letter to the Laodicean church, through the apostle John, Christ firmly asserts his offense at and will not tolerate the indifference in his people who consider themselves independent, wealthy, and successful when they are spiritually poor, blind, and naked. As we delve into the Laodiceans’ apathy, let us heed Christ’s warning to repent of our indifference toward him when we think of ourselves as independent, successful, and wealthy and instead be zealous for Christ this Christmas.

Better to Be Hot or Cold

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.'” (Revelation 3:15-19) “Some commentators are distressed that Jesus would prefer coldness to a lukewarm faith. The reason, however, is not hard to fathom. It is perhaps most offensive of all for people to affirm the glories of Christ but then to live as though they meant little. Stott writes: ‘If he is the Son of God who became a human being, died for our sins, and was raised from death; if Christmas Day, Good Friday, and Easter Day are more than meaningless anniversaries, then nothing less than our wholehearted commitment to Christ will do.'” (1)

The Problem of Independence

“The church of Laodicea evidently took [its] character from the city as a whole, which was renowned for its wealth. When it was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60, the citizens declined assistance from Rome and rebuilt their city from their own resources. But, however admirable this independence might be in material things, in the spiritual realm self-sufficiency means destitution; a church’s true sufficiency must come from God, who alone supplies spiritual riches, clothing and health. (2) And we are his church. ”Contenting herself with these external things: true believers, as considered in Christ, stand in need of nothing indeed, they are complete in him, and have everything in him; but, as considered in themselves, they are daily in need of daily food for their souls, as for their bodies, of fresh light and life, strength and comfort, and of new supplies of grace…true believers account themselves wretched, as the Apostle Paul did, on account of indwelling sin, and the plague of their own hearts, which the members of this church, the greater part of them, were ignorant of.” (3) After we look to Christ for his grace and mercy, we then look back at ourselves with new eyes to see our need. The believers in Laodicea turned their eyes to eternals for gratification. 

The Problem of Cultural Conformity

“How did the Laodiceans become so lukewarm? Jesus answers that they had come to a false estimation of themselves on the basis of their outward blessings…The Laodiceans looked on their favorable circumstances and considered their riches as true wealth…The problem was not their wealth but what riches had done to them…[Also] notice that the Laodiceans drew their attitude from the secular culture around them. This happens frequently to Christians. In a sophisticated culture, Christians take on airs of superiority. In a patriotic setting, we become preoccupied with earthly kingdoms…Christians should therefore be on guard against adopting the spirit of the age and of the place where we live, instead cultivating a biblical ethos and the agenda of Jesus Christ.” (4) “Cold and hot water represent something positive, for cold water refreshes in the heat, and hot water is a tonic when one is chilly. (5) Christ, who provides these resources, is offended by and will not tolerate our apathy toward him. At Christmas, we should be exceedingly zealous in our faith, more than captured by the world’s pressures to buy and party, so that others may be drawn to true, everlasting joy in Christ. Repenting of our shortcomings now will lead to greater joy as we approach the celebration of Christ’s incarnation to redeem his people. “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” (Rev. 3:18)  “The truly repentant cannot say that they have need of nothing., for they know absolutely that they are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. In true repentance and faith they have bought the refiner’s gold, they are made rich by the God of heaven, the shame of their nakedness is covered with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness, and their eyes are so anointed that they see and blush over every sin.” (6)

Zeal to Repent 

“Zeal was what was wanting in this church; which is nothing else than hot, fervent, and ardent love, love in a flame; whereas she was neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm, Christ would have her be ‘zealous’ for God; for his cause and interest, for his Gospel, ordinances, and the discipline of his house, and against everything that is evil; against all false worship, all errors in doctrine, all sin and iniquity; and to be zealous of good works, and in the worship of God, both private and public: and ‘repent’; in an evangelical way, of her lukewarmness, remissness, and supineness; of her pride, arrogance, and vain boastings of herself; and of her self-sufficiency, self-dependence, and self-confidence.” (7) “Repentance is a settled determination to leave sin. Not a faint velleity, but a resolved vow…There must be no hesitation, no consulting with flesh and blood, Had I best leave my sin or no?…this resolution must be built upon the strength of Christ more than our own. It must be humble resolution. As David, when he went against Goliath put off his presumptuous confidence as well as his armour—‘I come to thee in the name of the Lord.’ (1 Samuel 17:45)—so we must go against our Goliath [like]-lusts in the strength of Christ…So, being conscious of our own inability to leave sin, let us get Christ to be bound with us and engage his strength for the mortifying of corruption. “ (8) Christ is offended by and will not tolerate indifference in his people who consider themselves independent, wealthy, and successful when they are poor, blind, and naked. He is worthy of our enthusiastic, fervent worship at Christmas.

“Wealth, luxury, and ease can make people feel confident, satisfied, and complacent. But no matter how much you possess or how much money you make, you have nothing if you don’t have a vital relationship with Christ. How does your current level of wealth affect your spiritual desire? Instead of centering your life primarily on comfort and luxury, find your true riches in Christ.” (9) Can you, will you focus on Christ more this Christmas season rather than spending most of your time trying to find the right gifts? We don’t have to give up all the delights of the season but should feed on God’s Word, in addition to enjoying ham, eggnog, and cookies. Let’s repent of indifference toward God when we think of ourselves as independent, successful, and wealthy, and instead be zealous for Christ this Christmas. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Related Scripture: Proverbs 3:12; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 2:5, 16, 21; 3:3; 16:15.

Notes

  1. Phillips, Richard D., “Revelation—Reformed Expository Commentary,” p. 154-6, P & R Publishing, 2017.
  2. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Revelation 3, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.
  3. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Revelation 3:17, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/revelation-3.html
  4. Phillips, Ibid.
  5. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Revelation 3:15-16, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  6. Roberts, Richard Owen, “Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel,” p. 191, Crossway, 2002.
  7. Gill ibid.
  8. Watson, Thomas, “The Doctrine of Repentance,” p. 120, Banner of Truth Trust, 2016 (1668).
  9. “Life Application Bible, New International Version,” Revelation 3:17, Tyndale House Publishers, 1991.

December 16, 2021

Repentance After and For Procrastination

Do you procrastinate about doing difficult things? Has stalling become your status quo? Procrastinating is something we do to ourselves and may affect others significantly. Let’s see what some experts say about procrastination. “Etymologically, ‘procrastination’ is derived from the Latin verb procrastinare — to put off until tomorrow. But it’s more than just voluntarily delaying. Procrastination is also derived from the ancient Greek word akrasia—doing something against our better judgment. ‘It’s self-harm,’ said Dr. Piers Steel…When we procrastinate, we’re not only aware that we’re avoiding the task in question, but also that doing so is probably a bad idea. And yet, we do it anyway.’ ‘This is why we say that procrastination is essentially irrational,’ said Dr. Fuschia Sirois, ‘It doesn’t make sense to do something you know is going to have negative consequences’…Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks…Over time, chronic procrastination has not only productivity costs, but measurably destructive effects on our mental and physical health, including chronic stress, general psychological distress and low life satisfaction, symptoms of depression and anxiety, poor health behaviors, chronic illness and even hypertension and cardiovascular disease.'” (1) Confessional procrastination is even more serious, including building guilty, so we shouldn’t shrug it off as a minor character flaw. My own habit of procrastinating in college convinced me of the stress and dissatisfaction resulting from spending entire nights on below-average writing to finish papers by their deadlines. In a few weeks, we will usher in 2022. But first, we are celebrating our Savior’s incarnation. Are you ready? Is your conscience clear? Have you repented for something in 2021 that you should have shed months ago? Shouldn’t we approach Christmas with joy, hope, love, and peace, as the advents instruct us? Do you make New Year’s resolutions for the future, dependent upon your human efforts? Wouldn’t repentance, with God’s blessing and power, be of greater value? God calls us to seek him, leave ungodly ways and thoughts, and return to him for his compassionate, extravagant forgiveness. Ideally, we should do this as soon as we realize we have wandered away from his will and ways.

God’s Extravagant Forgiveness

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7) God’s forgiveness is abundant, even extravagant; it exceeds what is humanly reasonable. A. W. Tozer writes, ”As a young chap, I used to sneak onto one of the boxcars and ride from one town to another. I often would get under, on the possum belly of an old steel car, and ride. When I was converted, what I had done bothered me. So I wrote to the traffic manager: ‘Dear Sir, I have been converted to Jesus Christ and I’m a Christian now and want to straighten up my life. A little while back, I rode possum belly from here to there, and now I would like you to send me a bill. I want to pay up.’ I received a letter from an official that read: ‘Dear Sir, your letter has been received. We note that you have been converted and want to live a Christian life. We want to compliment you on becoming a Christian. Now, about what you owe us. We rather suppose you did not get very good service on our line when you traveled, and therefore we are going to just forget the whole thing. Sincerely yours, Traffic Manager.’ Actually, I did not have enough money to pay all I owed the railroad line. But God is good, and my conscience was clean and free.” (2) Just like Tozer, we owe a debt that sin demands, after a lifetime of riding on the “under belly” of life, which doesn’t serve us well, and which we cannot pay. Sometimes, after being redeemed, we crawl back under there, out of habit or to hide from a perceived threat. God calls us to seek him, leave ungodly ways and thoughts and return to him for his compassionate, extravagant forgiveness. We respond to God’s invitation by acknowledging and confessing our sins, rejoicing in his compassion and extravagant absolution.

This is the Time to Stop Procrastinating

“Here is a gracious offer of pardon, and peace, and of all happiness. It shall not be in vain to seek God, now his word is calling to us, and his Spirit is striving with us. But there is a day coming when he will not be found. There may come such a time in this life; it is certain that at death and judgment the door will be shut…To repent is to return to our Lord, against whom we have rebelled. If we do so, God will multiply to pardon, as we have multiplied to offend.” (3) “The author of Ecclesiastes spoke very potently when he declared that there is an appointed time for everything and an appointed time for every event under heaven. While he specified such things as birth and death, planting and uprooting, tearing down and building up, a time to search a time to give up as lost (Ecc. 3:1-8), he might well have included a time for repentance and a time for judgment. Isaiah the prophet captured the urgency of timely repentance [55:6-7]. These words echo an earlier statement by the same prophet: ‘Thus says the Lord, “In a favorable time I have answered you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” (Isaiah 49:8)…Our daily lives provide evidence of the validity of this principle of timely repentance. None of us are so foolish as to suppose that it is always a good time to go shopping, to invest money, to telephone a relative, or to play baseball. For everything there is a time and a season. The farmer is not so foolish as to try to plow the land when it is frozen solid. He does not sow vegetable seeds in the fall, nor does he plan got gather a great harvest in the springtime…In all of life, there is a time to act and a time when it is too late for action. ‘Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:13-14)'” (4) “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:15) 

God’s Heart and Mercy for Repenters

“God Himself is grieved over the failure of His own people to repent, and He has issued many passionate calls for them to repent and turn back to Him. In stirring words , the command goes forth [in]…Isaiah 55:6-7. These words of the prophet go to the very heart of repentance, for repentance must include: seeking the Lord, calling upon Him, forsaking wicked ways, and returning to Him…God’s heart must be throbbing with pain…[But] only those who sees what God sees can feel what God feels…Men only preach repentance when they have come under the burden of the Lord and see the human heart as God sees it.” (Roberts, p. 45) It is for repentance that Christ came, as the One promised by the prophet Isaiah. As we prepare to celebrate his birth, as we “prepare our hearts to receive him,” repentant for unconfessed sins of 2021, be they mental judgments, attitudes, or relational offenses be close in view, to clear our consciences for joyful worship at Christmas. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

Related Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Jeremiah 26:2-3; Col. 1:10-12; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; 2 Timothy 2:1.

Notes:

  1. N.Y. Times, “Why You Procrastinate,” 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/why-you-procrastinate-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-self-control.html
  2. Tozer, A. W., “My Daily Pursuit Devotions for Every Day,” December 5, Bethany House, 2013.
  3. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible,” Isaiah 55:6-7, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/isaiah-55.html
  4. Roberts, Richard Owen, “Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel,” p. 241, Crossway, 2002.

December 9, 2021

Repentance Should Increase With the Increase of God’s Mercies

The season of sales is upon us. But I don’t usually buy clothing as gifts. However, the stores where I occasionally purchase clothing for myself are continually sending me discounts, catalogs, and special “deals” on clothing at this time of the year. I would normally wait for the sales to purchase needed items in the past, but this year I am on a crusade not to buy any new clothing. Over the weekend, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I have resisted the borage of text messages and emails. Although I have some “extra” cash for certain necessary expenses, previously, I spent it on nonessentials and was strapped later when I needed the funds for a medical or other expense. This year I am determined to resist the temptation. I am trying to remember my convictions and pay attention to God’s provisions as a good steward. Fortunately, every day, from the time of our redemption in Christ, God gives us more mercy, grace, and power to overcome our sins as He sanctifies us. Jesus taught his disciples to pay attention to what he taught, according to the grace God has given them. And the more God gives, the more responsibility we have to be good stewards of it. The more money we have, the more we can give to charity or save for our children’s education. The more peace we have, the more we will reach out to others, and the more comfort we have, the more we can comfort others. And the more we confess and repent, the more we will recognize the gift of God’s forgiveness and transformation in Christ, for His glory, and in service to him and others.

Paying Attention

Jesus taught his disciples to listen carefully to apply all that he taught with an abundance of grace and mercy. At least five times in Matthew and Luke, the apostles recorded Jesus’s admonition to listen carefully to what he said, implying that doing so includes applying his teachings to live out the gospel more effectively. “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Mark 4:24-25; see also Matthew 13:12; 25:29; Luke 8:18; 19:26.) “Measure refers to the attitude with which the word of Jesus is being received. If the hearer embraces Jesus’s message of the kingdom in a rich and profound way, then still more will be added–that is, God will take up residence in that heart and give increased understanding and blessing, both in this age and in the age to come…the person who welcomes God’s rule and presence will be given more of God’s intended fruit; the one who depends on his own resources without receiving the word (the one who has not) will lose even that (what he has will be taken away).” (1) My illustration, albeit imperfect, is a way for me to remember this principle; money that I spend on nonessentials is “taken away” from me for those times when it is required. “All true Christians are regarded as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God…Moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy” (1 Cor. 4:1-2). Peter exhorted us ‘as each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace’ (1 Peter 4:10). Christ put a very strong focus on stewardship and on using whatever is given…With every increase of mercy your receive from God there will be an accompanying increase of responsibility. This principle is powerfully stated by Christ…As you grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and receive more and more of His mercies with each passing day, your  repentance must keep pace. Any failure here is an open demonstration of a lack of love and appreciation for the boundless mercies of our Lord Jesus Christ. Tragic is the case of any individual whose repentance does not increase with the gifts and graces of God he daily receives.” (2) We ought to show our appreciation of Christ’s grace and mercy through our increasingly deep contrition and sincere repentance. Let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that we have been good stewards if we don’t apply God’s daily mercies sincerely. 

Materialism at Christmas Can Rob Us

We should not let ourselves be deceived, thinking that we can be materialistic consumers spiritually at Christmas. At no time did Jesus ever encourage his disciples to focus on material provisions as consumers, but always as grace from God. “Our hearts must go along with our confessions. The hypocrite confesses sin but loves it, like a thief who confesses to stolen goods, yet loves stealing. How many confess pride and covetousness with their lips but roll them as honey under their tongue…Repentance is a grace, and must have its daily operation as well as other graces…A true penitent has ever something within him to turn from; he can never get near enough to God; no, not so near him as once he was; and therefore he is still turning and turning that he may get nearer and nearer to him, who is his chief good and his only happiness, optimum maximum, the best and the greatest. They are every day a-crying out, ‘O wretched men that we are, who shall deliver us from this body of death!’ (Rom. 7:24). They are still sensible of sin, and still conflicting with sin, and still sorrowing for sin, and still loathing of themselves for sin. Repentance is no transient act—but a continued act of the soul.” (3) The Christmas season is an appropriate time to remember all that Christ did from his birth for us. During his three short years of ministry on earth, Jesus taught his disciples to listen carefully to him and apply all he taught for abundant grace and mercy. We can show our appreciation of Christ’s grace and mercy through deep contrition and sincere repentance.

Abounding in Grace

Jesus said “he that has Gospel light and knowledge, and makes a proper use of it, he shall have more; his path shall be as the path of the just, which shines more and more to the perfect day; the means of grace and knowledge shall be blessed, to him, he attending constantly thereon, that he shall arrive to such a knowledge of the Son of God as to be a perfect man…and shall come to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, shall grow up to maturity, and be a man in understanding: and he that has the truth of grace, though its beginning is but small, yet that making and keeping him humble, as it always does, he shall have more grace, or that he has shall open and enlarge in its actings and exercises; his faith shall grow exceedingly, he shall abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost; and his love to God, and Christ, and to the saints, shall be greater and greater.” (4)

What Will You Give Jesus on His Birthday?

I often ask children this question to turn their thinking to Christ rather than themselves. After all, it is his birthday and not theirs. But I have also learned to ask myself the question as Christmas comes into view. This Christmas, I desire to have a more spiritual view of Christ, which I believe results from more repentance throughout the year. The more we repent, the more we can receive and put to use God’s mercy and grace. Our darkness from sin turns to light through his forgiveness and encouragement. “Whoever has the true grace of God implanted in him, has a saving knowledge of Christ, and a spiritual acquaintance with the doctrines of the Gospel, shall have more grace given him; he shall grow in the knowledge of Christ, and the Spirit of truth shall lead him into all truth: and he shall have more abundance: of grace, light, knowledge, and experience: all grace shall be made to abound towards him; he shall be filled with all the fulness of God, and shall arrive to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; and his light shall shine more and more unto the perfect day.” (5) This Christmas, do you want more stuff to give to others or more grace to share the light of Christ with them? Repentance won’t increase our material possessions but will dramatically increase God’s grace to overflow to others. “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

Related Scripture: Psalm 51; Matthew 5:15; 7:2; 13:12; 25:29; Luke 6:38; 8:16-18.

Notes

  1. “English Standard Version Study Bible Notes,” Mark 4:24-25, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Roberts, Richard Owen, “Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel,” pp. 296-7, Crossway, 2002.
  3. Watson, Thomas, “The Doctrine of Repentance,” pp. 29-30, Banner of Truth Trust, 2016 (1668).
  4. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Mark 4:25, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/mark-4.html
  5. Gill, Ibid, Matthew 13:12, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-13.html. 

December 2, 2021

Appropriate Thankfulness With Repentance

When I walked by a woman’s house yesterday with my dog, her two barking canines brought her outside. I’m glad, because we had a friendly little chat. She recovered from Covid about two weeks ago and was staying home on Thanksgiving because she didn’t want to chance to infect her grandchildren. Perhaps she was overly cautious, but I think her conscience would have bothered her if she was with them today. I’ve been thinking about whether or not I have a clear conscience lately, and frankly, I don’t—about one personal matter that only affects me directly. But my guilty conscience may indirectly affect my other relationships and cause me to be a little less thankful than I should be today. Most of us feel guilty about something and hardly pay attention to the little voice talking to us about the thing or person we’ve neglected or wronged. In his book, “Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience,” Christopher Ash says one feature of our conscience is that speaks with a voice that is independent of us. “J. I. Packer says that ‘conscience is largely autonomous in its operation…It normally speaks independently of our will, and sometimes, indeed, contrary to our will. And when it speaks, it is in a strange way distinct from us.” (1) In our passage today, there are two men, one with a clear conscience, who should have realized his guilt, and one with a guilty conscience, who was relieved of his guilt after confessing. Confession brings relief and the ability to repent for a clear conscience. Christ calls us to be counter-cultural, to fight our tendency to tolerate guilt, to confess our guilt and  repent.

Both Men Praying

“[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man 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.'” (Luke 18:9-14) “The Pharisee, proud as he was, could not think himself above prayer; nor could the publican, humble as he was, think himself shut out from the benefit of it; but we have reason to think that these went with different views. The Pharisee went to the temple to pray because it was a public place, more public than the corners of the streets, and therefore he should have many eyes upon him, who would applaud his devotion…The publican went to the temple because it was appointed to be a house of prayer for all people (Is. 56:7).” (2) Unfortunately, many of us have relegated all the Pharisees to a group of stubborn unbelievers with no faith. I will refer to the Pharisee as a man because, in truth, the Pharisees were the most religious people of their day among the Jews. After all, here he is praying at the temple. Although this parable is primarily about repenting of unbelief in Christ, we may also be confronted by it for greater, more passionate repentance of our besetting sins. 

The Unrepentant Guilty Man

What irony Jesus uses in this parable—the Pharisee is thanking God arrogantly, being deceived, thinking he has a clear conscience. Jesus compares him to the passionate tax collector, who is also praying but realizing his guilt. “[The Pharisees] were men that prayed, and fasted much, and were great sticklers for the ceremonies of the law, and the traditions of the elders…[But] it scarce deserves the name of a prayer, for in it is only a thanksgiving: indeed, thanksgiving in prayer is right; and had he been a man that had received the grace of God, it would have been right in him to have given thanks to God for it, by which he was made to differ from others: nor would he have been blameworthy, had he thanked God for the good things which he had received from him, or which by his assistance he had done; but nothing of this kind is said by him: he thanks God, in order to exalt himself, and places his righteousness in his own works, and treats all other men in a censorious and disdainful manner; thanking God, or rather blessing himself.” (3) Jesus used this parable to rebuke the Pharisees for their prideful superiority and false thanksgiving in comparison to repentant Gentiles.

The Passionate, Repentant Non-Jew

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man 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.'” (vs. 13-14) He…“smote upon his breast: pointing at the fountain of his sin; expressing by this action, his sorrow, and repentance for it; and an aversion and abhorrence of himself on account of it, joined with indignation and revenge; and he did this to arouse and stir up all the powers and faculties of his soul, to call upon God…against whom he had sinned; with whom there is mercy and forgiveness; and who only can forgive sin; and who has promised that he will: and has proclaimed his name, God, pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin; and has given instances of his forgiving grace and mercy; and therefore the publican was right in addressing him by confession…the publican had greatly the advantage, in the sight of God; an humble demeanour being well pleasing and acceptable to him, when pride, and arrogance, boasting of, and trusting in a man’s own righteousness, are abhorred by him.” (4) Jesus taught his disciples, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) We who are in the kingdom of heaven should imitate the passionate, humble, honest confessional prayer of the tax collector, recognizing our sinfulness, even today, to receive God’s mercy. Our thankfulness should always be founded not on our accomplishments but on God’s goodness, provisions, and providential grace and mercy.

The Difference Repentance Makes

“It is by grace and grace alone that we can ever have access into his presence. All of us stand guilty before the righteousness of God, Pharisee and tax-collector alike. The difference, however, between these two men was not that one was righteous and the other a sinner. They were both sinners. The difference was that the tax-collector knew that he was a sinner, and he repented of his sin…The point at issue here was not the track-record of the Pharisee or tax-collector, but the present attitude of their minds towards God.” (5)

“John Bunyan’s famous allegory, ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ begins with its main character, Christian, suffering under the weight of a heavy burden tied to his back. It causes him distress, slows his movements, prevents him from taking joy in the ordinary blessings of his life, and puts him in danger. His burden, of course, is sin. After trying and failing to rid himself of his burden, Christian finds relief from it at the cross of Christ. And when it rolls away, Christian is immediately refreshed. Bunyan tells us that he was ‘glad and lightsome,’ ‘gave three leaps for joy,’ and went on his way singing. The author of Hebrews likewise describes sin as a clinging weight that keeps us from joyful perseverance in the life of faith. Thankfully, the Lord has warned us of sin’s crushing weight. He has given us his Spirit to help us lay it aside (Rom. 8:13), and he has even given us the enduring testimony of others who have experienced the power of God to free them from sin in their own lives.” (6) What is your attitude toward God today? Have you confessed to be free from a guilty conscience, to give God your best thanksgiving? “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)

Related Scripture: Ezra 9:6; Psalm 25:11; 79:9; Proverbs 30:12; Isaiah 56:7; Daniel 9:18-19; Matthew 5:20; 6:5; 18:3; Luke 11:42-44; 16:15; 2 Corinthians 1:9-10

Notes:

  1. Ash, Christopher B., “Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience,” P&R Publishing, 2014, Kindle Edition.
  2. Roberts, Richard Owen, “Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel,” p. 221, Crossway, 2002.
  3. Sproul, R. C., “A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke’s Gospel,” The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-17), Electronic Book, 2016.
  4. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Luke 18:9-14, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/luke-18.html.
  5. Roberts, ibid.
  6. Hill, Megan, “Contentment: Seeing God’s Goodness,” Day 2, P&R Publishing, 2018.

November 25, 2021

Then Prodigal Son and His Unrepentant Brother

Have you had the experience of seeing something that you pass by all the time and never noticed? It could be a building, or a landscape scene, or perhaps a picture on the wall of your workplace or church. When was the last time you looked at the prints or paintings hanging on the walls of your home? We look at things without really seeing them, like a beautiful sky full of fluffy clouds or birds sitting on a wire. When we pay attention, the things around us speak to us about creation, our world, or even ourselves. Today we will consider the prodigal son’s repentance when he looked around and realized that he was in a pig pen instead of his comfortable father’s home. But even more important is his brother, who was didn’t want to look at the change in his sibling or his father’s joy over his repentance. He was jealous and bitter about the celebration for his wayward but converted brother because he was the “good” one, the elder brother, who probably thought he deserved to be honored above his younger sibling. But he, the older son, had been with his father all along. Jesus taught this parable for the unbelieving Pharisees. They not only didn’t rejoice in the salvation of sinners around them but were bitter and jealous of the attention Jesus was getting in the process. Christians often ask me, a former Jew, how the Jewish people can reject Jesus knowing that he was a Jew? The answer is the same for everyone refuses him, who doesn’t want to look upon him, to receive his offer of redemption. But we who have him, who have been with him, also need to look freshly at Jesus and his offer of sanctification. He invites us to come into his presence, confess our sins, receive forgiveness and rejoice in his gift of ongoing salvation. The unbelieving Pharisees were like the brother of the prodigal son who refused to celebrate and join his repentant brother and father in their joy. Let us not be like them in any way but repent when we falsely presume upon Christ’s grace and mercy without genuinely looking at our stubbornness, independence, and other ungodly lifestyle choices.

Coming to His Senses

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’…And he said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.'” And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” And he arose and came to his father.’” (Luke 15:1-2, 11-20) “No one comes to repentance who does not first come to himself. There is a madness that accompanies sin. The prodigal is blinded. The proliferate is beside himself. Those that turn out of God’s ways are acting foolishly. Every sinner needs to recover his senses. He needs to realize that he was made for better things. The great God omnipotent has a richer life than he has made for himself. God’s aspirations for him are higher than any he can imagine. His only hope of reaching his fullest potential is coming to himself and exercising repentance and faith…The prodigal repented. He got up and went home to his father. He had to go home. He had no other choice. For the prodigal and other sinners like him, there is no repentance without returning home. The prodigal’s father was like our heavenly Father—watching and waiting for the prodigal to come home; ‘he felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him’ (Luke 15:20). As quickly and earnestly as he could, the son wept out his confession… But while the father welcomed the confession and knew how needed and genuine it was, he also knew that a time of celebration had come.” (1)

The Father’s Eager Kiss

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him…[and] said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:21-24) God, our Father, is watching for and embraces the lost elect, rejoicing over them. There is truly no greater joy than the redemption of a lost one, whether 90 years old or a young child convicted of her sin. It is appropriate to have holy joy as heaven celebrates another member of God’s family coming home. This is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who finds and embrace those who are lost. (See other Luke 15 parables). What a contrast this is to the attitude of the older brother and the unbelieving, legalistic Pharisees. They refused to celebrate and join the repentant and Christ in their joy. 

The Older Brother’s Religion of Duty

We rightly rank our initial repentance as superior to any that follow since we wouldn’t confess at all if we have not had that first God-initiated turning to Christ for salvation. However, our continued repentance is also of great value in overcoming our legalistic tendencies, similar to the tightly held rules of the older brother and the Pharisees. Our old nature would have us revert to rule-following, burdensome religion. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing…But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'” (Luke 15:25-32) Paul gives us a little glimpse of God’s heart in his letter to the Romans. “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.” (Romans 9:2-5) “The elder brother would have had another method taken with this younger son: he would have had him soundly whipped with the rod of the law, for his former sins; and sent into the fields along with him to work out his salvation; and not to have a rag put upon him, or a shoe on his foot, or a morsel of bread given him, till he had earned them; but instead of this, to be received and entertained in the manner he was, and so soon, highly provoked him: for he thought such a conduct was unbecoming God, and his moral perfections; and what his brother was undeserving of.” (2)

We Who Are in Christ

The unbelieving Pharisees were like the brother of the prodigal son who refused to celebrate and join his repentant brother and father in their joy. Those who have all the advantages of the Old Covenant should undoubtedly recognize the fulfillment of all God’s promises in Christ. We, who have all the benefits of Christ and his liberating gospel, should certainly appreciate and apply those benefits by confessing and repenting for greater zeal and joy. But when we are confronted with our sin, do we try to beat it out of us, punishing ourselves? Christ would have us reject this false religion that excludes his mercy and grace. “[The true penitent] repents of sin, his spirit rises against it, as one’s blood rises at the sight of him whom he mortally hates…God is never better pleased with us than when we fall out with ourselves for sin.” (3) And, I would add, come to him for forgiveness and the ability to turn away, not only from our sin but from our old religion of trying to repent on our own. When we do that, we are like the younger brother, finding ourselves in a self-made pig pen until we come to our senses—that we belong to Christ, who sanctifies and cleanses us continually by his Spirit. “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:35-36)

Related Scripture: 1 Kings 8:47-48; Psalm 73:21-22; Zechariah 3:3-5; Matthew 21:28–31; Mark 2:16; John 8:35; Ephesians 2:1-10.

Notes

  1. Roberts, Richard Owen, “Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel,” pp. 218-220,  Crossway, 2002.
  2. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Luke 15:30 https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/luke-15.html
  3. Watson, Thomas, “The Doctrine of Repentance,” p. 93, Banner of Truth Trust, 2016 (1668)

November 18, 2021