Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
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And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.
Music has been part of God's plan for worship even before mankind was created. When God asked Job where he had been when the world was created, one of the things He highlighted was the role music played in the celebration of that great work. “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7). God's people did not just bring solemn and silent sacrifices into His presence. Though there is a place for mourning and repentance, there is also a place for joy and song. “Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing” (Psalm 100:2). A heart filled with the Holy Spirit will find it easy to express a love for God in song.
Martin Luther wrote, “Music is the only art, next to theology, that can calm the agitations of the soul, which plainly shows that the devil, the source of anxiety and sadness, flees from the sound of music as he does from religious worship. That is why the Scriptures are full of psalms and hymns, in which praise is given to God. That is why, when we gather round God’s throne in heaven, we shall sing His glory. Music is the perfect way to express our love and devotion to God. It is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” Our responsibility is to make sure the music that we sing, hear and enjoy, whether by ourselves or in a church setting, is honoring to God and based on His Word.
Like every part of our lives, our music must honor and glorify and worship God.
And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.
1 John 3:19
In his classic children's story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, author L. Frank Baum introduced the world to a character named Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs. Though he was actually a small and mild-mannered person, he presented a very different face to the world. As the ruler of the Emerald City, the “Great and Terrible Oz” uses technology to impress his visitors appearing as a huge beast with a deep voice. When Dorothy and her friends enter his presence, they are terrified by what they see and hear, so much so that they can barely speak. When Dorothy's dog Toto knocks over the screen that conceals him, they are shocked to see that he is not at all what they expected.
God is not a pretend character puffing Himself up to look more impressive than He actually is. He actually is mighty and powerful, the Creator of the universe and the ultimate Judge of all mankind. He is high and lifted up and perfectly holy. His glory is beyond human comprehension. Yet because we have been adopted into His family, we do not have to come before Him with fear and trembling. In fact, He invites and instructs us to come into His presence with joy and confidence, not because we are great, but because He is both great and good. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). There is great power in having confidence and assurance in our relationship with God. We do not have to be bound by fear and dread over whether we have done enough to merit His approval. We haven't. We can't. We don't have to. We stand before God in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and that is the source of our courage. We have assurance not because of anything we do or avoid, but because His grace placed us in His family.
The highly exalted God of the universe invites us to call Him Father and come boldly into His presence.
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.
Being saved gives us the ability to resist sin that we did not have before, but it does not guarantee that we will make the right choice. All of us continue to sin even after we are saved. When we do sin, we cannot blame anyone else or say, “The devil made me do it.” While the devil is happy to use external temptations to lure us away from God, we only yield to those temptations because of what is already inside of us. The root of the problem is what we see when we look in the mirror, not in the outward temptations we face. James wrote, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:14-15).
The choice that we make is guided by what we value most. The riches of Egypt don't compare to the treasure of God in the long term, but in the short term they offer more. Robert Murray McCheyne wrote, “Christ has a body such as I have, yet He never tasted one of the pleasures of sin. The redeemed, through all eternity, will never taste one of the pleasures of sin; yet their happiness is complete. Every sin is something away from my greatest enjoyment. The devil strives night and day to make me forget this or disbelieve it. He says, 'Why should you not enjoy this pleasure? You may go to Heaven also.' I am persuaded this is a lie—that my true happiness is to go and sin no more.”
Our response to temptation rests on what we decide is most important and what we value most.
Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.
Almost all of us have had the experience of having a tire go flat while we are driving and having to pull over to the side of the road to change it. We have to go through the hassle of getting the spare out of the trunk, getting the jack in place, getting the lug nuts loose, and finally putting the new tire on so that we can continue on our way. Invariably this is a dirty job with grease and grime that gets all over your hands even if you try to avoid it. And it seems like no matter how carefully or thoroughly you try to wash afterward, there will always be a spot you missed that will transfer to something light colored, like a white shirt, that shows the stain for all to see. Dirt spreads rather than being contained and confined.
Sin has the same impact. No matter how hard a lost person tries, they cannot cleanse their lives of the stain of sin. Even things that should be innocent and pure are defiled when they come into contact with sin. No amount of good works or turning over a new leaf or trying to make things right with those we have harmed or offended removes the underlying problem. We are sinners both by choice and by nature, and we cannot change that. Our only hope is found in Jesus Christ Who took on our sins and made the payment God required for them on our behalf. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He alone is able to forgive and cleanse us of our sins, and remove the stains from our lives.
Only the blood of Jesus can take away the stain and defilement of our sin.
For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
1 John 3:20
All of us sin, even after we have been saved. The proper thing to do in such cases is not to claim innocence, blame others, or try to cover it up. Instead, we are instructed to quickly confess and forsake that sin. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). It is vital that we not only seek that forgiveness, but that we also accept it and believe it and live in it. Though there may be lasting consequences we will always regret, we need never live under a cloud of guilt for a sin from the past that we have dealt with.
Yet, even though we know this to be true, Satan still tries to remind us of past sins. Even our own heart condemns us at times. It is at these times that we can hold to God's promise of 1 John 3:20 and remember that God is greater than our heart. Our hearts may mislead us into feeling guilt, but God's forgiveness is greater than our own sense of condemnation. God gives us promises such as this because He desires for us to live in a sense of victory. If we continue to nurture a sense of guilt in our hearts for sin which we have already confessed, we are lingering in unbelief. And, we undermine our ability to resist sin in the future. The eighteenth-century English pastor William Romaine wrote, “No sin can be crucified either in heart or life, unless it be first pardoned in conscience, because there will be want of faith to receive the strength of Jesus, by whom alone it can be crucified. If it be not mortified in its guilt, it cannot be subdued in its power.”
If we go back to God in guilt for a past sin we have confessed, we are bringing up something that He has chosen to never bring up again. God graciously puts our sins under the blood of Jesus and views them as gone forever. “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12). What God has forgiven and forgotten should never bring us into bondage to guilt.
If we do not fully accept God's forgiveness and continue to live in guilt, our spiritual growth will be stunted.
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
The death of billionaire Howard Hughes in 1976 sparked a furious legal battle over the disposition of his estate. Since Hughes had not written a will, many people tried to take advantage of his great wealth. Several spurious “wills” were submitted but proven to be false. One woman came forward claiming to have been married to Hughes, but she had no evidence to support her claim. Eventually eleven of Hughes' cousins were identified and, based on the law. determined to be the rightful inheritors, but by the time all the legal battles had drug on for years, much of the estate was gone. The final disposition of the case did not take place until 2010—thirty-four years after Hughes died.
There is no question about the inheritance we will receive as children of God. Through His grace and our acceptance of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have been placed in His family. This is not a hope or a wish or an aspiration. This is a settled fact. It cannot be changed by any power in Heaven, Earth, or Hell. Once we are in God's family, He keeps us safe and secure. Jesus said, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand” (John 10:28-29). The fact that we have not yet received the promised inheritance as children of God in no way calls the certainty that we will into question.
God's gracious adoption of us into His family is certain and eternal.
Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
One of the parables Jesus used to highlight the value of God's forgiveness and the importance of us extending it to others was a story of a man who owed a staggering debt. There was no hope he would ever be able to pay it off, yet he received mercy and his debt was wiped clean. This same man was owed a trivial amount of money, yet, sadly, he refused to let it go. He was not willing to do for others even a fraction what had been done for him.
None of us deserve to receive the mercy and forgiveness of God. We owe Him a debt that cannot ever be repaid. Yet He wiped the slate clean and marked out our debt as "paid in full" because of the sacrifice of Jesus. Paul wrote, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Salvation is the completely free gift of God's extravagant grace.
Yet, why is it that we who have experienced so great a measure of forgiveness struggle to forgive others? How is it that we do not readily show to others the mercy we ourselves have received? A. T. Pierson wrote, “[Mercy] is the forgiving spirit; it is the non-retaliating spirit; it is the spirit that gives up all attempt at self-vindication and would not return an injury for an injury, but rather good in the place of evil and love in the place of hatred. That is mercifulness. Mercy being received by the forgiven soul, that soul comes to appreciate the beauty of mercy, and yearns to exercise toward other offenders similar grace to that which is exercised towards one’s self.”
It is an insult to God's forgiveness toward us if we refuse to extend mercy to those who do us wrong.
Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.
1 John 3:21
Our effectiveness in living and serving God is greatly improved by our level of confidence in our relationship with Him. When we are filled with doubts and uncertainty, it is hard for us to demonstrate His power in action to those around us. We did not join His family through anything that we did, but through His grace. We do not stay in His family by anything that we do or avoid doing. Everything relies on Him, not on us. Peter wrote, “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).
Because he knows how important our confidence is, the devil constantly works to undermine and question it. He tries to make us doubt what God has said and tries to steal the joy and confidence our relationship with God is meant to bring. Charles Spurgeon said, “It is a sweet compound of faith that knows God to be my Father, love that loves Him as my Father, joy that rejoices in Him as my Father, fear that trembles to disobey Him because He is my Father and a confident affection and trustfulness that relies upon Him, and casts itself wholly upon Him, because it knows by the infallible witness of the Holy Spirit, that Jehovah, the God of earth and heaven, is the Father of my heart.”
While we must not presume upon our relationship with our Father, we must also not allow the fact that we sometimes fail and fall short of what we should do to make us doubt that relationship. He is the one who invites us to come into His presence not in trembling, but as part of the family. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Our confidence toward God must be about Him and based on Him, not about us.
The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him. The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.
The world has a distorted view of God, and we must be careful not to allow our view of Him to be shaped by those around us rather than by His Word. God is not an absent-minded old man looking down from the sky. God is not an endless fountain of acceptance of anything and everything that we may wish to do. God is not blind to sin, nor has He changed in His hatred of it. God is holy and mighty. He does not always deal immediately with injustice and sin, but He does deal with it.
This truth is comforting for believers in two ways: First, we can be assured that God will right every wrong. Romans 12:19 admonishes and assures, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” In Genesis 18:25 Abraham asked the rhetorical question, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” He will.
Second, it’s comforting because we know that on that day when Christ judges all the sin of the world and those who don’t know Him flee before His anger, we are assured that we have found refuge in Christ. “He knoweth them that trust in Him.”
Meanwhile, we can rest confidently in God's goodness, even when it seems like the world is being turned upside down. He is our stability when everything around us is shaken. David declared, “He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defence; I shall not be moved” (Psalm 62:6).
God is good and our sure place of refuge in whatever trouble we may be facing today.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool.
There are some people who became famous in large measure because of their capacity to deceive others into thinking they were something they were not. We see this in the Bible where Judas was selected by the other disciples to handle their money. None of them realized he was a thief, or they certainly would never have trusted him with that responsibility. The name Benedict Arnold remains synonymous with treason nearly 250 years after his betrayal, but when he was entrusted with command of the fort at West Point, New York, that guarded the vital Hudson River access to the city, his colleagues and superiors thought he was loyal to the cause of American independence.
But the deceit of others pales in comparison to the deceit we are able to practice on ourselves. It is easy for us to convince ourselves that we are doing much better than we are—that we are strong spiritually and that we are worthy of the praise of others. We find the lies we tell ourselves easy to believe because we want them to be true. James wrote, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22). We must constantly be on guard, because Satan uses our deceptive hearts against us. This is not just a problem other people have—it is our problem. The English Puritan Richard Baxter wrote, “Self is the most treacherous enemy, and the most insinuating deceiver in the world. Of all other vices, it is both the hardest to find out, and the hardest to cure.”
The best way to guard against being led astray by our hearts is to rely on the truth of God's Word and respond to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
1 John 3:22
God has given us the great privilege of coming to Him in prayer regarding every part of our lives. The Bible is filled with promises regarding God's willingness to hear and answer our prayers. Again and again we are told that He will respond when we pray. Yet all of us have also had the experience of praying and not seeing an answer. While there are cases where this is simply a matter of timing and God knowing when the answer would be best, there are also times when the lack of a response is the direct result of sin in our lives. “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
We don't earn God's favor by doing good things or avoiding bad things. He places us in His family because of His grace alone. Yet just as a disobedient child does not stop being a child because of that disobedience, the relationship and fellowship with the parents is definitely impacted by behavior. John R. Rice wrote, “Every Christian certainly has a right to pray [about] matters about which God has declared in His Word that He is concerned, and which He is anxious to give us; and yet Christians often do not get the answer to their prayers. Why? The answer is that many a good prayers cannot be answered by a holy God because of sins in the life and heart of the one who prays.”
As we seek God's face and His help in prayer, we should consider the health of our relationship with Him. If we're living in disobedience to Him, we should repent and surrender. David, aware of God's knowledge of and care for him, prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). This is a good prayer for us as well.
When we live in obedience to God, it brings a confidence in our relationship with Him and thus a confidence in our prayers.
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
One of the challenges Californians have faced in recent years is summer power shortages. On hot days we may be asked not to use appliances during peak demand times or to set the thermostat higher so the air conditioners don't have to draw as much power. If voluntary cutbacks don't do enough to lighten the load, cities sometimes experience “brownouts” where the electricity is still on, but the voltage is reduced. The lights aren't as bright because they are not receiving full power. Other times there are “blackouts” where the power goes out completely. For as long as that lasts, users aren't able to do anything that requires electricity. During power shortages, people are reminded of just how valuable electricity is.
The Christian life cannot be lived without God's power. No matter how hard we try, our own strength, knowledge, wisdom, and effort are doomed to failure. Thankfully we do not have to rely on an old or out of date source of power. We have the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus promised. “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Our problem is not a lack of supply of power, but our failure to surrender to the Holy Spirit and seek to serve in His power rather than our own.
God's power is essential to doing God's work.
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus shared the Passover meal with His disciples. Despite all He had told them, they still did not really grasp that He was about to die. But the Lord knew what was coming, and He was preparing them for what would come next. Among the instructions He gave them, and which we are to follow as well, was the command to love each other the way that He loves us. Human love may be conditional, fickle or fleeting, but God's love is not like that. It is abiding, eternal, and unchanging. “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (John 13:1)
God's love is also selfless and giving. God does not wait for us to prove we are worthy of His love. If He did, no one would ever be saved. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). When we love others the way God loves us, we take the first step to make things right. We take the initiative to meet their needs, even if it requires sacrifice on our part. We take responsibility for reaching out to help them in any way we can. This is the kind of love that builds a marriage, a family, and a church. This is the kind of love that reflects God to those around us.
Christ does not merely call us to love others, but to love others as He has loved us—with an abiding, sacrificial love.
And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.
1 John 3:23
William Clark Martin was born in New Jersey just before the end of the Civil War. He was saved at an early age and answered the call to preach. After pastoring several Baptist churches in New England, he accepted the call from First Baptist Church of Fort Myers, Florida. During his ministry, he also wrote a number of hymns. He died suddenly at just forty-nine years of age, but left behind a body of work that reflected his love and devotion to God. The best known of his hymns is probably “The Name of Jesus.”
The name of Jesus is so sweet,
I love its music to repeat;
It makes my joys full and complete,
The precious name of Jesus.
“Jesus,” oh, how sweet the name!
“Jesus,” ev’ry day the same;
“Jesus,” let all saints proclaim
Its worthy praise forever.
No word of man can ever tell
How sweet the name I love so well;
Oh, let its praises ever swell,
Oh, praise the name of Jesus.
The name of Jesus is not just a word. It is a description of His character and purpose in coming to earth. The angel told Joseph before He was born, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus is the Savior of all those who believe in Him. His sacrificial death on the cross paid the price for our sins.
Jesus was not just a wonderful teacher. He was far more than just a good example. He was not a radical seeking to overthrow existing religious or political authorities. Jesus was the Lamb of God whose purpose in coming, established and planned even before the world was created, was to provide a way for us to come to God. His precious name is our hope for eternity.
The precious name of Jesus reveals His divine nature and His offer of salvation to all who believe.
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
The Bible makes it clear that the Christian life is a battle. We are exhorted to be on guard, attentive, and prepared for the attacks of the enemy. We are warned of the dangers of overconfidence and thinking we are above being defeated. “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). It is important to remember that our struggle is not merely defensive. In addition to putting on armor to protect us from spiritual attacks, we are called to take up a weapon to take the fight to the enemy, and that weapon is the Bible.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “This weapon is good at all points, good for defense and for attack, to guard our whole person or to strike through the joints and marrow of the foe. Like the seraph’s sword at Eden’s gate, it turns every way. You cannot be in a condition that the Word of God has not provided. The Word has as many faces and eyes as providence itself. You will find it unfailing in all periods of your life, in all circumstances, in all companies, in all trials, and under all difficulties. Were it fallible, it would be useless in emergencies, but its unerring truth renders it precious beyond all price to the soldiers of the cross.”
Just as a soldier is put through training to become familiar with his weapon before being sent into battle, we need to be filling our hearts and minds with the Word of God. We need to know what it says, and know how it applies to the situations in which we find ourselves.
Knowing and using God's Word is the way to living in victory throughout the Christian life.
And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli marked her mouth. Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken. And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee. And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD.
1 Samuel 1:12-15
People often say, “Prayer changes things.” That is a true statement, but not everything that people call prayer changes things. The kind of prayer that changes things is intense, fervent, focused, and passionate. James wrote, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). Casual prayers from cold hearts don't have much impact. Routine, ritualistic prayers don't change us or our circumstances. The kind of praying God answers requires effort and commitment on our part.
One of the clearest examples of this in the Old Testament is Hannah. Because she had no children, Hannah knew great sorrow. She was mocked and humiliated for her barrenness, and nothing could take away that pain. Hannah's heartfelt desire for a son was so great that her prayers to God consumed and controlled her mind. She wasn't aware of the way she looked as she prayed, and afterward had to defend herself from the accusation of Eli that she was drunk. She cared about getting her prayer answered so much that everything else faded in comparison. She was even willing to give up the very thing for which she was praying because she wanted to see God work.
The best that we can produce in our own efforts will never be enough for what God has called us to do. We must have His help and His power and His guidance and His direction. The way that God has ordained for us to receive what we need is prayer, and we must pray with intensity and focus.
Effective prayer is not a ritual exercise but a passionate pouring out of our heart to God.
And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
1 John 3:24
God has not left us to live in doubt, fear, and confusion as to whether we are part of His family or not. He intends for us to be certain and confident, not in ourselves, but in Him. As we walk in obedience to the guidance and control of His Holy Spirit, we will see evidences that we not only belong to God, but that we are in a close relationship with Him. The more that we see Him working in our lives, the stronger our faith grows. The more that we see His power displayed in answer to our prayers, the more our confidence and assurance increases.
John Newton said, “Assurance grows by repeated conflict, by our repeated experimental proof of the Lord’s power and goodness to save; when we have been brought very low and helped, sorely wounded and healed, cast down and raised again, have given up all hope, and been suddenly snatched from danger, and placed in safety; and when these things have been repeated to us and in us a thousand times over, we begin to learn to trust simply to the Word and power of God, beyond and against appearances: and this trust, when habitual and strong, bears the name of assurance; for even assurance has degrees.”
The Bible uses the metaphor of physical growth to illustrate what is supposed to happen in our spiritual life. Peter wrote, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). The more we take in God's Word and live as it says, the more mature we will become in our faith. We will never reach perfection in this life, but we should constantly be growing more and more like Jesus. As we do, we will walk in confidence and faith in our relationship with Him.
Doubt-filled living robs Christians of joy and effectiveness in service to God.
And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead. Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,
Paul's preaching often stirred up opposition in the cities where he preached. When he first arrived in Lystra, Paul healed a crippled man who had never been able to walk. The astonished people thought that their gods had come to earth, and wanted to make sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. They restrained the people from doing that and instead preached the gospel to them, and many people were saved. This time the opposition came not from within the city of Lystra, but from those who followed Paul there to oppose his preaching. They stirred things up so much that Paul was stoned and left for dead. Yet after going on to minister in the nearby town of Derbe, Paul then immediately returned to Lystra and preached again.
God did not promise us that serving Him would be easy. When we face obstacles, difficulty, persecution and suffering, we can give up, using that as an excuse to stop working for God. Or we can recognize that the enemy will always do what he can to stop us from moving ahead and just keep on doing what is right. Bob Jones, Sr. said, “The door to the room of success always swings on the hinges of opposition.” If we are not facing some kind of opposition, it is probably an indicator that we are not doing much for God. Why would Satan need to try to stop someone who is not going forward? No matter what comes, we must continue to be faithful in our work for the Lord.
We must not let difficulties or opposition deter us from faithfully serving God.
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
2 Peter 2:1-2
The legend behind the fairy tale der Rattenfänger von Hameln, or The Pied Piper of Hamelin, many of us heard when we were young dates back to the late 1200s. Like many of these early stories it has a dark lesson to teach. It tells of a village overrun by rats who hired a man to remove them. The piper walked through the streets playing his flute and the rats all came out to follow him. He led them down the nearby river where the rats all drowned. Despite his success, the townspeople refused to pay him the agreed upon price. In return the piper walked through town again playing his flute. This time he was followed by the town's children who he led away never to be seen again.
There are pipers roaming the earth today, seeking to get people to follow them. While there are some people who teach error because they are genuinely mistaken, Peter warns that there will be others who are teaching heresy on purpose. They are not leading people to truth and righteousness, but instead intentionally leading them toward destruction. The “music” they are playing may sound good, but that does not mean it is safe or right to follow them. We need to be alert to the attempts of the devil to lead us astray. He and his demonic minions do not appear in red suits holding pitchforks. Instead, they come as counterfeits of God's angelic messengers, appearing as good rather than evil. Paul wrote, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13-14).
Knowing that Satan uses false teachers to deceive us, we must be on guard to make sure what we are hearing is the truth.
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
1 John 4:1
In 1936 a startling historical find surfaced in California. It was a brass plaque with an English sixpence coin bearing the likeness of Queen Elizabeth I that claimed the land of “Nova Albion” for the English crown. It was thought to have been left there by Sir Francis Drake when he sailed the Golden Hind along the California coast in 1579 on his trip around the world. The plaque was taken to the University of California at Berkeley where Herbert Bolton, chair of the history department authenticated it. He called it “one of the world's long-lost historical treasures.” Photos of the plaque were featured in history textbooks as evidence of early English involvement on the west coast of the United States. However in 1977 the plaque was subjected to advanced chemical and metallurgical testing—and conclusively found to be a fake. After investigation it was learned that the brass plaque had in fact been made in 1917 by associates of Herbert Bolton.
Though sometimes the devil comes to attack us with outrageous lies, more often he uses deception and presents something that looks and sounds good and genuine on the surface. If we do not exercise discernment and good judgment, testing what seems to be legitimate against the unfailing standard of the Word of God, we are very susceptible to being led astray. Not every preacher on television is speaking the truth. Not every large church is truly pointing the way to Heaven. Just because something is popular does not make it right, and just because something seems to make senses when we first hear it does not mean it is true. Because we live in a fallen world, we must remain alert and vigilant. Jesus warned, “And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them” (Luke 21:8).
The more we fill our minds with God's truth, the easier it will be for us to spot Satan's attempts to lead us astray.
And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil. And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full. Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them;
It is a wonderful thing to experience God's blessing, but it comes with a risk. When we have received His favor, it is easy for us to begin to believe that we brought the good things in our lives to pass by our own power and knowledge. It is only a short step from there to the place where our ingratitude takes our hearts away from God. God blesses us because He is good, not because we are good. Apart from Him there is nothing good about us. Apart from Him, we would still be lost and headed for eternity in Hell. He deserves our praise and thanks, and those help us maintain our devotion to Him alone.
Ahaz grew up in Jerusalem surrounded by the worship of Jehovah. He had access to the law of Moses, and there were priests and scribes to help him understand anything about which he had questions. He could have been devoted to God, but instead he kept looking at the gods of other nations and wanting to copy their worship. “And king Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and saw an altar that was at Damascus: and king Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the fashion of the altar, and the pattern of it, according to all the workmanship thereof” (2 Kings 16:10).
Remembering all that God has done for us helps protect our hearts from being drawn away from Him.
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.
The Holy Spirit who comes to live inside every believer at the moment of conversion plays many roles in our lives. He is a source of comfort and conviction and guidance and discernment. But the primary focus of His ministry to us is not about us at all, but about Jesus. The Holy Spirit always lifts up and exalts the Lord, and points our attention to Him. When Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the Mount of Transfiguration, they were impressed to see Moses and Elijah with Him. But the Father's focus was not on the great Old Testament heroes, but on His Son, and His voice from Heaven instructed the disciples to listen to Jesus alone: "And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him" (Mark 9:7).
The center of an effective ministry for God is not talents and programs. It is not our innate ability or our effort. Effective ministry flows from making Jesus the center of everything we do. When Paul summed up his ministry in the city of Corinth he said, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). We will always be tempted to shift the focus away from Jesus to ourselves. But apart from Him we have nothing to offer the world. Jesus is the beginning and end of everything. He must always be the center of our focus and praise. The more that we are yielded to the control of the Holy Spirit, the more we will talk about and live for Jesus.
If anything other than Jesus is the focus of our life and ministry, our priorities are out of place.
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
1 John 4:2
Pastor and noted hymn writer A. B. Simpson was greatly moved as he read the story of Christ's crucifixion one day. He was struck by the contrast between the Lord, maker of Heaven and Earth, standing before a human ruler, being falsely accused and threatened with death. Pilate recognized that He was innocent, yet he was unwilling to stand up to the people and reject their cries to crucify Jesus. Simpson wrote:
Jesus is standing in Pilate’s hall,
Friendless, forsaken, betrayed by all;
Hearken! what meaneth the sudden call?
What will you do with Jesus?
What will you do with Jesus?
Neutral you cannot be;
Some day your heart will be asking,
“What will He do with me?”
The most important thing in all of life is our relationship with Jesus Christ. Those who acknowledge and accept Him as the Son of God and Savior who paid the price for sin are part of His family. Anyone who claims something else about Jesus is not truly a believer. Every one of us must answer the question that Jesus asked the Pharisees: “Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David” (Matthew 22:42). And the only right answer to that question is the one Peter gave. “And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ” (Mark 8:29).
This is not a decision anyone else can make for us. Each of us must answer the question. There is no way to escape our personal responsibility. Either Jesus is exactly who He claimed to be, the Son of God come into the world by becoming completely human while still being God, or He is a liar. He is not a liar. That means we must accept Him on His terms, or we cannot accept Him at all.
Our only hope for eternity is to recognize and fully trust Jesus as the Son of God and our Savior.
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink: Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!
In our day we have seen a number of things that were once correctly considered to be evil not just tolerated but actively promoted as being good. They aren't. No amount of social acceptance or popular support can change something God condemns into something He condones. The temptation presented to those who know the truth is to downplay the absolutes of God's Word and try to find a way to accommodate what is widely accepted. This approach is doomed to failure. We can never water down our standards enough to gain the approval of those who desire to escape God's control. They are not willing to live as God directs. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” (Psalm 2:2-3).
This approach also fails because it brings the judgment of God on those who look for ways to approve what He abhors. God wants His people to stand out from the world. He wants us to be beacons of truth, shining in the darkness. Paul wrote, “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;” (Philippians 2:15). While we should not be harsh or condescending to others, we should also not try to change the truth so that we will be more accepted by the world. God's truth never changes.
A compassionate but uncompromising stand for what is right is vital to our being lights in the darkness of the world around us.