Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
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If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
We spend the bulk of our time, energy, interest, money, and attention on the things that matter most to us. While many people proclaim one set of values, a look at the calendar and the bank account reveal a very different set of priorities. As believers, our lives are not meant to be spent focused on this world, but on the next. The popular bumper sticker is wrong. He who dies with the most toys doesn't win anything at all. If he does not know God, he loses everything and spends eternity in Hell. If he does not follow God, he has wasted his life and will not receive the rewards promised for faithful service. What we set our heart on determines how we will use the time and talents God has entrusted to us, and we must be sure He is first place.
The English Puritan Richard Baxter wrote, “It is a most lamentable thing to see how most people spend their time and their energy for trifles, while God is cast aside. He who is all seems to them as nothing, and that which is nothing seems to them as good as all. It is lamentable indeed, knowing that God has set mankind in such a race where Heaven or Hell is their certain end, that they should sit down and loiter, or run after the childish toys of the world, forgetting the prize they should run for. If God had never told them what they were sent into the world to do, or what was before them in another world, then there would have been some excuse. But it is His sealed word, and they profess to believe it.”
The way we spend our lives is the clearest indication of what we value most.
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
1 John 5:7
The Bible is clear that there is only one true God. Moses told the people of Israel, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The Bible is also clear that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not three separate Gods, but together are all one God in three persons, existing in perfect union and harmony. Though people have tried various ways to illustrate this truth, all human understanding falls short of God's infinite nature and character. Theologian and author Harold Lindsell wrote, “The mind of man cannot fully understand the mystery of the Trinity. He who has tried to understand the mystery fully will lose his mind; but he who would deny the Trinity will lose his soul.”
There is no division or disagreement within the Trinity. There is perfect union and perfect purpose. Jesus highlighted this in His prayer in the Upper Room when He prayed to the Father, “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:22). Jesus came into the world, not as a new God, for He had always existed. Rather, He came to earth and took on a human nature and body so that He was fully God and fully man. We do not have to be able to fully explain or understand the way in which God works, but we do have to believe it. J. C. Ryle wrote, “Suffice it for us to receive the doctrine of the Trinity in unity, with humility and reverence, and to ask no vain questions. Let us believe that no sinful soul could be saved without the work of all three Persons in the blessed Trinity, and let us rejoice that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who co-operated to make man, do always co-operate to save him.”
God works perfectly in harmony—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—to accomplish His purposes in our lives and in our world.
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
One of the important legal principles that determines who may file different cases is the doctrine of standing. A person who is not directly involved in a case may file advisory “friend of the court” briefs, but they cannot bring the case themselves. Many cases are dismissed outright because the judge rules that the person trying to bring it does not have the proper standing to do so. According to Northwestern University School of Law, “The Supreme Court has insisted that the standing doctrine’s requirements of imminent injury-in-fact, causation, and redressability are mandated by Article III of the Constitution.”
When it comes to bringing our sins that have been forgiven and covered by the blood of Jesus Christ up before God to demand payment, no one has standing. The devil can accuse us, but the case will not be heard. Our "attorney," Jesus Christ Himself, sees to it that the case is thrown out: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). The idea that a Christian should be bound by guilt over sins that have been repented of and forsaken is false. God fully forgives sin. Whatever consequences remain must be dealt with, but the guilt has no reason to linger. In truth, not even we ourselves have standing to bring up our forgiven transgressions to God. Instead, we should rejoice in His forgiveness and free pardon.
Forgiven sins cannot ever be charged to our account because Jesus' blood guarantees it.
Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me; Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.
One of the aspects of the work of the Holy Spirit is that He brings conviction of sin and of one's need for a Savior. In fact, if you have trusted Christ as your Savior, you have already experienced this work of the Holy Spirit in your life. And as you share the gospel with others, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives as well.
So many people today try to deny their guilt before God or that there is even an objective measure of right and wrong. Although they can try to shout down the truth, the influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be silenced. W. A. Criswell wrote, “The truth under the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit leads the man away from his reformations; away from his good works; away from his pride and boasting of the worth of his life, and the deeds that he has done, and it leads him, a humble supplicant, to the atoning Christ.”
Not everyone to whom we present the gospel will be saved. That should not stop us from doing our part and trusting the Holy Spirit to do His part. Paul was frequently called before different authorities to explain why he was so hated and persecuted. Each time he recounted his own need for salvation, his dramatic conversion, and the change wrought in his life. That is an excellent pattern for any of us to follow. “And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” (Acts 24:25).
We do not have to convict people of their sin, but tell them the truth and let the Holy Spirit do His work.
If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.
1 John 5:9
By 1858, Abraham Lincoln was mostly working in the political arena rather than as a trial lawyer. Even so, he agreed to represent a particular defendant in a murder case at the request of the man's widowed mother. Duff Armstrong was accused of killing a man named James Metzker just before midnight the year previous. His arrest was based largely on the testimony of Charles Allen who claimed to have seen the encounter between Armstrong and the murdered man. Allen confidently asserted that he had clearly observed the events. When Lincoln cross examined him, he asked Allen how he could have seen so well at night. “By the light of the moon,” Allen replied. Lincoln then produced a copy of the 1857 Old Farmers' Almanac and proceeded to make it clear that the moon was almost set at the time of the crime and further only one quarter full. This brought Allen's testimony into question, and it did not take the jury long to return a verdict of “not guilty.”
Any time a witness is shown not to have been completely honest, it brings everything they have said into question. Conversely a witness who is accurate in the details of their account is seen as reliable and believable. There is no more sure witness than God for He never fails. We can fully rely on everything He has said. Paul wrote, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). This is especially important when it comes to be certain that we are saved. Our faith and assurance are not based on us. We know that we fail all too often. Instead we are basing everything on the most reliable witness there is—the very Word of God. God is more reliable than any human source, even “Honest Abe.”
Everything God says is certain and true, and we can base our lives on it with confidence.
Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.
1 Corinthians 6:18-20
In 1802 near his home in Southampton, New York, a man named Lodowick Post was out with friends hunting foxes. Their dogs caught the scent of the fox, and they set out in pursuit, only to find that another man, Jesse Pierson, had already found the fox and killed it. The outraged Post demanded the pelt of the fox, but Pierson refused to relinquish it. Post actually took the case to court and won. Undaunted, Pierson appealed to the New York Supreme Court. The resulting case, Pierson v. Post, remains one of the most important precedents in the field of property law. The court ruled that merely pursuing an animal did not establish a right to it and found in favor of Pierson. Having caught and killed the fox, he was the rightful owner and could do with it whatever he pleased.
The owner of something has rights to do with whatever he chooses with it, in a way that others do not. We are not the owners of our lives. God is the owner of our lives because of the price Jesus paid for our redemption. He has the absolute right to tell us how to live and expect us to obey. When we refuse to follow His commands it is not just an act of disobedience but also an act of rebellion. We do not have the freedom to use our bodies however we see fit. Rather, we are to live fully dedicated to the Lord in both our spirit and in our body. Incidentally, when we live with this kind of surrender, we will find that it is the best life possible—the "good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Romans 12:2).
The only satisfying life for a Christian is to live as one who totally belongs to the God Who gave His own life to redeem us.
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Growing up in church, I remember watching people get baptized from the time that I was very young. Usually as the preacher was bringing someone back up out of the water, he would say something like, “Raised in the likeness of His resurrection” or “Raised to walk in newness of life.” That language, which I use as I baptize people today, reflects the reality of what baptism is supposed to represent. Baptism is not salvation. But it is an outward sign of the inward change already brought about in a life who has trusted Christ as his Savior. God does not save us to leave us just as we were before. He saved us to give us new life in Christ.
Paul highlighted this truth in his second letter to the church at Corinth. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Living as we should as believers requires that we leave the past things of the old life behind us. If we do not, we will constantly be drawn back to what came before. There is great danger in thinking that we can hold on to part of the old life and still live the new life, but it does not work that way. If we are not looking forward, it is almost certain that we will be going backward. “And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned” (Hebrews 11:15).
Our focus must be on our new life in Christ so that we are not drawn back into our former way of living.
He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.
1 John 5:10
There are really only two kinds of people in the world. There are those who believe God meant what He said and accept His offer of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, and those who do not. No matter what excuse people may give, the bottom line decision that settles their eternal destiny is whether they trust in Christ for salvation or not. When someone chooses to reject God, he is maligning the integrity and nature of God Himself, calling Him a liar. That is true regardless of why it is done, and it has eternal consequences.
Ever since the Garden of Eden, Satan has been asking the same questions to raise doubts about the validity of God's Word. Essentially, he asks, “Did God really say that? Did He really mean it? Can you trust what He says?” Faith answers those questions with a resounding “Yes”—not as a demonstration that we are somehow worthy or deserving, but that we believe God meant what He said. This is the key to everything in the Christian life. Charles Spurgeon said, “Doubt discovers difficulties which it never solves; it creates hesitancy, despondency, despair. Its progress is the decay of comfort, the death of peace. 'Believe!' is the word which speaks life into a man, but doubt nails down his coffin.”
We are saved by faith. We walk by faith. We live by faith. And unless the Lord returns first, we will end our lives in the same way God's people have throughout history. “These all died in faith...” (Hebrews 11:13). We can have faith—not because we are strong, but because God is always faithful and never fails.
Nothing should ever be allowed to shake our complete faith and confidence in God.
See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
When Jesus wanted to provide a powerful illustration of the impact of faithful obedience, He told a story of two men who each set out to build a house. The details were the same. The houses went up, and storms came. The difference was found in the foundation. A house built on a solid footing will last, but one built on sand will not. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).
The things people rely on in this world are not stable. All of the temporal things can be taken away. Wealth can vanish overnight. Health can be replaced by sickness in the blink of an eye. Relationships can crumble. Institutions can collapse. The only source of stability we have is to make the center of our lives things that are eternal. Only the “things which cannot be shaken” are a reliable foundation for our lives. We must not fall into the trap of putting our faith and trust in the things of this world. They will surely be shaken. It should not take us by surprise when that happens, for God has declared His intention to shake everything. He is looking for those who will trust Him alone, building everything in their lives around His faithful promises.
God has given us a reliable foundation in His Word, and we will never regret building our lives upon it.
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.
God does not just place us into His family when we accept Christ as Savior, He also gives us evidence and proof of that new relationship in the person of the Holy Spirit. Every Christian knows moments of closeness and warmth when we feel very much a child of God. But every Christian also knows moments when we feel abandoned and alone. Though that is never the case, it is easy for us to feel that way in moments of difficulty and trial. Even David, the man after God's heart, had times when he felt like God was sleeping rather than helping him as He should. “Stir up thyself, and awake to my judgment, even unto my cause, my God and my Lord” (Psalm 35:23).
Part of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to provide reassurance and certainty of God's presence with us and His unfailing love for us. He gives us the confidence to cry out for help like an earthly child cries out to his father. That is why it is so vital that we make sure we are not doing something to hinder His work by the way in which we are living. Paul wrote, “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). The Holy Spirit never leaves a Christian, but we can live in such a way that His voice is drowned out and we lose the assurance and confidence that comes from close fellowship with Him. We need that relationship, and we must take care not to do anything to hinder the Holy Spirit's work in our lives.
We do not keep our salvation by obedience, but living in obedience to the Lord allows us to hear the reassuring voice of the Holy Spirit giving us confidence that we are God's children.
Arise, O LORD, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword: From men which are thy hand, O LORD, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes. As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.
Patrick Henry was one of the early advocates for American independence from England. Many of us learned at least part of his “give me liberty or give me death” speech when we were in school. Patrick Henry became well known before the war in large part because of his impassioned defense of three Baptist preachers who had been arrested for “disturbing the peace by preaching the gospel of the Son of God,” without the approval of the official state church. Henry's faith was real, and it directed his steps throughout his life. In his will Patrick Henry wrote: “There is one more thing I wish I could leave you all: the salvation of Jesus Christ. With this, though you had nothing else, you could be happy. Without this, though you had all things, you could never be happy.”
The only true satisfaction and lasting happiness we can find is in our relationship with God. People continue to seek these things from earthly sources, but they cannot be found there. Even the best intentioned people will sometimes disappoint us. Even the best food, delightful music, enjoyable conversation and the praise of others only provide a temporary help. Only God, being eternal and unchanging can provide what we lack. Through His grace, He offers us not just salvation for eternity, but His blessing and presence in this life as well. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
God is the only source of true and lasting happiness, and we must find it from Him.
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
1 John 5:11
On June 30, 1922, as the Irish Civil War was raging between those who wanted independence and those who wanted to stay with England, an explosion started a massive fire at the Public Records Office in Dublin. By the time it was put out, centuries of records had been destroyed. Herbert Wood was deputy keeper of the Public Records Office said, “The history of a country is founded upon its archives. Accordingly, the destruction of a great accumulation of records…comes as a tremendous shock to those who were anxious to wrest the truth from these memorials of the past.” Much of what was lost was later reconstructed as archivists searched other stores of information. Copies of Irish records were found in the British Museum, the Library of Congress in America, the National Library of Australia, and dozens of other archives around the world. Records that were thought to have been destroyed forever have been pieced back together.
God is keeping careful record of every event and person in this world, and none of those records will ever be lost. Through His grace, the names of all those who have received eternal life through Jesus Christ are recorded in a book that is indestructible. It will be referenced when the day of judgment comes. John wrote, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Revelation 20:12). God does not merely want us to have eternal life, but also wants us to have assurance that we have it. He does not want us to live in doubt and fear and dread of the future. His Word is the record of His promises and His faithfulness, and it gives us confidence that we will spend eternity with Him.
We can have full confidence in our eternal life for the names of all who have trusted in Christ are kept in God's record book.
All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
One of the devil's most effective techniques in tempting people is convincing them that he wants what is best for them. He persuaded Eve that the fruit God had forbidden would only produce good things and none of the negative impacts God had decreed. She believed him. “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Genesis 3:6). But what Satan really wants is to destroy our lives. He glories in taking away what God wants us to have and replacing it with worthless substitutes that lead to destruction and judgment.
By contrast, the Good Shepherd wants only what is best for us, and is willing to make great sacrifice in that cause. Jesus gave up all the glory and honor of Heaven that was rightfully His to come and give up His life for us. He put our destiny ahead of His comfort and paid a price for our sins that is beyond what we can even imagine. And through His grace He offers us not just adequate life or sufficient life, but abundant life. That is what the normal Christian life is supposed to be. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” (Psalm 23:5).
God does not intend for us to live with less than His abundant blessing and overflowing joy.
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Edward Mote was not raised in a Christian home. In fact, his parents paid almost no attention to him, leaving him to fend for himself on the streets of London. After he was saved as a teenager, Mote spent years working as a cabinet maker. But in his fifties he felt God's call to the ministry and became pastor of the Rehoboth Baptist Church in Sussex, England. He demonstrated a gift for writing hymns, the best known of which was based on the parable Jesus told about the wise and foolish builders which ends with these lines:
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
There is nothing we can do to deserve our standing in the eyes of a perfect and holy God. Our best efforts are far short of His holiness, and He cannot accept them. Instead, He provided His own righteousness for us. We have hope in Jesus because, through grace, His perfect obedience is placed on our account. Paul wrote, “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9). The price of sin has not changed since God first pronounced it in the Garden of Eden. It is still death. But Jesus died to pay that price, and through faith in His sacrifice, we are justified.
We must not lose our gratitude for the righteousness the death of Jesus provides for us.
Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 1:11-13
In his best-selling book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Dr. Robert Cialdini explored the reasons why people accept and believe different things. One of the most powerful tools of persuasion is authority—the belief that a person has experience, knowledge or expertise—makes us much more likely to accept what they say as true and follow the directions they give. One of the examples Cialdini gives in the book is of a real estate office that saw a 20 percent increase in appointments after the receptionists were trained to tell each caller how long the agents had been in the business of selling properties. Once the prospects learned of this experience, they were much more willing to work with those agents. Credibility matters to us.
When it comes to our faith in God, we can have absolute confidence. Our faith is not based on anything that man says or does, but on the authority and credibility of Almighty God Who never fails to keep a promise and has—since the beginning of creation—been faithful to lead and guide and protect His people. We can rest with full and complete confidence on everything He has said. If we are relying on Him, we have no reason to doubt or waver in our faith. “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession” (Hebrews 4:14). If we are not fully persuaded that God is faithful and reliable, then when the storms of life come, we will not be faithful to Him. We never need to fear the future because as the great missionary Adoniram Judson said, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.”
Our faith will never waver if it is based on the firm foundation of the unfailing promises of God.
He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
1 John 5:12
In 1891 two men in Pittsburgh were arrested for disorderly conduct. As they waited overnight in jail for their court date, the two struck up a friendly conversation. When they appeared before the judge, Paul Kingston who was originally from England, was given a six month sentence. The American, John Gorman was apparently involved in a lesser offense, for his sentence was only thirty days. Before the court, Kingston declared that he had reached an agreement with Gorman that if he would serve the thirty days in Gorman's place, he would receive a new suit of clothes. The judge rejected the proposed arrangement ruling that each had to serve for their own offenses, and they were both sent to the Allegheny County workhouse.
All over the world there are people trying to plea bargain with God. They offer all sorts of deals—doing certain things, not doing other things, aligning with a certain religion, trying to follow the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule—in hopes that their standing in the eyes of God will be accepted as a result. Every one of these efforts is doomed to failure. The only payment for sin that God will accept is the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Our eternal destiny is not determined by anything else but where we stand with Jesus. All those who have accepted Him as Savior have eternal life, and all those who have not do not have eternal life. There is no great set of balance scales where the good and bad from our lives will be weighed to settle our fate. There is no amount of work and service for God that will replace faith in Jesus. Jesus warned, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22-23).
Jesus is the only way to Heaven, and all those who accept Him as Savior will never perish.
For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
One of the most famous trees in the world was the Jeffrey Pine in Yosemite National Park. Perched atop Sentinel Dome, it became a common subject for photographers as early as 1876. Thousands of people trekked to see the bent shape of the tree growing from what appeared to be solid rock. Yet a severe drought in 1977 destroyed the tree's health, and in 2003 it fell during a major storm. What once had been a popular landmark and tourist attraction vanished. We live in a world where things are constantly changing. Even things that people count on may prove to be unreliable. God never changes.
His unchanging nature is the foundation of our hope and faith. Knowing that He is and always will be exactly who and what He says He is gives us the assurance that we are safe with Him. “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6). No human resource or endeavor can ever be completely reliable. Whether it is through failure or change or death, eventually the things that we count on will fade. That is why God is to be our foundation. A life built on Him and His Word will not be shaken by the storms of life.
When we are tempted to fear or doubt, we instead should rest in His unchanging character. No matter what happens to change our lives, His love and faithfulness and goodness are eternal. We need never fear that we will go to God and find Him different than we remember. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).
No matter what else changes in our lives, God never does and we can always trust Him completely.
And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.
The religious leaders who so often confronted Jesus and refused to believe His declaration that He was the Messiah were well acquainted with the law given by Moses. The Pharisees and Sadducees knew the psalms of David and the writings of the prophets. They spent much of their lives studying and debating the meaning of various passages and texts. They developed an elaborate system of interpretation and application. Yet despite all that they knew of the Word of God, they did not hold it in the proper regard. They knew the Bible, but they did not give it priority. Instead they placed more value in their own interpretations and what had been passed down to them. Jesus condemned them for “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye” (Mark 7:13).
The Bible is the only infallible and completely trustworthy source of truth. We need to use it as the standard by which everything else is measured. John Wycliffe wrote, “Prove all by the Word of God; measure all by the measure of the Bible; compare all with the standard of the Bible; weigh all in the balances of the Bible; examine all by the light of the Bible; test all in the crucible of the Bible. That which cannot abide the fire of the Bible, reject, refuse, repudiate, and cast away. This is the flag which he nailed to the mast. May it never be lowered!” Anything that we place above the Word of God will lead us away from Him and into error.
It is not just in knowing the Bible but in believing and obeying it that our lives are rightly guided.
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
1 John 5:13
Often a lawyer who is presenting a case in a court trial will bring in expert witnesses to give testimony based on their knowledge and track record in a particular field. Some expert witnesses are called by the prosecuting attorney to explain why the evidence points in a certain direction. Others are called by the defense attorney to provide alternate explanations that would lead away from a verdict of guilty. A great deal of research has been put into determining what makes an effective expert witness. The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law found research showing, “People express levels of confidence equal to the degree of assurance they have in their knowledge or beliefs. According to this perspective, highly confident expert witnesses may indicate that they are 'absolutely certain' about their findings and act accordingly, whereas a moderately confident expert who is 'reasonably certain' may give fewer cues of confidence."
The devil delights in undermining our confidence in our standing as children of God. He knows that if we are filled with doubts, we will not be effective witnesses for the Lord. God knows that too, and He has given us the Bible to not only show us the way to salvation, but the means of being confident that we have received it. It is not enough just to go to church and hear the Bible preached and taught. We must also read it and study it and memorize it and meditate on it for ourselves. When our hearts and minds are saturated with the Scriptures, everything else will fall into place, including our assurance in our salvation. “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
Our confidence in salvation is not based on anything in us, but on what God has promised.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
The way we respond to rejection, opposition, slander, and even persecution is a window into what we value most. If our first response is to rush to defend ourselves, angry that someone would question our efforts to do what is right, we are not looking at the right thing. While there are times when we need to declare the truth in opposition to lies, our purpose in life is not to enjoy ease, or to be celebrated and praised by others. Our purpose is to glorify God. Because we live in a world that hates God, the more closely we follow Him the more likely we are to face opposition. Instead of that making us angry or feeling like somehow we are being singled out unfairly, we are commanded to rejoice.
Andrew Murray wrote, “Let us ask whether we have learned to regard a reproof, just or unjust, a reproach from friend or enemy, an injury, or trouble, or difficulty into which others bring us, as above all an opportunity of proving how Jesus is all to us, how our own pleasure or honor are nothing, and how humiliation is in very truth what we take pleasure in. It is indeed blessed, the deep happiness of heaven, to be so free from self that whatever is said of us or done to us is lost and swallowed up in the thought that Jesus is all.” If our hearts are fixed on Him and our greatest treasure is not in this world but being stored up for eternity, the hardships and pain we experience for doing right will give us joy rather than sorrow.
When we face opposition or rejection for following Christ, we can rejoice, remembering that it is an indication we are truly following Him.
Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.
2 Corinthians 5:9-11
In August of 2023 the city of Chicago filed an unusual lawsuit in response to a sharp rise in the number of car thefts. The suit blamed the problem on two car companies which they argued had not done enough to prevent their vehicles from being stolen. Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson said in a statement, “The failure of Kia and Hyundai to install basic auto-theft prevention technology in these models is sheer negligence, and as a result, a citywide and nationwide crime spree around automobile theft has been unfolding right before our eyes.” More than seven thousand cars made by those two manufacturers were stolen in Chicago in 2022, and they accounted for more than half of all stolen vehicles in the first seven months of 2023. Kia released a statement describing the lawsuit as “without merit” and pointed out that the root problem was not the design of the cars, but the fact that people wanted to steal cars in the first place.
Many people in our world attempt to shift responsibility for what they have done, trying to place the blame on someone else in order to avoid the consequences. Of course this is not new. When God confronted Adam in the Garden of Eden, Adam blamed his sin on Eve, who in turn blamed the serpent for tempting her. God will never allow us to dodge responsibility, instead holding us accountable with perfect justice and knowledge. “But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons” (Colossians 3:25).
Knowing we will give account of ourselves to God should help us live every day in such a way that we will not be ashamed when we stand before Christ.
And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:
1 John 5:14
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, just as John the Baptist had done with his disciples, Jesus gave them a model prayer, which is often called the Lord's Prayer. The very first verse of this prayer shows us God's emphasis in prayer: “And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth” (Luke 11:2).
Jesus focused their attention, not on themselves or on their needs, but on God. Our prayers reflect the way that we view Him. And the first thing we are to ask is for God's will to be done rather than our own.
Prayers that are not prayed in submission to God's will cannot be proper prayers. Prayer is not a means for us to get our own way, or to receive what we think we deserve. Prayers that put our will first are dangerous. They may be answered, but we will not be pleased with the result. When the Israelites decided they were tired of having manna drop from Heaven day after day and insisted on having meat to eat, God sent quails into the camp in huge numbers. Yet the psalmist warns, “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” (Psalm 106:15). When we ask for what God wants us to have first, our prayers are protected from getting us something that will not be for our good. It is perfectly acceptable to let God know what we would prefer (indeed He already knows even before we pray), but that must always be secondary to what He knows will be best for us.
Every prayer should start with an acknowledgment that God knows better than we do what is best for us.
O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
Charles Spurgeon began preaching while he was still a teenager. Despite intense physical pain and sickness, he ministered faithfully in London for four decades. Sometimes his health forced him to leave the pulpit for a time, but every time he recovered he returned to the work. A few days before his fifty-seventh birthday, he preached from the story of David recovering all that had been taken when the city of Ziklag was raided. At the time, Spurgeon did not know that it was the final sermon he would ever preach. He never got well enough to return to the pulpit and died the following January.
In that message, Spurgeon highlighted the faithfulness and mercy of the Lord beautifully. “He is the most magnanimous of captains. He is always to be found in the thickest part of the battle. When the wind blows cold He always takes the bleak side of the hill. The heaviest end of the cross lies ever on His shoulders. If He bids us carry a burden, He carries it also. These forty years and more have I served Him, blessed be His name! and I have had nothing but love from Him. I would be glad to continue yet another forty years in the same dear service here below if so it pleased Him. His service is life, peace, joy. Oh, that you would enter on it at once! God help you to enlist under the banner of Jesus even this day!”
In every trial and test of life, we can depend on the mercy and faithfulness of Jesus to care for us.
And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God.
1 Samuel 17:34-36
When Jesse sent his son David to check on his brothers in the army and bring them some food from home, David was no doubt eager to accept the assignment. It certainly would be more exciting than keeping the family's sheep. When he arrived, David was outraged to hear the challenge of Goliath, and even more outraged that no one was doing anything about it. When word of David's willingness to fight reached the ears of Saul, he demanded to know how an untrained youth could possibly expect to triumph over a giant warrior. David responded by recounting times in the past when God had worked to give him victory. Later David would write, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2).
It is vital for us to have faith to face the challenges of today, and it is vital to that faith for us to remind ourselves of what God has done for us in the past. There are nearly four dozen references in the Bible to God parting the Red Sea for the Israelites. He does not want us to forget what He has done. God knows that if we count our blessings and reflect on His goodness to us in the past, it will encourage us for the future. It will also have a powerful impact on others as we share our testimonies, and they realize that they too can trust in God to do all that He has promised.
The greater the obstacles in front of us seem to be, the more important it is for us to look back on what God has done for us.
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.
God does not do anything halfway. What He begins, He finishes. What He plans, He completes. We can have full confidence in the future, because it is God who has promised to accomplish what He has said. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “When [the Israelites] were in Egypt he sent not only a deliverer, but an actual deliverance; not only a redeemer, but complete redemption. He has done the like spiritually for all his people, having first by blood purchased them out of the hand of the enemy, and then by power rescued them from the bondage of their sins. Redemption we can sing of as an accomplished act: it has been wrought for us, sent to us, and enjoyed by us, and we are in very deed the Lord’s redeemed.”
The path that we started on when we accepted Christ as Savior does not always run smooth and straight. Many times there are troubles, hardships, tears, and frustrations. Many times we fail to do what we should and instead do what we should not. But just as we did not save ourselves, we do not keep ourselves—God does that. He knows what we will do long before it ever happens. He knows the obstacles, temptations, and struggles we will face. He continues to love and care for us, and He will keep us safe in Him until the day we see Him face to face.
We need never fear that God will abandon us or fail to accomplish all He has planned for our lives.
And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
1 John 5:16
When he was on his way to China, Hudson Taylor's ship was caught in a part of the ocean that had no wind. The crew tried everything they knew to keep the ship moving. They even lowered a boat and tried to pull the ship by rowing. Nothing helped. They were drifting toward an island where the people started a fire in anticipation of a meal. Taylor suggested to the captain that those who were Christians pray for wind. Taylor later wrote, “I went to my cabin, and told the Lord that I was just on my way to China; that He had sent me; and that I couldn't get there if I was shipwrecked and killed; and then I was going on to ask Him for a breeze, but I felt so confident about it that I couldn't ask Him. So I went up on deck.” Taylor told the mate who was a very godless man to let down the sail. Though he protested, the mate gave the order, and in minutes a strong breeze came which kept them moving all the way until they reached port in China.
When we pray, we should not be surprised when the answer comes. Yet many times we are surprised because we do not know that God is hearing us. He is a loving Heavenly Father, and He gives good things to those who ask Him. God does not always answer prayer in the way we expect or would prefer, but He never does less than good. If our hearts are not right toward Him, we should not expect Him to be quick to respond. But if we have cleared away anything that would hinder our prayers, we should be confident that God will answer. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:18-19).
We should never let delay or doubt keep us from confidence that God will answer our prayers as He knows best.
And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
As the Reformation and the teaching of salvation by grace through faith alone began to spread, Martin Luther became the target of a campaign of persecution and slander. He faced enormous pressure from both political and religious authorities to recant his teaching. Eventually he was summoned to Worms, Germany, in 1521 to answer charges of heresy. Luther refused to relent and deny what he believed to be true. Fearlessly he said, “Unless I am convinced of error by the testimony of Scriptures or…by manifest reasoning I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s Word, I cannot and will not recant anything. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.”
Though we should not be arrogant or unwilling to listen to instruction and correction, when we know that we are standing firm on what the Word of God says, nothing should shake our confidence or cause us to abandon our commitment to the truth. Many people treat uncertainty as a virtue, but it is not. God wants us to know what is right and to clearly and firmly present it to those around us. There is an urgent need in our day for a clear and consistent declaration of what God has said. Paul wrote, “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8). The more the darkness grows around us, the more vital it is to have clarity about the truth. God is looking for people who are unwilling to allow anything to deter them from speaking the truth to the world.
Nothing should be allowed to shake our commitment to stand for the truth.
Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.
2 Timothy 1:9-11
All of us are familiar with accidents. Whether it is something minor like a glass of spilled milk or something major like a car wreck, we know what it is like for things to happen that we do not expect. This never happens with God. Everything that happens is known to Him before it occurs, and everything that happens is according to His purpose. We think of our lives as beginning the moment we are born, but in reality, God already knows us before that because He is the one who made us in our mother's womb: “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16).
None of us knows the future, but God does. He knows when things will happen, and they will happen when He knows that the time is right. “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,” (Galatians 4:4). Knowing that God is in control should give us a great sense of peace and confidence. We do not have to worry, for no matter what happens, we know His purpose is at work. We do not have to fear, for no matter what happens, He will never forsake us. We do not have to doubt, for no matter what happens, He will be faithful. A fearful Christian is a poor testimony to others of the power and love of God. We can be bold because of His purpose.
Because God is in control, we can face any circumstance with faith instead of fear.
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
God's plan for our lives is not for us to remain as we are. Instead, He desires to conform us to be like Jesus. But in that process, it is not enough for us just to turn away from doing what is wrong. We must intentionally and deliberately turn toward what is right as well. If we leave an empty void in our hearts and minds, the world, the flesh and the devil will be quick to provide something to fill it. That is why the most important commandment is that we love God completely above anything and everything else. Only then are we protected from the allure of sin. Only then are our hearts truly fixed on God and His priorities for our lives. As the old song put it:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow vaguely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
The Scottish preacher Thomas Chalmers wrote, “We only cease to be the slave of one appetite because another taste has brought it into subordination. A youth may cease to idolize sensual pleasure, but it’s only because the idol of material gain has gotten the ascendancy. There is not one personal transformation in which the heart is left without an object of ultimate beauty and joy. Its desire for one particular object may be conquered, but its desire to have some object is unconquerable. The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.”
We will not overcome temptation unless we love God above all else.
And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches; And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind: Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us: Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.
2 Corinthians 8:18-21
Charles Spurgeon was in the public eye in England from the time he became a pastor of the New Park Street Chapel (later named the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London at the age of nineteen through the rest of his life. He quickly became one of the best known men in the entire country. His sermons were printed in newspapers, and so many people wanted to hear him preach that they gave out tickets to control the size of the crowds. His firm stands for the truth and his willingness to apply what the Bible said to the issues of the day regardless of whether it was popular or not aroused a good deal of opposition. At one point, he was even threatened that if he did not tone down his preaching, disparaging information about him would be made public. Spurgeon responded, “Write all you know about me across the heavens.”
Spurgeon was not claiming to be perfect. In fact, a reading of his sermons and articles reveals that Spurgeon was painfully aware of his own failings. But he also knew that he had led an honest and honorable life, and there was nothing about his personal or pastoral work that he would be ashamed to have revealed to the world. We know that God sees everything that we do, and nothing is hidden from His eyes. But we should be willing to have our work and lives examined by others. There should not be anything we do that we would be embarrassed or ashamed to have known by others.
If we do not want others to know about something we do, that is a warning sign that we should not be doing it.
Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.
Every day we face a choice. Either we will keep on going forward for God or we will allow the circumstances of our lives to rob us of our confidence and drive us to quit. The Christian life is described in the Bible as a race. Rather than a short sprint, it is an endurance race, like the marathon. Our race will last as long as we live, and it is faith in God's plan and God's providence that keeps us from giving up. Quitting may seem like the easiest option at the moment, but it is never the right option. Football coach Bear Bryant said, “The first time you quit, it's hard. The second time, it gets easier. The third time, you don't even have to think about it.”
Many people took an interest in Jesus, and some of them expressed a desire to follow Him. But Jesus never made it sound like following Him would be easy. Instead, He stressed the vital requirement of commitment for those who would be His disciples. “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). It should be the great desire of our heart to follow Christ fully until we see Him face to face. This faithfulness requires that we refuse to be turned aside by anything. Faith is not something we keep for a little while and then throw out. Instead, it is something that keeps us going all the way through this life.
Do not let anything in your life make you "throw in the towel" of faith and lose confidence in God.
If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.
1 John 5:16
When we hear that someone has sinned, we may be tempted to gossip about it. But spreading the news of a fall should never be our response. The devil is the one who accuses, and we should not help him in his work. Of course, we should not cover sin so that it can continue, but assuming we are not in a position to address the sin, our primary focus should be on praying for the sinner so that he or she will repent and be restored to a right relationship with God. “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).
Matthew Henry wrote, “It is required of us that we be tender of the good name of our brethren; where we cannot speak well, we had better say nothing than speak evil; we must not take pleasure in making known the faults of others, divulging things that are secret, merely to expose them, nor in making more of their known faults than really they deserve, and, least of all, in making false stories, and spreading things concerning them of which they are altogether innocent.”
There is a great deal of power in our prayers for Christians who are struggling with sin to help restore them to the right path. There is also a great deal of power in gossip and tale-bearing, but it is a destructive power. Our words have great impact on others. Before we speak to anyone else, we should be on our knees asking God to bring conviction, soften the heart, and bring the one who has sinned back into a close fellowship with Him. We never go wrong by praying for someone who has yielded to temptation because God can work in their lives through those prayers.
Our first response to sin in the life of another believer should always be directed toward God in prayer.
To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.
One of the most important things we must remember when difficulty, tribulation, or trouble come into our lives is that God is still in control. Everything that happens to us is known by Him in advance. He is never taken by surprise or forced to switch to a fallback plan. Not everything that happens in our lives is good, but God can cause everything that happens to be used for our good and His glory according to His plan and purpose. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
When things happen that we do not understand or enjoy, God's purpose is still in place. If we forget this truth, we are in danger of fainting and allowing hardship to deter us from continuing to walk in God's will for our lives. Paul faced intense hardship and persecution during his ministry. He was beaten, shipwrecked, thrown in jail, threatened, and even stoned. He didn't quit. After describing trials, Paul said, "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." (Acts 20:24).
This world is not all there is. Remembering our future gives us perspective on today. God calls us to keep our faith strong. His love for us gives us confidence that He will work for our good, and His power gives us confidence that He is able to do what is best.
Trouble does not mean that God is no longer in control, nor does it mean that we should give up in despair.
All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.
1 John 5:17
We have seen a concerted effort in our society to redefine right and wrong. Sadly we even see this in some churches as things that are expressly condemned by the Word of God are excused and sometimes even celebrated as good. But the reality has not changed. No matter what we call sin or how we describe it or how popular it becomes, what God has forbidden remains sinful in His eyes. It should remain sinful in our eyes as well. It is easy to excuse “little” sins and think that they don't matter. However all that we do against God's commands is greatly wicked. One of the most pressing needs of the church today is a genuine hatred of sin—not just the sins of the world or the culture, but the sins that take root in our own hearts.
Thomas Brooks wrote, “A holy man knows that all sin strikes at the holiness of God, the glory of God, the nature of God, the being of God, and the law of God: and therefore his heart rises against all; he looks upon every sin as the Scribes and Pharisees that accused Christ; and as that Judas that betrayed Christ; and as that Pilate that condemned Christ; and as those soldiers that scourged Christ; and as those spears that pierced Christ.”
If we view sin through the lens of the suffering of Christ on the cross, it becomes much less attractive. Rather than trying to rationalize or excuse or justify it, we will hate it as we should. Though different sins have different consequences and repercussions, every unrighteous act damages our relationship with God, our spiritual health, and our testimony. Often it is by letting down our guard in small things that the enemy gains a foothold he then uses to bring about even more serious sins. Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. said, “Behind every tragedy of human character lies a long process of wicked thinking.”
Remembering what our sin cost Jesus will help us view sin as the despicable evil it truly is.
From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
Curtis Hutson told the story of a man who went to the doctor for a checkup. The doctor had recently become a Christian, and was eager to share his faith with his patients. At the start of their appointment, he offered to pray with the man. “Is it that serious, Doctor?” the man responded.
Too often we allow prayer to be a last resort to which we turn to only in emergencies. While prayer in a moment of crisis is certainly appropriate, prayer should not be restricted to those moments. It should be an ongoing, continual, habitual practice of every believer. So often people complain about what they don't have without recognizing that the reason for their lack is their failure to ask God. He loves us and does not have to be coerced or persuaded to help.
God does not promise to give us everything we want. He does not promise to make our lives easy and painless. He does promise to hear when we call to Him, and He does promise to meet our needs. If we believe that promise, there is no excuse for a failure to pray. Prayer does not inform God of our situation, which He already knows better than we do. Prayer seeks the help of God, as an expression of faith that He will do as He promised. All too often we attempt to take matters into our own hands rather than trusting in Him. Many of the conflicts between people result from such attempts. If instead we turn to God, trusting Him to provide what we need, we will find that He is faithful to do as He said.
Faith claims God's promises in prayer rather than trying to do everything our own way.
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
The temptation that Jesus experienced in the wilderness was not minor. Satan came personally to try to derail the Lord from completing the Father's plan. He did not care how it would happen. He tried three different appeals, each with the same goal. In response to a temptation appealing to His physical hunger, Jesus quoted the Word of God. In response to a temptation grounded in the human tendency toward pride, Jesus quoted the Word of God. In response to a temptation to refuse to submit to the suffering of the cross, Jesus quoted the Word of God. In every case, Jesus quoted Scripture and did not sin, even though the devil tried everything in his arsenal to get the Lord to do wrong.
It is that experience of Jesus with the same kind of temptations, longings, pains, and troubles that we endure that gives us the confidence to go to Him for help. When we face difficulty, we have the dual comfort of knowing that Christ is able to overcome it, just as He did the temptation of the devil, and that He cares about us, understanding the hurts of our heart. All of us know the pain of reaching out to someone for comfort and encouragement only to find that they do not have sympathy for our plight. We never experience that with Jesus. He hurts when we hurt, and He weeps when we weep. We can always find help from our victorious compassionate Lord. “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
Our grief and pain matter to Jesus because He experienced suffering and knows what we need.
If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Go to any stadium or arena when a game is being played, and you will find it easy to figure out which team different people are supporting. Whether it is 20,000 at a basketball game or 40,000 at a baseball game or 100,000 at a football game, people from all over come together for a few hours. Almost none of them will know each other. But these strangers have no trouble getting along. They find others wearing the same color jerseys and shirts and know they are among friends. This is especially true if their team is on the road and they find themselves outnumbered by fans of the home team. They stick together and are united by their common love for the team.
As Christians we come from many different backgrounds and experiences. Any healthy church will have people of different ages, social standings, heritage, ethnicities, or even languages. Yet there is no division in the body of Christ when our hearts are joined by our common love for Him. That is so much more important than anything which might separate us that it overcomes any obstacles to unity that might otherwise arise. This love is not something we produce in our own power, but a response to the love God has already extended to us. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34). Any time love for each other is lacking, a problem in our love for God exists.
United in our love for God and each other, we will make a powerful impact on our world.
And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.
1 John 5:19
In a speech some sixty years before the birth of Christ, the Roman consul Cicero uncovered a plot against the government. Going to the Senate floor, he named the conspirators and called for justice. In his speech Cicero declared, “O tempora, o mores.” Literally translated that would mean, “Oh the times, oh the customs” but the thrust is better captured by the translation of Charles Yonge: “Shame on this age and on its lost principles!” What was true in 63 BC was true when the New Testament was written. It has been true throughout history. And it is still true today. The world is filled with wickedness because every person born is born a sinner. This evil should not take us by surprise, nor should it cause us to feel defeated or discouraged. We are on God's side and that is the winning side.
It is God's plan for us to live holy lives that are different from those around us, but it is not His plan for us to pull away from the world so much that we never interact with lost people. In the Upper Room Jesus prayed, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:15). Our own strength would not be sufficient to resist the evil that fills the world but we are not to live and walk in our own strength but in His. A Christian filled with and submissive to the Holy Spirit is going to be victorious. No matter how strong a temptation we face, no matter how great an evil we confront, God is not troubled or threatened. In His power we will overcome the world. And when we do, God rewards us greatly. John wrote, “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Revelation 21:7).
God is not threatened by a world growing more wicked, and we can overcome in His strength.
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.
When World War II started, Desmond Doss was working in the shipyard in Newport News, Virginia. Because his position was critical to the war effort, he could have received a deferment to not be drafted into military service, but he wanted to be more involved and joined the Army. Because of his religious beliefs, he did not want to carry a gun, so he became a medic. As part of the 77th Infantry, Doss received two Bronze Stars for service in Guam and the Philippines. But it was at Okinawa that Doss became a national hero. Despite being wounded four times he saved the lives of dozens of injured soldiers.
Doss' Medal of Honor citation reads in part: “He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Private First Class Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them one by one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.”
God has given each of us the task of caring for other believers who are struggling and hurting. We are not just supposed to care for ourselves, but for each other as well. When someone is “injured” in spiritual battle, we must do all we can to help them recover and return to close fellowship with God.
As we humbly reach out to Christians who need to be restored, we help further the work of the Lord.
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.
Most of us do not struggle to praise God and live joyfully when things are going well. However it is also true that most of us struggle a great deal to praise God and live joyfully when things are not going the way we think they should. Too often we focus on gifts rather than the Giver and think that God only loves us and treats us fairly when we are experiencing blessings and victory. God loves us just as much when we are hurting and do not see Him at work, and we must trust Him even in those moments. Joy is not dependent on what we see, but on God.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “I know, perhaps as well as anyone, what depression means, and what it is to feel myself sinking lower and lower. Yet at the worst, when I reach the lowest depths, I have an inward peace which no pain or depression can in the least disturb. Trusting in Jesus Christ my Savior, there is still a blessed quietness in the deep caverns of my soul, though upon the surface, a rough tempest may be raging, and there may be little apparent calm.” The Lord did not tell us that life would be easy. He did tell us that we would never be left alone or abandoned by Him. Even in the most difficult circumstances, He is there. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
When we are discouraged by difficulty, we must look up rather than around.
And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.
1 John 5:20
On October 30, 1938, the CBS Radio Network program The Mercury Theater of the Air broadcast the Orson Welles production of “The War of the Worlds.” The unique format of the program began with what listeners might normally have heard over the radio with music being played. Then a “reporter” broke in with a story that giant explosions had been detected on Mars. The music returned only to be interrupted again with a “news bulletin” about unknown objects falling to the ground in New Jersey. Dramatic eyewitness reports described Martian death rays incinerating people and buildings, and their war machines releasing clouds of poison gas. Because the first thirty minutes of the program ran without the normal commercial breaks, some people in the audience were convinced that the fictional events being described were actually happening even though there were four announcements made during the program that it was a work of fiction.
When we talk about our faith, it is not based on ancient stories or traditions. It is not based on a collection of tales passed down through the generations. Our faith is based on the reality that Jesus Christ really did come into the world, just as the ancient prophets had foretold. He really did live a sinless life, die a substitutionary death, and did rise from the grave just as He said He would. All of these events are real. Because they are real, we can know that we have eternal life. The devil tries to make us doubt because he knows that a doubting Christian is a powerless Christian. God deals in certainty. Everything He says in His Word is true. The things it describes actually happened, and the things it says about the future actually will happen in the fullness of time.
Our faith rests on God's truth and that means we have a firm foundation we need never doubt.
The voice of the LORD divideth the flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shaketh the wilderness; the LORD shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests: and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory. The LORD sitteth upon the flood; yea, the LORD sitteth King for ever. The LORD will give strength unto his people; the LORD will bless his people with peace.
The Bible is filled with promises that God gives to His people. Every one of those promises can be trusted because God is faithful, but also because God has the power to back up what He has said. All of us know what it feels like to have someone let us down—to find out that though they said they would help, they did not. Sometimes that is because they never really intended to help. Other times it is because some unforeseen circumstance kept them from helping. Sometimes that is because they simply are not able to do anything about the situation we are facing, no matter how much they may want to help. That never happens with God.
The English Puritan Stephen Charnock wrote, “As holiness is the beauty of all God’s attributes, so power is that which gives life and action to all the perfections of the Divine nature. How vain would be the eternal counsels, if power did not step in to execute them. Without power His mercy would be but feeble pity, His promises an empty sound, His threatenings a mere scarecrow. God’s power is like Himself: infinite, eternal, incomprehensible; it can neither be checked, restrained, nor frustrated by the creature.” When we turn to God for help, we are reaching out to someone who knows what we need, knows what the best outcome is, knows what is needed to achieve that outcome, and is more than able to do whatever it takes to accomplish His purposes. There is no power shortage with God.
We will never face any circumstance that poses a challenge to God.
Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me. Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High. What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.
David spent years running from Saul. The disobedient King Saul knew that God had rejected him, but he still did everything he could to kill David. Twice David had the opportunity to kill Saul, but in each case he did not. Finally things got so dangerous that David thought he would be better off with the Philistines. In fact, he went to Gath, the home city of Goliath to seek refuge. But the Philistines recognized him, and he had to act like he was crazy to keep from being killed. When David speaks of being surrounded by enemies who wanted him dead, it is not a metaphor.
In those days of desperation it must have been hard for David to remember the day Samuel anointed him with oil and declared he would be the king of Israel. There must have been days when he wondered why God was taking so long to make things happen and why he was facing so much difficulty and danger. But in those moments David remained certain of one thing. He knew that no matter what happened, he could trust God. David believed that God would do what He said even when he was not seeing what he wanted or expected. God is always faithful and He is always at work in our lives.
We can trust God no matter how dire our circumstances may be, how much opposition we face, or how long it has been since we started praying for an answer. God does not operate according to our timeline, but He is always working on our behalf. And if we do not lose heart, we will see Him work.
It is when we are most severely tested that the depth and steadfastness of our faith is displayed.