What is Really Real? A Spiritual Reality Check for 2017

My most recent post for the Ref21 blog came out yesterday. Members of Pear Orchard will recognize the content from my sermon last weekend on Romans 6:1-15. The truth of our union with Christ can never be meditated on too often, and I commend John Murray’s chapter on the topic in his book Redemption Accomplished and Applied, his commentary on Romans, as well as the articles on definitive sanctification in his collected writings.

John Milton’s “On His Blindness”

It’s been a long while since I last posted to this blog, but my son Daniel is memorizing a sonnet that well-deserves mention, attention, and meditation. Most probably aren’t aware this poem even exists, and those who do have perhaps forgotten its weightiness. It is one of the most famous sonnets of Milton, who lived from 1609-1674, and went completely blind by 1655. Most scholars believe this poem was composed at some point during that year.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

How important it is to remember that God does not need our work, or the gifts he has given us; that they who bear the yoke are the ones who “serve him best”; and that it is not only those who are active for the Lord who serve Him –  “they also serve who only stand and wait.”

What trial has he sent into your life, that seemingly has incapacitated you for the service you desire to render unto your heavenly King? Cease murmuring, and wait on Him; endure your hardship with patience and perseverance; don’t see yourself as useless to your Master, but as graciously given another use, another purpose on this earth. And even if it is only waiting on Him, seeking His face, never to serve actively again, do not forget these words: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

 

 

Our Presbyterian, Calvinistic forefathers were ardent supporters of Christ’s worldwide missionary campaign…

From George Howe, one of the early professors of Columbia Theological Seminary: “A profession of religion is a formal profession of entire devotedness to Christ. “Henceforth,” you say, “I am his servant, to listen attentively to the voice of his word. My person, property, and time, are his.” Now the Christian religion was not designed simply to save you; but was intended to bless all nations. The Christian religion can flourish under any form of government, and in any clime. It was fitted for all people, and belongs to all. And the Christian church is formed, not simply to save you and the few brethren in Christ who are embraced within it now, nor simply to maintain the worship of God and transmit it to the next generation; but she was formed to spread out her arms like the sea, and embrace the continents, and cover them with the influence of truth. This is one great end of the visible church. And at the accomplishment of that end, should every generation of Christians aim, while they yet live. The church you have joined, is one division of the Redeemer’s host. Its ministers and elders are officers to lead it onward in aggressive warfare, and they with you, and you with them, are called upon to be valiant and enterprising soldiers.”

Unity in Christ across racial, class, cultural lines is a foundation of evangelistic power (Jn 17:20-21)

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one, even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that you sent Me.” (Jn 17:20-21)

What a rich passage!

  • Jesus prays for His elect throughout the centuries (those given to Him by the Father before the foundation of the world), and them alone (not the world, 17:9) – a clear proof that the doctrine of limited atonement is true. The priestly dying of Jesus is as limited as the priestly intercession of Jesus. Jesus died to secure the salvation of His sheep, not to make every person without exception savable. 
  • The elect come to saving faith through the apostolic word, written down and preached. The word of God is absolutely essential to missions.
  • Jesus’ prayer is that His scattered sheep from every background might be one. Unity – fellowship and communion with one another – is foremost in what He wants for His people.
  • That unity is grounded in the unity of the persons of the Trinity – He wants us to be one just like He and the Father are one. 
  • His prayer for our fellowship with one another is coupled with a prayer for for fellowship with the triune God.
  • The goal of all this unity and fellowship is that the world may believe that the Father sent the Son. Our unity in spite of everything that might separate us is one of Jesus’ primary means of bringing His elect to Himself. 

A forgotten verse to Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

I’m not sure why we don’t sing this verse by Wesley any longer, but I wish we did. Perhaps it’s because we don’t use the word “efface” in common speech today…

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface, 

Stamp Thine image in its place:

Second Adam from above,

Reinstate us in Thy love.

Let us Thee, though lost, regain,

Thee, the Life, the inner Man:

O, to all Thyself impart,

Formed in each believing heart.

God seems to have abandoned me – now what?

It is not at all uncommon for God’s people to go through periods of time in which it appears that God Himself has forsaken them. Perhaps it’s a prolonged period of illness or injury that doesn’t improve. Perhaps it’s a loved one killed by police, as we’ve seen again in the last few days. Perhaps it’s a child straying from the faith, wandering heedlessly down a path of destruction. Perhaps it’s a period of spiritual dryness, in which nothing tastes. Whatever you may be walking through, you are not the first to experience God’s absence. Just look at Psalm 77 – it is one of the most helpful expressions of “Where are you, God???” in the whole Bible, for it not only gives voice to the deep cries of our heart, but it also shows us where to go for relief.

Asaph was where we so often find ourselves: in a day of trouble (2). He sought the Lord, crying out to Him, believing that He would hear him (1), yet he did not find comfort (2). In fact, he found just the opposite: “When I remember God, then I am disturbed” (3). Going to God made his troubles even worse, for as we see from his list of questions in verses 7-9, it appeared to Asaph that God had rejected him, that He would never be favorable again, that His lovingkindness had ceased forever, that His promise had come to an end, that He had forgotten to be gracious, that He had withdrawn His compassion. In a nutshell, it seemed that “the right hand of God had changed” (10). We’ve all been here. God feels distant, unconcerned with my affliction. He only purposes to harm me. The only proper interpretation of our circumstances seems to be that He is no longer the faithful and caring and loving God He promised to be. We are afflicted, and then afflicted again as we contemplate our situation.

When we find ourselves where Asaph was, then we must go where Asaph went. And where did he go? To the past. “I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds” (11-12). Asaph went back in his mind to God’s mighty acts of deliverance and redemption, and what he found there was the holiness of God (13), the greatness of God (13), the strength of God (14), the redeeming grace of God (15). He found a God whose ways are ultimately beyond figuring out; indeed, “Your way was in the sea and Your path in the mighty waters, and Your footprints may not be known” (19). But even in the darkness of God’s ways, he found a God who carefully and lovingly led His people like a flock by His appointed servants (20).

Asaph found resolution in his trouble by remembering – remembering who God had revealed Himself to be in the past brought the comfort He could not find as he cried out to God in the present. Seeing God’s character and concern in days gone by assured him of God’s nearness in the days to come. Yes, it can indeed appear that God has changed, that He has rejected us and has forgotten to be gracious, that His promises have failed. But appearances can be deceiving, and the past brings the present into clearer focus.

If Asaph could gain comfort today by meditating on God’s faithful power yesterday, how much more can the disciple of Jesus Christ? “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Jesus Christ was truly forsaken and abandoned by His Father in heaven, enduring the whole measure of judicial wrath in our place, in order that we might never be orphans again, but forever sons and daughters of the King on high. May the Lord give us grace to cry out to Him in our pain, to remember the days of old, to fix our eyes on Jesus, the forsaken one, that we might find what Asaph found and even more – He will never, ever let us go.

 

The Christian’s Freedom

On the 4th of July, we celebrate the independence and freedom that is ours as Americans. Our liberties are a privilege not to be taken for granted, and we should regularly remember and review them so that we might stand firm in them. Yet even more precious are the freedoms that we enjoy as Christians – freedoms that transcend national borders, histories, or forms of government. If we still lived under a monarchy – if we lived under a brutal dictator – if we lived under a Communist regime – the freedoms that Christ Jesus has won for us by His death and endlessly righteous life would still be ours, as they are for so many of our brothers and sisters who are citizens of governments other than constitutional republics.

So what are the freedoms of a Christian? In what does our liberty consist, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? Briefly, expanding on the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 20, thus:

  1. We are free from the penalty of sin, the condemning wrath of God, and the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13; Romans 8:1; I Thessalonians 1:10). We have been declared not guilty through faith in Jesus Christ, our debt has been paid by His perfect obedience and the shedding of His blood in our place. The law has been satisfied, God’s anger has been appeased, our record is spotless in Christ.
  2. We are free from having to keep the law as a means of salvation (Galatians 2:15-16; 5:1). No longer are we under the covenant of works, but have died to that covenant – it having been kept perfectly by Jesus on our behalf. We are no longer struggling to be free – we are free indeed, having been rescued by the grace of Jesus.
  3. We are free from the tyranny of Satan, and from this present evil age, the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13; Galatians 1:4; Acts 26:18; Hebrews 2:14; II Timothy 2:26). The strongman has been bound, he who had the power of death has been rendered powerless, we have been powerfully rescued from Satan’s kingdom and brought into the kingdom of light. He can no longer accuse us of guilt, for we are not guilty in Jesus Christ.
  4. We are free from the power and dominion of sin (Romans 6:6, 14; 8:2). Sin has lost its grip on us, we are no longer its slave. Thus we can practice righteousness by God’s grace, and one day the very presence of sin will be eradicated.
  5. We are free to be what God created us to be, obeying His law not out of slavish fear, but out of a childlike love and willing heart, in the power of the Holy Spirit (Titus 2:14; Romans 8:3-4, 14-15; Galatians 4:6; I John 4:18). We are no longer struggling to be free – we are free to struggle against sin, fighting against it in the power of the Spirit.
  6. We are free from the yoke of the ceremonial law of Moses (given by God for the church under age), and any commandments of men (Ephesians 2:15; Galatians 4:1-7; Colossians 2:20-23). We are not bound by the obligations under which the Jewish church labored – no more food laws, no more sacrificial system, no more religious symbolism of the old covenant. And definitely no human commandments, which Pharisees of all sorts are prone to add to the holy law of God.
  7. We are free from the fear of death, and thus free to lay down our lives for the cause of King Jesus (Hebrews 2:15; Revelation 6:9-11; 7:13-17). There is no more sting in death; rather, it is but our entrance into glory. What can men do to us? Only kill us. They cannot take away our salvation or our freedoms. We go boldly into the world, proclaiming the reconciling love of God in Christ.
  8. We are free to approach the throne of grace without fear, confidently in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:19-22). God hears our prayers, for He receives us in the person of our great High Priest, His beloved Son. We need not come through any merely human intermediary, but can come directly through Christ Jesus the God-Man to our heavenly Father.
  9. We are free from the evil of afflictions (I Corinthians 15:54-57; II Corinthians 4:15-18; Romans 8:28; Psalm 119:71; Romans 8:18). Though we suffer in this life, every trial comes from the hand of a loving heavenly Father, who is not angry with us, but designs and works all for our transformation and glorification.
  10. We are free from worrying what people think about us, and from the fear of man (Galatians 1:10; I Corinthians 4:3-5). We are no longer slaves to men and their opinions, for we are slaves of God, bond-servants of Jesus Christ. Our boldness is not arrogance, however, for being free from people means that truly…
  11. We are free to love other people sacrificially (Galatians 5:13). True freedom is never license. We are free for the sake of others, and for the glory of God. Christian freedom is self-denying, Christ-affirming, others-pursuing, God-devoted.

These are the deepest, most important and most substantial freedoms that we celebrate, not just one day a year, but every day, and particularly every Lord’s Day. May God enable us to stand firm in this freedom, not be subject again to a yoke of slavery, and not turn our freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.