The Law makes no diminution of its claims because of fallen human nature! And what is more, when the Law comes with power to a man’s conscience, he does not, himself, dare to plead human nature—for of all pleas that is one of the most fallacious. A man will say, “Well, I know I drank to intoxication, but that is merely gratifying an instinct of human nature.” Now, just suppose that this drunk, when he gets sober, falls into the hands of a thief—will he not turn the rogue over to a policeman? But what if the defense is set up that it was human nature that robbed him? See what he will say about it. Says he, “I will get human nature locked up for 12 months if I can.” He does not recognize soft speeches about human nature when anyone does wrong to him—and he knows, in his own soul, that there is no valid defense in such a plea when he does wrong to God! What if human nature is bad? That only proves that the man ought to be punished more! A man stands before my Lord Mayor tomorrow morning. He is brought up for a thief, charged with having picked somebody’s pocket. He says, “My Lord Mayor, I ought to be forgiven, for the fact is, it is my nature to steal! I have stolen so long that whenever I see a pocket I feel a disposition, at once, to put my hand into it—such is the infirmity of my nature.” What does the Lord Mayor say? He replies very gravely, “Why, I see that it is not merely in actions that you are guilty, but your very nature is poisoned with dishonesty. I shall give you a double punishment— your plea is not an excuse, but an aggravation.”
– Charles Spurgeon
False teachers abound. Their numbers seem to be increasing every day. They infest the church, the internet, television, radio and show up on the door step peddling their perdition. Like cockroaches spilling out of the walls it seems they are taking over and spreading their filth across everything. What are we to do?
Most false teachers are careful enough to not come right out and admit to teaching a lie. Many seek to pass themselves off as genuine Christians. Some claim to have discovered truths lost since the days of the apostles. Like the Judaizers that afflicted the early church false today teachers are zealous, skillful, deceptive and persuasive. How is a Christian to identify false teachers?
Sincerity, devotion and passion are not proof a teacher is true or Godly. The false teachers of the first century were zealous in their proclamation of their message. The Judaizers traveled from city to city following in the wake of Paul and passionately proclaiming their lie. Zeal alone is not a good thing. One can be sincere and passionate about error. One can be well intentioned and good hearted yet still wrong. Evil is not made less evil by sincere, passionate promotion of the evil. Such zeal does not lead men to God’s blessing but leads them further into God’s condemnation.
The false teachers of the Apostle Paul’s day were seeking to shut the Galatians out of salvation so they would rely on the false teachers. A false teacher makes men reliant on himself. He claims to have truth that cannot be found apart from his help. He presents a gospel that requires the adherent to look always to him for further instruction. A false teacher elevates himself, hsi method, his best selling book, or his DVD series. A false teacher works to build a following that is dependent on him. False teachers do not point men to Jesus, they draw men to themselves.
False teachers elevate the hearer’s opinon about himself. They strive to make the person seem better in his own eyes. They appeal to the flesh by promising the person he can do something to have a part in his own salvation. False teachers appeal to the flesh because they themselves desire to be pleasing to men.
Instead of teaching that man is unable to save himself and that God has done everything necessary for salvation the false teachers teach men must do something to fully accomplish salvation. False teachers put some part of salvation in the hands of the person. Such falsehoods elevate man, dishonor God and deny His grace.
The faithful minister of the gospel does as John the Baptist. He points men to Jesus. The preacher of the gospel stands off to the side declaring, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” The true servant of God preaches for the glory of God and the eternal benefit of mankind.
The command to rejoice evermore seems impossible. At the very least it seems to promote a sort of false joviality that acts as if problems are not troublesome and pain is not painful. Rejoicing at all times is not a jocularity that imagines the skies are always blue. Always rejoicing looks like Paul in 2 Corinthians 4. He endured a variety of emotional turmoil and physical suffering. Yet through all those troubles Paul says he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
Paul rejoiced because he knew the true weight of trouble. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” For the child of God every suffering is temporary.
The children of God are not appointed to God’s wrath. The Christian’s sorrow will not endure long. Even the suffering of those with lifelong congenital diseases is temporary. Troubles will pass and will be replaced by something eternal and glorious.
Temporary sorrows produce an eternal gain far greater than the suffering itself. Romans 8 says, “the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” The suffering endured by the child of God is for his good. That is why Paul also says in Romans 8 “all things work together for good to them that love God.”
God is working through your suffering to produce in you a great and an eternal benefit. You can rejoice evermore, even in tribulations, because sorrow is temporary. You can rejoice evermore, even in tribulations, because the good produced by temporary sorrow is eternal.
Christian rejoicing looks beyond circumstances and even in the midst of great grief gives joy in the Lord. Rejoice evermore. Not because your life is all you would like it to be, because you have a comfortable home or because your life is free from pain and sorrow. Rejoice evermore because your sorrow is brief and every thing that happens is God’s perfect plan for your eternal benefit.
“In everything give thanks.”
Hebrews 13:15 is possibly the most vivid description of thankfulness. “By Him, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” All the sacrifices of the Old Testament have been done away. Men no longer bring burnt offerings, sin offerings, heave offerings, peace offerings or trespass offerings to God. The altar once continually filled with the bodies of thousands of slain animals is now empty. All those offerings have been ended by the one offering of Jesus on the cross.
The New Testament Christian has an offering, not of animals or grains, but of thanks. The believer’s offering to His God and Savior is thankfulness that bubbles up from the heart and spills out of the lips in praise to God.
We give thanks to God because of all the rich blessings that are ours in Jesus. Circumstances never change those blessings.
We give thanks to God because of the eternal hope that is ours in Jesus. Circumstances never change that hope.
We give thanks to God because of the present working of God in our life. Circumstances, whether good or evil, are the means by which God works His perfecting work in us.
Give thanks to God because He is worthy of all thanks.
In a few days Americans will show their thankfulness to God by gathering with their families, watching football and overeating. Thanksgiving should be a uniquely Christian holiday for Christians have the greatest cause to give thanks.
Christians are commanded, “In everything give thanks.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) Christians are to be “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20) Prayer requests are to be offered without consternation but with thanksgiving. (Philippians 4:6) Every activity should be done in the name of Jesus giving thanks to God by Jesus. (Colossians 3:17) Christians are to be thankful people.
The book of Galatians abounds in reasons for thanksgiving. In Galatians 4 Paul applies the rejoicing of barren Jerusalem to the one who is trusting God. Those powerless to save themselves- everyone- have great cause to rejoice. God has done everything necessary to save those who trust Him. Rejoice in God’s work to save you.
God promises salvation to all those who through faith receive His grace. Rejoice! God keeps His promises.
Those who are the children of God are His children because of His promise. Rejoice! Your salvation is not accomplished by your effort. If salvation was at all dependent on you then you would mess it up as badly as Abraham messed up with Ishmael. God will not accept your efforts to accomplish your own salvation. Just like with Abraham, God rejects our Ishmael’s and provides the fulfillment of the promise Himself. Rejoice! God gives full salvation to all who believe Him.
Rejoice in your spiritual barrennes. Just like the one who is physically incapable of having children, all are physically incapable of making themselves righteous. Rejoice! You can do nothing to save yourself.
Rejoice! Your spiritual desolation results in spiritual abundance. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Sarah who could not have children became mother of millions. You who have no righteousness are given the infinite righteousness of the Son of God. Rejoice!
Because of the promise of God the saved are delivered from bondage to the law, to sin, to guilt and to death. In Jesus you are truly free. You are heirs of God in Christ. You are joined in indissoluble unity with Jesus. You are recipients of all the great promises made by God to Jesus.
You are sons and daughters of God. You are no longer slaves and enemies. Rejoice! You are children and beloved of God. Can you give thanks for that?
“Two men went up into the Temple to pray.”
It is good to pray anywhere. He that does not pray in his closet is but a hypocrite when he pretends to pray in the Temple. But, though we pray in the closet—though we get into such a habit of prayer and are so full of the spirit of prayer that we can pray anywhere—it is well to go and mingle with others and openly worship God who delights to be thus worshipped.
It was written very early in the history of our race, “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord.” It has been the custom of the godly to meet for worship in all times. The sheep of Christ are gregarious—this is their nature, they love to gather themselves into congregations, to feed in the same pasture—and to enjoy, together, the Presence of their great Shepherd. It will always be so. The more pious and godly men are, alone, the more will they love associated worship.
For public worship is, first of all, an open avowal of our faith in God and of our belief in prayer. If we pray in private, nobody knows it. Our acts of personal devotion must be sacred to God and our own souls, but when we go up to the public assembly—whether it is but of two or three, or of many thousands, it matters not—there is, to that extent, an open declaration that we believe in God, that, let others do as they may, as for us, we worship Him, we believe in the reality and power and usefulness of prayer and, therefore, in the light of day, before all men, we gather ourselves together to pray!
Public worship is also, in the next place, a good way of securing unity in prayer. A number of persons may agree to pray about one thing, yet they may never see each other’s faces—their prayers may blend at the Mercy Seat, but they must lack an emphatic consciousness of unity such as we have who come together to pray. Oh, dear Friends, what should we do if we were not able to come together to mingle our sighs and cries and tears and, better still, to blend our joys, our Psalms, our shouts of victory? As we are members of one mystical body, it is but right that we should, as members of thatone body, worship together, lifting up the joyous song in tuneful harmony and blending our supplications!— “Around our common Mercy Seat.”
I think, also, that public worship is a great means of quickening. At any rate, it is so to me. I never feel that I can pray as well as when I am in the midst of my own dear friends and, oftentimes, when things are flagging within the soul, to get together with brighter spirits, in whom the life of God is more vigorous, is a great help to me. It does not seem so very long ago—although these spectacles and my many gray hairs tell me that it must have been long since— that I used to say to my mother that hymn which begins— “Lord, how delightful ‘tis to see A whole assembly worship Thee! At once they sing, at once they pray; They hear of Heaven, and learn the Way.” Dr. Watts put it very well and I can utter the same sentiment— “Lord how delightful ‘tis to see This vast assembly worship Thee!” when the house is full from floor to ceiling— “At once they sing, at once they pray; They hear of Heaven, and learn the Way.”
Those two men, of whom our Savior spoke, did well to go up to the Temple to pray! And we shall do well not to cease from the habit of assembling ourselves together for public worship in the Lord’s House. Then, dear Friends, public worship is a part of the great system by which God blesses the world. It has much to do with the gathering, the sustenance, the strengthening, the invigorating and the extension of the Church of Christ. And it is through the Church of Christ that God accomplishes His purposes in the world.
Oh, the blessings that come to us in our public assemblies! Are there not, sometimes, days of Heaven upon earth? Have we not felt our hearts burning within us when we have been listening to the Word of God, or joining in praise or prayer? Those Houses of God where the Gospel is truly preached, whatever their architecture may be, are the beauty and the bulwarks of the land! God bless them! Wherever the Lord’s people are gathered together, in a cathedral or in a barn—it does not matter where—it is none other than the House of God and the very gate of Heaven when God is there! And who among us would dare to stay away? As long as we have legs to carry us and health with which to use those legs, let us be found among the waiting assemblies in God’s sanctuary!
For, once more, it seems to me that public worship on earth is a rehearsal for the service of Heaven. We shall sing together, there, Brothers and Sisters, not solos, but grand chorales and choruses! We shall take parts in the Divine oratorio of redemption—it will not be some one melodious voice, alone, that shall lift up the eternal hallelujah!
I spoke playfully of our brother Mayers singing the Hallelujah Chorus all by himself, but neither he nor any other man can do that! We shall all have to take our parts to make the harmony complete. I may never be able to rise to certain notes unless my voice shall be wondrously changed, but some other sinner, saved by Grace, will run up the scale—nobody knows how high—and what a range of melody the music will have in Heaven! I believe that our poor scales and modes of singing, here, are nothing at all compared with what there will be in the upper regions! There, the bass shall be deeper and yet the notes shall be higher than those of earth. Even the crash of the loudest thunder shall be only like a whisper in comparison with the celestial music of the new song before the Throne of God!
John spoke of it as “the voice of many waters.” The waves of one ocean can make a deafening, booming noise, but in Heaven there shall be, as it were, the sound of sea on sea, Atlantic upon Pacific, one piled upon another and all dashing and crashing with the everlasting hallelujahs from the gladsome hearts of the multitude that no man can number! I expect to be there and I remember that verse in one of our hymns that says— “I would begin the music here, And so my soul should rise; Oh, for some heavenly notes to bear My passions to the skies!” But you cannot sing that heavenly anthem alone, because however well you can sing by yourself, that is not the way you will have to sing in Heaven—there you will have to sing in harmony with all the bloodwashed hosts.
Therefore let us often come up to the Lord’s House, and when we are gathered together, let us again take up the words of Dr. Watts, and say— “I have been there and still would go, ‘Tis like a little Heaven below.” That little Heaven below shall help to prepare us for the great Heaven above.
– Charles Spurgeon
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”
“Let the righteous . . . reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil which shall not break my head.”
What motivates a man to speak truth to another? Does a man only speak uncomfortable truth to another out of dislike? Would not a genuine friend speak truth because of his genuine affection?
The book of Galatians is confrontational. Paul exhorts, rebukes, pleads and reasons with the Galatian churches because they had believed the lies of the Judaizers. What motivated Paul to speak those unwelcome truths? Why did he challenge their beliefs? Paul asks the Galatians “Am I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” Were his feelings hurt? Did Paul write an angry letter because he was fed up with the folly of the Galatians?
Paul obviously loved the Galatians. Though the letter may be harsh at times (“O foolish Galatians!”), Paul’s deep affection for the church resonates throughout the entire epistle. As a loving friend, Paul wounded the Galatians. A true friend will speak truth for the benefit of his friend.
All Christians have an obligation to be faithful enough friends to wound one another. Sin is a cruel enemy that deceieves and hardens the heart. Loving Christians must give careful attention to the spiritual well being of one another lest they fall victim to the lies of sin. Though saved no believer is free from the self-delusion that a favored sin is no big deal. The fleshly nature is expert at justifying it’s wrong doing. A loving friend will cut through the self-deception to lay bare the inconvenient truths the flesh has sought to hide behind an array of excuses and rationalizations. The loving brother knows that as long as those lies are in place repentance will not happen and growth will be hindered. The loving brother will wound pride and injure feelings for the eternal good of his friend.
The Christian’s duty is to care for one another so greatly that truth becomes more valuable than feelings. In Galatians 6 the believer is told that if a fellow Christian falls into sin he should work to restore that errant brother. The process of restoration begins with truth telling. The first step in dealing with sin is telling the sinning brother his fault. Loving confrontation that seeks to bring the fellow believer back into a right walk with the Lord is essential to the Christian’s life.
All Christians should have a commitment to speaking truth, even when truth is painful, because their lives are built on Him who is the Truth. Truth should always be on the lips of the believers. The child of God must always be speaking that which is true and profitable for others. Despite the often unpopular nature of truth, truth should still be indispensable in our converstaions.
Fair warning: I love a good fantasy epic novel and my inner geek took over the writing of this article. To understand the opening paragraphs I recommend you read all of JRR Tolkien’s books. Start with the Silmarillion (The Ainulindale) and don’t stop until Sam sits down with little Elanor on his lap. I realize that one thousand pages of background reading is a lot for a single blog article so I’ll tell you that almost all the Tolkien references come from the stories contained in the Silmarillion.
The world created in JRR Tolkien’s imagination includes Middle Earth, elves, hobbits and rings. This world is much greater than that seen by a few roving hobbits. The tales of Arda are an epic saga that begins in the heavens when Iluvatar instructed the Ainur to sing and create. The story of a small hobbit suffering soul crushing agony to carry a heavy burden to the brink of destruction and, in the end, almost fail to complete his task is a powerful story. What makes it truly great is its part in a massive story describing the entrance of evil, the suffering of the world and the sorrowing of all creatures. This fantastic backstory sets the stage for tale of the one ring. Peter Jackson’s elf queen does not compare to the passion of Feanor, the courage of Beren, the audacity of Earendil or the true majesty of Galadriel.
Tolkien’s stories are powerful but lacking. The saga descends from bliss to woe. Every victory is partial and another battle is always on the horizon. As Tolkien himself says, this makes for gripping story telling. “Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale” What is lacking in Mr. Tolkien’s tales is a final victory. Arda becomes lessened, irreparable damage is done and perfection is marred with only a vague hope of a possible return to the glory that once was.
Tolkien’s stories are so powerful because they echo the realities of the human condition. We are living in an epic saga. Our story is unlike any devised by men. What makes our story different from Tolkien’s, and almost every other hero tale, is the entrance of the Creator into our story. Aside from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, I know of no other hero tale where the Creator plays the role of hero. Whether he be man, elf, angel, billionaire, Kryptonian or demi-god, the creature saves the day over and over again.
In our story man is not the hero. The Creator is. He stepped into humanity. He became the second Adam. He journeyed into the heart of evil. He suffered the cruel attacks of the wicked. He endured the shame of the scorn of those He came to save. He bore in His own flesh the wages of sin. He overthrew the dark lord and all his minions. He released the miserable slaves from their bondage. The Creator saved the world.
Our part in the tale is a small one. We do not know what role we play in moving the story towards its great conclusion. Often our part in the tale is an unpleasant one. Though we may find ourselves in the dark places where all seems accursed we know our journey is not from sorrow through sorrow into sorrow. The redeemed pilgrimage through sorrow to a beautiful end. C.S. Lewis described this land of our life as a shadow of the real lands awaiting when life ends. We will one day go “Further in! Further up!”
The hope of eternal bliss is ours because the Creator of the universe stepped into our story. Because He is the great hero of this tale He will undo all the destruction of sin. Tolkien’s heroes could never accomplish this. Always the hero found his world a little less lovely. The bliss of paradise was forsaken for a land under the shadow of evil. The depredations of dragons could not be repaired. The glorious cities were overthrown and fell into ruins. The precious jewels were broken and could not be remade. Moria was lost and filled with horrors. The high elves left Middle Earth and took with them the last glimpses of paradise. Middle Earth was bent and broken beyond recovery.
Because the Creator of our story is the Hero of the tale all the ravages of evil will be repaired. He is the Great King who will return. He who went into the heart of the enemy’s kingdom and conquered the great foe will cast down all the towers of evil. He will cleanse the land of its filth. He will establish a reign of bliss and unending joy. Those days will be days of a story far greater than the epic sagas of any of earth’s tragic heroes. They will be stories of a conquering king, a redeemed people and eternal delight. Paradise is restored! The damage is repaired. Earth is increased. Eternal victory is secured.
One day, as I was passing in the field, and with some troubles on my conscience, fearing lest yet all was not right, suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, Thy righteousness is in heaven; and I thought I saw, with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, as my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, He wants my righteousness, for my righteousness, even Jesus, was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever (Heb 13:8).
– John Bunyan Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners
I will extol thee, my God, O king; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever. Every day will I bless thee; and I will praise thy name for ever and ever.
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts. I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works. And men shall speak of the might of thy terrible acts: and I will declare thy greatness. They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness, and shall sing of thy righteousness.
The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works. All thy works shall praise thee, O LORD; and thy saints shall bless thee. They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power; To make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of his kingdom. Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.
The LORD upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down. The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works. The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them. The LORD preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy.
My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD: and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.
Praise ye the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.
While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being. Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God: Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever: Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry.
The LORD looseth the prisoners: The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind: the LORD raiseth them that are bowed down: the LORD loveth the righteous: The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down. The LORD shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations.
Praise ye the LORD.
Every Christian was condemned by the law. Every one was in bondage to guilt. We were slaves, slaves to sin, slaves to guilt, slaves to death, slaves in the kingdom of darkness dominated by the tyranny of Satan.
The condemnation of the law leaves all men hopeless. Ezekiel says, “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” We were all on death row with no possibility of appeal or pardon. We had no appeal because we were rightly convicted and justly condemned by the law.
The decree of our sinfulness at times sounds unpleasant and is highly offensive to many of the unsaved. Yet, without recognition of the extent of the problem there can not be true uderstanding of the greatness of what God has done. If sin is a little pebble in your shoe that causes problems but isn’t that big a deal, then God’s work will not seem that signficant. If you recognize sin is not a pebble but a soul crushing mountain of guilt, then God’s work begins to be seen as the enormous grace that it is.
When we were in bondage God sent His Son to be born of a woman. The Son of God did not step out of His celestial limo in His richest finery to toss a few pennies to the poor beggars scattered along the road. The Son of God did not swoop in to make a grand visit like a President surveying a hurricane ravaged region. The Son of God entered into humanity as a man. He became the beggar on the street. He became the refugee fleeing the rising flood. He entered fully into humanity.
The Son of God became the Son of Mary. This is unfathomable. This verges on the inconceivable. God became man. He who is completely unique from His creation entered into that which He made. Jesus became fully man, while remaining fully God. He never lost one bit of His deity, but He took to Himself the weakness, limit, sorrow and death of humanity. He grew from a single cell into a baby in His mother’s womb. He was born like babies have been born since the beginning. He grew through the normal stages of newborn, infant, toddler, young child, boy, young man and adult. When we were in bondage to the hopelessness of condmenation God sent His Son to be born of a woman.
When we were in bondage to the law God sent His Son to buy us out from under the law. God sent the Son for a specific reason. Jesus was not showing solidarity with human race by joining them in sorrow. Jesus was not giving an example of a better way to live. He was not showing love’s power to conquer hatred. God sent His Son to redeem us out of our bondage!
The Son of God was sent to pay the penalty demanded by the law. He came to set us free from the law of sin and death. He came to deliver us from the kingdom of darkness. He came to set us free from the terror of death and the tyranny of Satan. When we were in bondage, God sent His Son to buy us out of our slavery!