The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘faith

Conditional lives

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“All of this is conditional.”

So said our Prime Minister when setting out the proposals for the ending of the UK’s national lockdown. It seems like a sensible thing to say. Whether or not you like the idea of being a slave to ‘the science’, our widespread ignorance makes it at least reasonable to suggest that we can only proceed step by step, simply because we do not know what will happen when we take each step. Even a bolder and more definite plan, and even taking account of the more detailed advice that has been promised, it always has to be what is insistently called “a conditional plan.”

It is striking to see how angry and afraid people become because of this. It reminds me of a road trip to preach at a church in the Midlands many years ago. Setting out in good time, I discovered that a major motorway had been closed overnight and the re-opening had been delayed. In company with thousands of others, I queued. In company with hundreds of others, I got fed up queuing and tried to find a way around. When those hundreds of us ended up in other and worse queues, I returned to my original queue, which was still shorter. When the road opened, off we all went, most of us now late. To begin with, I had the pedal to the metal, wondering if I could still get there in time, occasionally dropping out of the fast lane to let someone past at a ridiculous rate of knots. And I noticed their faces and their driving styles. They appeared, typically, angry or scared. Their plans were in disarray. They had thought that they were in control, and now they needed to get back in control, to catch up lost time, to get a grip again on their lives. It seemed to me that they thought that they had been in charge of things, and, when things were taken out of their hands, they became deeply agitated. At some level, it was idolatry of the self. At that point, I slowed down, called ahead to say that I would be late, and drove—relatively safely and sanely—to the place where I was preaching. I arrived about thirty minutes into the service, stepping inside the door as a man was fervently pleading for the safe arrival of the preacher. His earnestness suggested that he would be the man who would have to step in if I did not arrive. His relief when he opened his eyes was palpable. I don’t know if anyone has ever been that glad to see me! But I had been taught again that I am not in control.

It is a lesson that has been pressed home again in the last few weeks. On one level, everything has fallen apart. So much that I had planned, for which I had prepared, and upon which I had presumed over the course of the coming months, now lies in ashes. The plans for the Lord’s day ministry that I had in mind, the evangelistic efforts locally, the connections and investments close at hand, all proved conditional. Next week I should have been at a conference in the UK and then one in the US. They were, it seems, eminently conditional. This week, my involvement in a European conference in the summer was tentatively cancelled, but that’s conditional on the next few weeks. Possibly rescheduling of these conferences for the future is … er … conditional upon factors outside of our control. We are looking at plans for post-lockdown church meetings. Much of it is conditional. At its most visceral, we have come again face to face with our own mortality, and with the mortality of those who are most dear to us. My life is conditional. Perhaps the fear has faded a bit, but all plans might have been ended by death. I have had to face again my utter weakness. I have been reminded—I have needed to be reminded—that I am not in control, and that God is. In fact, in that there is something quite refreshing.

You see, I spend a lot of time planning. I think efficiency is a marvellous thing. My days tend to be quite full, even if not always well-constructed and minutely-detailed. I like a bit of flex. The bigger picture tends to be, in my calendar, a rainbow-hued glory of seamless transition from place to place and task to task. In the last few weeks, I have spent at least as much time deleting and re-ordering as I have entering and scheduling.

And in that there can be a real sense of relief. The first few weeks of lockdown, everything just dropped. The schedule to which I was a self-indentured slave meant very little. There were times when I could have danced, others when I felt the responsibility for diligence with a newly-cleansed calendar. But it was not simply the absence of the demand that offered peace; for many, the fact that they were no longer in control seemed to induce fear or anger. What gave me peace was the reminder that while I am not in control, God is.

Everything I plan is always conditional. I just tend to forget that it is so. Every plan, made by every individual and institution, every prime minister, president and potentate, every governor and every government and every grunt, is conditional. The world’s plans have been brought to a standstill, or even to nothing, by a virus we can barely trace or track. We all tend to forget that it is so. James reminds us of this reality at the personal, visceral level:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (Jas 4:13–16).

sun behind cloudsWe make our plans, and we forget that even tomorrow is not guaranteed. It is not wrong to make plans, but we ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” Anything else is to boast in arrogance, and all such boasting is evil. What I ought to remember is that the only words which never fall to the ground are God’s. Nothing fails of any of his plans and promises. In that true sense, nothing has fallen apart; nothing has ended prematurely; nothing has been rescheduled. Everything has worked out as the Lord God has intended. From my perspective, all has proved conditional. From the throne of heaven, all comes to pass as it was intended. God’s sovereign determinations and unconditional decrees have issued in unfailing outcomes.

If we become angry or afraid because of the conditional nature of our plans and purposes, it is because we have not reckoned with our humanity, our mortality, our feeble finitude. We are not in control. That is true in the great things of our existence, and it is true of all the minute details of our individual lives. That tends to make the self-determining heart afraid and angry, or drift into despair, or insist upon the emptiness and pointlessness of it all. But true faith faces this, and turns to God and puts all things in his hands, and hangs all our plans and purposes upon his merciful and loving designs, without fear or anger.

My times are in your hand;
My God, I wish them there;
My life, my friends, my soul I leave
Entirely to your care.

My times are in your hand;
Whatever may unfold;
Pleasing or painful, dark or bright,
All by your love controlled.

My times are in your hand;
Why should I doubt or fear?
My Father’s hand will never cause
His child a needless tear.

My times are in your hand,
Jesus, the crucified!
Those hands my cruel sins had pierced
Are now my guard and guide.

My times are in your hand,
I’ll trust abidingly;
And, after death, at your right hand
I shall forever be.

William Freeman Lloyd (with minor modernisations)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 12 May 2020 at 12:31

Sing in faith with Ryland

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john-ryland-jrThe Baptist pastor and teacher, John Ryland, wrote the following hymn in 1777. I have updated the language slightly, and suggested a couple of tunes (one more assertive, one more meditative). I draw your attention to the line which I have as, “Mortal dangers round me fly.” Ryland’s original? “Plagues and deaths around me fly.” Sometimes an update loses a little something, so feel free to revert to Ryland at that point. May these timeless truths prove a help and an encouragement to God’s people during these days!

St. Bees / Aberafon 7 7. 7 7

Sovereign Ruler of the skies!
Ever gracious, ever wise!
All my times are in your hand,
All events at your command.

His decree, who formed the earth,
Fixed my first and second birth;
Parents, native place, and time—
All appointed were by him.

He that formed me in the womb,
Guides my footsteps to the tomb;
All my times shall ever be
Ordered by his wise decree.

Times of sickness, times of health;
Times of poverty and wealth;
Times of trial and of grief;
Times of triumph and relief.

Times the tempter’s power to prove;
Times to taste a Saviour’s love:
All must come, and last, and end,
As shall please my heavenly Friend.

Mortal dangers round me fly;
Till he bids, I cannot die:
Not a single arrow hits
Till the God of love permits.

O Most Gracious, Wise, and Just,
In your hands my life I trust:
Have I something dearer still?
I resign it to your will.

May I always own your hand,
Still to the surrender stand;
Know that you are God alone,
I and mine are all your own.

You at all times I will bless;
Having you, I all possess;
What in truth a loss can be
Since you will not part from me?

John Ryland

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 18 March 2020 at 07:36

“The awakened sinner’s address to God”

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In the course of his marvellous treatment of the theme, Christ Precious to Those Who Believe, John Fawcett occasionally breaks out into prayer on the pages of his book. Sometimes those prayers seem to rise from his own heart, at other times he puts into words the kinds of expressions he hopes might rise from other hearts as they read. At the end of the second chapter, which deals with the character of the people to whom Christ is precious – that is, those who believe – he offers a model of the awakened sinner’s address to God, as his own soul is moved with the truths he is handling. This is his petition:

Almighty and everlasting God, my Creator, my Preserver, and my Judge, before whose awful tribunal I must shortly make my appearance:

I am a poor individual of the fallen race of mankind, brought forth in iniquity, conceived in sin, and chargeable with actual transgressions almost without number. I have brought myself under the condemning sentence of your righteous law, and made myself deserving of your everlasting displeasure. It is high time for me to awake out of sleep, and to inquire, with the utmost seriousness and the deepest concern, whether there is any possible way of escaping from that wrath which is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

praying-hands-2I feel a ray of hope spring up in my soul, since you have said, in your holy word, “you are destroyed, but your help is from Me.” Jesus Christ, your only begotten Son, came into the world to save sinners, such as I am. This is no delusive supposition, no uncertain report. It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance. But I learn from the sacred Scriptures, that he who disregards this testimony, who does not receive it in the love of the truth, who does not believe in the Son of God, the appointed Saviour, must everlastingly perish. I learn from your word that pardon of sin, deliverance from condemnation, and the enjoyment of eternal happiness, are inseparably connected with true faith in his name.

O Lord, please mercifully grant to me that divine illumination without which I shall neither know the way of peace nor believe the truth to the saving of my soul. O teach me to know myself, the deep depravity of my nature, the guiltiness of my whole life, the purity of that law which I have violated, the inflexibility of that holiness and justice which I have offended, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and my own utter inability to do anything towards delivering my own soul out of that state of sin and misery into which I have brought myself. Bring me to an acquaintance with you, the only true God, and with Jesus Christ, whom you have sent to redeem and save the lost and the undone, whom to know is life eternal. May your Holy Spirit set before me, in the most powerful and engaging manner, the glory of his person, the sufficiency of his sacrifice, the efficacy of his blood to cleanse from all sin, the perfection of his righteousness to clothe the naked soul, the fulness of his grace to supply every need, and his ability in every respect to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.

May that precious gospel, of which Christ crucified is the sum and substance, appear to me, in all its truth, as the testimony of God; in all its sacred importance, as the word of life; in all its fulness, its suitableness to my case, its preciousness, and its glory, that I may be enabled to receive it with full and entire approval, as a system most honourable to God and safe for man, and that I may believe it with my whole heart.

Let me be a partaker of that faith which is connected with unfeigned repentance of sin, a sincere attachment to Jesus Christ, a subjection of heart and life to his will and government, a holy indifference to all that this present world can offer, and a sincere and constant endeavour to obey your commands. May I receive and embrace the truth as it is in Jesus, so that it may dwell and abide in me, in all its sacred energy and sanctifying power, working effectually in me, as it does in all those who believe. So let my heart be purified by faith, and give me an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith which is in you. Nor let me be a stranger to the joy of faith, but fill me with all that joy and peace in believing, which arise from the view and manifestation of pardoning mercy, through the precious blood of your dear Son – to whom, with yourself, and the blessed Spirit, the one eternal God, be equal and endless praises. Amen.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 29 June 2015 at 21:41

Gill’s definition of a Christian’s faith

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In a passing comment on Ephesians 1.15, John Gill speaks this way:

And the grace of faith, which terminates on him, is a seeing him, a beholding the glory of his person, and the fulness of his grace; a going to him, and venturing on him; a laying hold upon him, and embracing of him; a committing all unto him, and a leaning and depending on him, and a living upon him, and a walking on in him.

What a delightful way to describe the full-orbed nature of the faith that saves in looking to Christ Jesus!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 18 October 2014 at 20:01

Posted in Christian living

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Obeying in hope

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. . . Abraham didn’t just obey God.  He obeyed with hopefulness. He obeyed with a Godly optimism.  And that is the only way we can obey God in the midst of unthinkable trials.  And it is the only way we can obey God over the long term.  Our obedience must flow from our belief that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28).

Read it all.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 29 May 2012 at 17:44

Posted in While wandering . . .

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The fight to believe Scripture

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We know this fight.

A Christian believes, not because everything in life reveals the love of God, but rather despite everything that raises doubt. In Scripture too there is much that raises doubt. All believers know from experience that this is true. Those who engage in biblical criticism frequently talk as if simple church people know nothing about the objections that are advanced against Scripture and are insensitive to the difficulty of continuing to believe in Scripture. But that is a false picture. Certainly, simple Christians do not know all the obstacles that science raises to belief in Scripture. But they do to a greater or lesser degree know the hard struggle fought both in head and heart against Scripture. There is not a single Christian who has not in his or her own way learned to know the antithesis between the “wisdom of the world” and “the foolishness of God.” It is one and the same battle, an ever-continuing battle, which has to be waged by all Christians, learned or unlearned, to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

Here on earth no one ever rises above that battle. Throughout the whole domain of faith, there remain “crosses” (cruces) that have to be overcome. There is no faith without struggle. To believe is to struggle, to struggle against the appearance of things. As long as people still believe in anything, their belief is challenged from all directions.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1: Prolegomena (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Academic, 2003), 441.

via The Old Guys.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 23 March 2012 at 12:21

Posted in Revelation

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“Faith on Trial” – special offer

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Why do the godly suffer while the ungodly seem to prosper? This is a problem that has often perplexed and discouraged God’s people—from unfavorable doctor’s reports, employment troubles, to some of life’s most painful circumstances. Thankfully, the Bible does not leave us without an answer. This is the very question the Psalmist wrestles with in Psalm 73. This book, by one of the twentieth century’s most beloved pastors on one of the most beloved Psalms was a labor of love and true joy. Delivered on eleven successive Sunday mornings Lloyd-Jones opens this text, like a door of hope, and invites those whose feet are ‘almost gone’ and whose steps have ‘well nigh slipped’ to fall back again on the precious promises of God. Powerfully, biblically, pastorally, and experientially Lloyd-Jones shows how faith can triumph over the sorest trials. Reformation Heritage Books would like to offer this book at an all-time low cost of $5/copy. Click here to order the book.

What’s the scoop here? Reformation Heritage Books has arranged a special deal with Christian Focus on Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ study of Psalm 73, Faith on Trial.

HT Kevin DeYoung.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 9 March 2012 at 17:36

Heart disease

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These are fearful words to most of us, and rightly so. To be told that you have heart disease is to be told of a fundamental threat to life. Sometimes the only options are radical surgery and a complete revolution in our lifestyle. Most of us – were we or one of our family members in such a position – would be very quick to do whatever was necessary to put the situation right. After all, our life would be on the line.

But there is a yet more terrible heart disease which we are often all too ready to ignore, but which kills us all. Even as you read, you are suffering from this heart disease, and you need to know the symptoms, diagnosis and cure.

Its symptoms are very evident. Are you self-centred? Are you envious of what others have? Do you lie and cheat? Do you curse and blaspheme? Do you get drunk? Have you ever stolen? Do you want or have you had a sexual relationship with someone who is not your husband or wife? Are you often angry? Do you hate someone? Do you never go to worship God? Do you ignore Sunday, God’s day, and do whatever you like? Do you think nothing of Jesus Christ? Are you disobedient to your parents? If any or all of the above symptoms are present, then you suffer from this heart disease

The diagnosis is equally plain. “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark’s Gospel, chapter 7, verses 21-23). In other words, you have a sinful heart that is contrary to God and his law, and for which you deserve to be condemned and punished. In one sense, you are already dead: dead in trespasses and sins.

Critically, then, is there a cure? Yes! God has provided a means to be healed from this most terrible disease of sin, but it requires radical surgery and a complete revolution in lifestyle. In Psalm 51, verse 10, we find a man with a sinful heart crying out to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Only this can save you from your sins. You need a new, clean heart from God, and you need to depart utterly from all your sinful ways.

Consider what is at stake: with your terrible heart disease of sin, you have only misery and condemnation to come. Get a new heart from God: he is rich in mercy to make men who are dead because of sin alive together with Christ. Come, then, to Jesus Christ, and you shall have everlasting life.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 2 January 2012 at 08:00

Resurrection hope in a tsunami world

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My friend Alan Dunn has penned a brief piece trying to make Biblical sense of the tsunami. Does the Bible have anything to say about such disasters? Is there any hope in a world wracked by such tragedies? Alan’s answer, drawn from the Bible, is a resounding “Yes.” For a longer and more developed argument, you can download Catastrophes. I am grateful to Alan for his permission to make these available.

Existentialists have a word for the feeling of disconnection, the free-fall into the void of subjective meaninglessness, the disorienting bewilderment of detachment from everyone, everything and even from self. The word is “anomie:” without law, without order; chaos and confusion caused by a disconnection from everything secure, and familiar. All points of reference are gone and existence is intrinsically strange. The pictures coming from Japan depict anomie as people meander through once familiar neighborhoods now strange and severed from any point of connection. Anomie is the feeling of death, the severance of the unities that God created to constitute the fabric of life.

Does Scripture have anything to say to men when an earthquake and a tsunami so alter the landscape of life that one no longer has points of connection to the very earth upon which we walk? What do we say to people whose very relationship to the ground itself is severed?

First, we need to understand that God established a relationship between our bodies and the earth. God created man from the dust of the ground and named him “Adam,” meaning “red earth” (Gen 2:7-9,20). This “very good” creation is one in which Adam is essentially united to the earth. He is made of the same material. He lives in a symbiotic reciprocal relationship of mutual interdependence with the  earth. By his labor, Man would cultivate and keep the earth (Gen 2:15) and the earth would respond, yielding sustenance for man’s life. Man is not man apart from his union with the earth. For man to be man there must be a cosmos, a physical world over which he has dominion. God relates to the earth through the headship of the Man and as goes Adam‟s relationship with God, so goes earth’s relationship to God. But realize is that man is not man apart from the earth. He is red earth, animated dirt, made of the dust of the ground: he is Adam.

Second, we must understand the impact of the Fall on man’s relationship to the earth. When Adam sinned, he brought the earth under the sentence of the curse (Gen 3:17-19). In grace, God salvaged the original created order, but the dynamic of death now conditions man’s relationship to the earth. Man still exercises dominion, but the life-union between him and the ground is broken. The earth was subjected to futility (Rom 8:20,21) and although by his labor Man still obtains his food, he also harvests thorns and thistles, and experiences physical dissolution as his relationship to the earth disintegrates and he returns back to dust. The earth likewise is in slavery to corruption – not to moral corruption, but to decomposition, entropy, decay, rot. It will wear out like a garment (Isa 51:6). The ground has been judged through Adam with the sentence of death. Therefore from one perspective, earthquakes and tsunamis are evidence of the Fall: a world broken, convulsing in the throes of death; a world bound to the destiny of its Adam – for as it goes with Adam, so it goes with earth. Adam and his planet live or die together.

Thirdly, we hasten to bring to bear the grace of God, for this fallen earth is yet the stage upon which God’s redemptive love and saving purposes are being worked out. Immediately after the Fall, the planet was salvaged from total death. God intervened and sustained the original order of creation and announced that He would send the promised Seed who would crush the head of the Serpent and deliver the fallen cosmos from the curse (Gen 3:15). That Seed has come. He is Jesus Christ: the incarnate God/Man. His incarnation is crucial to the salvation that He has wrought for this tsunami world. Jesus taught us to see earthquakes and tsunamis not only as visitations of judgment, or as precursors to the great earthquake which characterizes Final Judgment (cf. Rev 6:12; 8:5; 11:13,19: 16:18). Jesus also spoke of earthquakes using a hopeful metaphor, albeit a painful one: the metaphor of a woman writhing in birth pangs. Earthquakes are part of those things which are the beginning of birth pangs (Mat 24:8; Mk 13:8; cf. Jn 16:20-21; 1 Thes 5:3). With the coming of Jesus, this present order of creation has been impregnated with the life of the age to come and is in the agonizing process of giving birth to what Jesus calls the regeneration (Mat 19:28; cf. Acts 3:21): the renovation of this fallen creation into the new physics of the age to come. Throughout this age earthquakes, like labor contractions, will erupt and relax in limited ways and progressively intensify until the climatic contraction which will grip the whole world in a final hour of testing (Lk 21:34-36; Rv 3:10). That hour will entail the purging fire of judgment (2 Pt 3:3-7) during which the present order of things will be destroyed (2 Pt 3:10): loosed, untied, unhinged – when the unities of creation are finally severed in a cosmic death brought on by death-cursed Adam.

But there is hope for this tsunami world: resurrection hope, glorious hope!

In 1 Cor 15:44,45 Paul calls the resurrected Jesus, the last Adam. In resurrection victory, He has obtained a new order of human existence: life-giving Spirit – resurrected human life, a body alive with the vitality of God‟s Spirit as its animating principle. This is in contrast with Adam, the first man’s natural body. Paul not only contrasts our resurrection body with our post-Fall, sin-riddled, perishable, dishonored, weak body. He also contrasts Jesus’ resurrection body with Adam’s natural body which became a living soul (citing Gen 2:7 concerning Adam’s pre-Fall body). Jesus‟ resurrection body is more glorious than Adam’s original created body! The point is this: by His resurrection, Jesus has become the last Adam. Now remember, Adam is not “Adam” without the earth, the dirt, the planet which must be bound to him. Without the ground, Adam is not man. For man to be man, he must have earth. Therefore Jesus, the resurrected last Adam, must have a resurrected earth! This tsunami world has hope because Jesus was resurrected and His resurrected body is the guarantee of the resurrected earth. Originally the earth was created then Adam was taken from it and placed upon it. In the new creation, the last Adam is resurrected and the recreated cosmos of necessity follows in His train. Jesus’ physicality is this planet’s only hope. Jesus is the incarnate enfleshed Son of God. He was physically conceived in the womb of a virgin by the power of the Spirit. He physically lived in sinless obedience to God and succeeded where Adam failed. He physically died on the cross bearing the punishment of death that Adam incurred. He was physically buried in the tomb. He physically rose from the grave. He physically ascended to the throne of God. He will physically return at the end of this age to transform our bodies and all things into conformity with His resurrection glory (Phil 3:20-21). Ours is a flesh and blood salvation, a water and mud salvation, a space and time salvation. All who are in Christ inherit His Kingdom of unimaginable glory: a recreated cosmos depicted in the final chapters of Revelation as a pristine Edenic garden in which a resurrected humanity begins again, only now remade in union with the last Adam, gloriously conformed to the first born among many brethren (Rom 8:29).

God made the earth and then He made Adam from the earth and then Adam went through death back into the dust. Jesus, incarnate sinless Man, went through death into the dust and conquered death as He bodily rose again, and as the last Adam, He pulls the dirt which is this planet with Him out of its grave into resurrection glory. Death into resurrection. It is the paradigm of redemption, a redemption for which this planet eagerly longs: the redemption of the bodies of the sons of God (Rom 8:18-23) and the cosmic regeneration. The way to that glorious regeneration is the way of the cross. It is the way Jesus went. It is the way we who will populate the new heavens and new earth must go, and with us, at Christ’s return, so too it is the way our planet will go. But as the earth undergoes its own sentence of death, it will convulse and give us anomie. At times it won’t look familiar to us, and we’ll feel separated from it, as though it has turned against us. Yes, we’re being judged. But we who are in Christ have no condemnation and we’re being saved! We see the earth’s convulsions as eschatological contractions which will result in the birth of a new and glorious cosmos of resurrection life. This world has been impregnated with the life of the age to come. The Spirit of the risen Christ has been given to His spiritually resurrected people, and the world writhes in labor pains, awaiting the birthing of our resurrected bodies so that with us, it too will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom 8:21).

If we would experience that glory, we must get into Jesus. Jesus, the resurrected Lord, the last Adam, is our only physical connection to the world to come. This world and its works will be burned up, but all who are in Jesus, as those who were in Noah’s ark, will be saved to populate this same but revitalized cosmos where we will live and labor for eternity, making the entire universe the temple of our covenant keeping God.

So next time you sense anomie, that bewildering sense of disconnection from this world and this life, exercise faith in your risen Lord. The Spirit in you will give you a sense of being securely connected to the resurrected Jesus and assure you that your connection to Him is more solid than the ground beneath your feet. Lift up your head and know that your redemption is drawing nigh. And begin singing: “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 17 March 2011 at 13:21

“A child I come, my God, and ask”

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C.M.

A child I come, my God, and ask:
Let me in Jesus hide,
Lest grief possess, or doubt invade,
Or bitterness reside.

Give me to view with eyes of faith
This one and temporal cross,
Since countless of your smiling acts
Prepared me for the loss.

Eternal blessings ever shine
And cannot be removed,
And in the dark of this day’s trials,
Eternal love is proved.

You brought me here, Lord, keep me here
Till I your lessons learn,
And sweet submission find a home,
And love within me burn.

Give me to feel my Father’s hands,
And know my Father’s smile;
Wrapped in the everlasting arms,
I’ll rest here for a while.

©JRW

See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 9 February 2011 at 17:36

Posted in Hymns & psalms

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Now . . . here . . . us

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Unbelief says: Some other time, but not now; some other place, but not here; some other people, but not us. Faith says: Anything He did anywhere else He will do here; anything He did any other time He is willing to do now; anything He ever did for other people He is willing to do for us! With our feet on the ground, and our head cool, but with our heart ablaze with the love of God, we walk out in this fullness of the Spirit, if we will yield and obey. God wants to work through you!

A. W. Tozer, The Counselor (Camp Hill, 1993), page 116.

via Ray Ortlund.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 19 January 2011 at 18:13

Gospel truth

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Carl Trueman finds an atheist who gets the truth and demands of the gospel better than many professing Christians:

We unbelievers are entitled to regard the Bible as magnificent literature. More is demanded from the faithful. Yet these days, even some soi-disant Christians would claim that the miraculous elements of the New Testament are only metaphors. To me, that is agnostic slop. Faith is more than literature. Faith is an epiphany of abasement, ardour and rigour, in the hope of grace, redemption and joy. But there is an entrance fee. If you do not believe in the literal truth of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, you are not a Christian.

Whenever we consider the glories of the incarnation – whether at the end of December or at any other time – we do well to consider that this is not a matter of taste and inclination, but of truth and conviction. Jesus is Immanuel – God with us – and that is simply not negotiable.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 24 December 2010 at 16:25

Posted in Christian living

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Psalm 31: “In you, O Lord, I put my trust”

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Milwaukee C.M.

Psalm 31
In you, O Lord, I put my trust,
Let me not suffer shame;
Please hear me and deliver me,
I call upon your name.

You are my rock, my fortress strong:
My mighty God and true;
From secret snares of wicked foes,
Deliverance comes from you.

[ I hate all those who idols serve,
My trust is in the Lord;
I will rejoice, and readily
Your mercies I record.

For my affliction you have seen,
And known me, low and poor,
From enemies delivered me,
And made my way secure. ]

Show mercy to this troubled man,
And send my soul relief;
My years roll on with tears and woes,
My strength consumed with grief.

My foes have made me a reproach,
My friends and neighbours flee;
A broken vessel, slandered, scorned,
Foes scheming death to me.

But as for me, in you I trust:
“You are my God,” I cried;
“My life and times are in your hand;
In you I will abide.”

Lord, make your face to shine on me,
Let me not be brought low;
But shame the wicked, stop their lies,
Your righteous judgments show.

How great your goodness, mighty God,
Laid up for those who fear;
You hide them in your secret place,
And keep them ever near.

What kindness God has shown to me,
What love to him we owe!
Take courage, God makes strong your heart;
Jehovah’s hope you know.

©JRW

See all hymns and psalms.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 27 May 2010 at 23:30

Posted in Hymns & psalms

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Toplady on assurance

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It has long been a settled point with me, that the Scriptures make a wide distinction between faith, the assurance of faith and the full assurance of faith.

1. Faith is the hand by which we embrace or touch, or reach toward, the garment of Christ’s righteousness, for our own justification.-Such a soul is undoubtedly safe.

2. Assurance I consider as the ring which God puts, upon faith’s finger.-Such a soul is not only safe, but also comfortable and happy.

Nevertheless, as a finger may exist without wearing a ring, so faith may be real without the superadded gift of assurance. We must either admit this, or set down the late excellent Mr. Hervey (among a multitude of others) for an unbeliever. No man, perhaps, ever contended more earnestly for the doctrine of assurance than he, and yet I find him expressly declaring as follows: “What I wrote, concerning a firm faith in God’s most precious promises, and a humble trust that we are the objects of his tender love, is what I desire to feel, rather than what I actually experience.” The truth is, as another good man expresses it, “A weak hand may tie the marriage knot; and a feeble faith may lay bold on a strong Christ.”

Read the whole thing at Heavenly Worldliness.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 22 April 2010 at 08:29

Underneath are the everlasting arms

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Look.  Read (Mt 6.31-34, for example, or Dt 33.27).  Trust.

HT: David Murray, who has an annoying habit of almost always and only writing worthwhile things.  Do follow his blog.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 21 April 2010 at 09:40

Jerome’s struggle, Christ’s victory

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A little more from Marcus Loane’s The Hope of Glory: An Exposition of the Eighth Chapter in the Epistle to the Romans (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1968):

The great Latin Father, Jerome, has left a clear record of the way in which he tried to obey the law and to subdue the flesh in his own strength.  He lived as a hermit alone in the desert and gave himself up to weeks of fasting; but he had to confess at last that he could not banish the dark passions which were always ready to haunt his mind.  “How often,” so he wrote to Eustochium, “when I was living in the desert, parched by a burning sun, did I fancy myself among the pleasures of Rome!  Sackcloth disfigured my unshapely limbs, and my skin from long neglect had become as black as an Ethiopian’s . . . And although in my fear of hell I had consigned myself to this prison, where I had no companions but scorpions and wild beasts, I often thought myself amid bevies of girls.  My face was pale, and my frame chilled with fasting; yet my mind was burning with desire, and the fires of lust kept bubbling up before me when my flesh was as good as dead.  Helpless, I cast myself at the feet of Jesus.”  Jerome found that only one thing could meet his need; nothing could take its place.  God was willing to do for him what he could not do for himself: he had to cast himself, helpless, at the feet of Jesus. (28-29)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 15 April 2010 at 07:26

No works in justification

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Regular readers of this blog will know that both neonomianism and antinomianism are bugbears of which we are much aware.  The quote that follows is from The Marrow of True Justification by Benjamin Keach (Solid Ground Christian Books, 2007).  The first part is his eleventh argument for the exclusion of all works done by the creature, or any obedience of his, in the matter of our justification with God.  Keach explodes all attempts to make our own works any part of our standing righteous before God with regard to our justification with the true doctrine of God’s grace in Christ, while making plain that such grace has nothing to do with antinomianism.  Rich stuff!

11 Arg. Is, because Christ is tendered or offered to Sinners as Sinners; not as righteous persons, but as ungodly ones, without any previous Qualifications required of them to set themselves to receive Christ; they are all as poor, lost, undone, weary, and heavy laden Sinners required to believe in Christ, or venture their Souls upon him, though they have no Money, no Righteousness; if they have, they must cast it away, in point of Dependence, Trust, or Justification: These are they, Christ came to call; these are they he invites to come to him, these are they he came to seek and to save, who see nothing of Good in themselves; but contrariwise, are sensible of their filthy Hearts and abominable Lives: And yet though it be thus, if they come to Christ, they shall be at that very instant justified, which Faith or Divine Grace will soon make them holy and sanctify them; for holy Habits are at that very instant infused into them, though Sanctification is a gradual work: This being so, it follows all Works done by the Creature are excluded, in point of Justification of a Sinner before God.  What said Paul to the ungodly Jailor, when he cried out, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?  Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved and thy house, Acts 16.31.  The Apostle did not put him upon doing to be saved, but upon believing.  But O how contrary is this to the Doctrine some Men preach now-a-days; they tell Sinners what they must do, what good Fruits they must bring forth, and this before the Tree is good, or they have closed with Christ, or have real Union with him; nay, bid the People take heed they do not too soon believe on Christ or venture on Christ.  Sirs, you cannot too soon believe in Christ, I mean truly believe; I don’t say you should get a presumptuous Faith, but true Faith: But is it not strange a Minister should be heard lately to say, A Man must get a new heart before he can be justified.  I though a Man could not have a new Heart before he had true Faith: Is not a new Heart one of the absolute Promises of the New Covenant, Ezek. 36.26.  Can any thing, short of Almighty Power, make the Heart new, or for the Image of God in the Soul; or can a Man that hath a new Heart be under Condemnation, for are not all in that Condition who are not actually justified?  Or can a dead Man quicken himself, or dead Works please God?  Or the Fruit be good before the Tree is good?  Are not all that are new Creatures in Christ Jesus, and have union with him, 2 Cor. 5.17? (82-83)

A little later, he urges the comfort of these things for sinners before raising and answering an objection:

Here is Comfort for Sinners; but if you are self-righteous Persons, or go about like the Jews of old, to establish your own Righteousness, down to Hell you will fall, Rom. 10.2.  This Doctrine will support you that are weak, and doubt for want of inherent Righteousness, take hold of it, A Robe of Righteousness, Put it on, Believe on Christ, as poor Sinners come to him, you that have no Money, no Worth, no Merit, no Righteousness, this Wine and Milk of Justification and Pardon is for you: Cry to God to help you to believe; Christ is the Author of your Faith, ’tis the Gift of God, ’tis a grace of the Spirit; Do you see you are wounded?  Look to Christ, Believe, and thou shalt be saved, Mark 16.16.  John 3.15, 16.  If thou can’st not come to God as a Saint, come as a Sinner; nay, as a Sinner thou must come, and may’st come.

Obj. But this Doctrine is decried for Antinomianism.

Answ. They know not what Antinomianism is, that thus brand us, as here-after I shall God-assisting prove.  If this is to be an Antinomian, we must be all such, and let them mock on; the Lord open their Eyes: We are for the Law as Paul was, and for Holiness and sincere Obedience, as any Men in the world; but we would have Men act from right Principles, and to a right end: We would have Men act in Holiness, from a Principle of Faith, from a Principle of Spiritual Life, be first married to Christ that they may bring forth Fruit to God, Rom 7.4.

We preach to you, Sinners, that Jesus Christ will entertain you, if you come to him, bid you welcome, and not cast you off, because of the Greatness of your Sins, though you have no Qualifications to recommend you to him.  Would you wash your selves from your Sins, and then come to the Fountain of his Blood to be washed; we hold forth Christ to be your whole Saviour, and that he is set forth as the Propitiation through Faith in his Blood; whom if you close with, and believe in, you shall be justified.  We tell you God justifies the Ungodly, i.e. that they are so before justified.  (88-89)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 19 February 2010 at 09:38

Caution on Sailhamer

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Several men of note have been falling over themselves to commend John Sailhamer’s The Meaning of the Pentateuch.  David Murray applies a necessary brake to the adulation by identifying a significant problem.  He quotes an early paragraph:

The Pentateuch is a lesson drawn from the lives of its two leading men, Abraham and Moses. The Pentateuch lays out two fundamentally dissimilar ways of “walking with God” (Deut. 29:1): one is to be like Moses under the Sinai law, and is called the “Sinai covenant”; the other, like that of Abraham (Gen.15:6), is by faith and apart from the law, and is called the “new covenant” (page 14).

Says Murray:

I read the passage again and again, just to make sure I had not misunderstood. How can you write 600+ pages on the Pentateuch and go so wrong in such a fundamental way at the very outset? Sailhamer is saying that there were two ways to be saved in the Old Testament. Like Moses, you could be saved by obeying the law. Or, like Abraham, you could be saved by believing in the Gospel.

That leaves me with three possible conclusions. First, Moses is in hell, having tried and failed to be saved by keeping the law. Or, second, there are two groups of people in heaven who have been saved in totally opposite ways. There are those like Moses who were saved by the works of the law, and there are those like Abraham who were saved through faith in the Messiah. Hard to see how there can be much fellowship when some are praising themselves and others are praising Christ. The third possible conclusion is that Sailhamer is wrong.

Ouch.  Murray runs with the third conclusion for a few more paragraphs, then concludes:

I’m going to force myself to keep reading, hopefully to the end of the book, as I’m sure that there is much to learn from Sailhamer’s extensive work. But it’s hard to see how Sailhamer can correct this fundamental error without contradicting himself or greatly confusing his readers.

I was hoping to get hold of Sailhamer.  I may still do so, as there will doubtless be vast quantities for me to learn.  However, I am not now half so eager, as this seems like a disastrous stance, and – as Murray says – surely such a fundamental error does not leave much to build on.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 February 2010 at 11:51

Are you a good person?

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Most of us like to think that we are good people.  After all, there are so many other people who are much worse than us.  We think we know what is right.  We often want to do what is right, but it is hard to do the right thing.  Why do we do things that we know are wrong?  And why do we feel bad inside when we do things that we know are wrong?  How do we measure goodness?  And how good is good enough?

The Lord God, who made you and takes care of you, has told us what is right and wrong.  One day we will all have to face Him.  He will judge everything that we have done, everything that we have said, and even everything that we have thought.  Jesus said, “Be ready, for the Son of Man [Jesus Christ] is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24, verse 44).  How can you be ready?  Will you be good enough?

stone_10commandments

Take a moment to read God’s Ten Commandments:

1.  You shall have no other gods before Me.

2.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;  you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.  For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

3.  You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

4.  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God.  In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.  Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

5.  Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

6.  You shall not murder.

7.  You shall not commit adultery.

8.  You shall not steal.

9.  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

10.  You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.

How do you compare to this standard?  You might think you can make fun of the standard: “I’ve never coveted anybody’s ox or donkey!”  You might think it easy to point to the things that you haven’t done: “I’ve never murdered anyone”.  But Jesus taught that the Ten Commandments go much deeper than we imagine.  They are as much about our thoughts, our hearts, our attitudes, as they are about what we physically do (if you have a Bible, you can find this in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5, verses 17-30).  Jesus said, “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matthew 5.22) and “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5.28).

No wonder the Bible teaches that “there is none righteous, no, not one” (the letter to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 10).  We have all broken the Ten Commandments: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23).  Is any one of us good enough for God?  No!

But that is not the end of the story.  Why did God write these Ten Commandments if none of us can keep them?  The Bible answers this question.  God says that the Ten Commandments – God’s holy law – is our “tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (the letter to the Galatians, chapter 3, verse 24).

How does Jesus Christ fit in, and what does it mean to be justified by faith?

Jesus fits in because “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians, chapter 4, verse 4).  Jesus Christ, being both God and man, obeyed the law of God perfectly.  He lived according to the law, and is the only man who never broke one of God’s Ten Commandments in his thoughts, words, or deeds.  Read the accounts of His life in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and you cannot find one instance when He sinned: He was never less than perfect in all that He thought, said and did.  But what does that have to do with us?

The Bible teaches that we all have a sinful nature.  After all, nobody needs to be taught how to do wrong things – it is the way we are, and we act in accordance with it.  But the Bible promises that “through one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5.19).  That verse is talking about Jesus, and means that somehow sinners like us can benefit from the perfect and sinless life that Jesus lived.

If we are to face God in judgment and not be damned for our sins – condemned for all the things that break God’s law – then we need the holiness and perfection of Jesus.  This is what it means to be justified: for God to declare us to be right in his sight.  For that we need a perfect righteousness.  How do we get this righteousness?  Through faith in Jesus Christ, his righteousness is put to our account.  Then, “justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 5.1).  Peace with God!  If your conscience tells you that you have done things wrong, and must one day face God, what would you not give to know peace with God?

Don’t try and have peace with God by trying to be better, by trying to keep God’s Ten Commandments better.  We cannot keep God’s law: “No one is justified by the law in the sight of God” (Galatians 3.11).  That sends us to Jesus Christ for the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?”  God’s answer is this: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”  This salvation is “by grace . . . through faith” (Ephesians 2.8).  “By grace”: it is the gift of God, and not something that we can earn or deserve.  “Through faith”: repenting of our sins, and trusting completely and only in Jesus Christ.  He lived the life that we should have lived, but could not.  He died the death that we deserved, being punished by God for the sins of His people.

cross

Examine your life, examine your heart.  Consider the standard of God’s Ten Commandments, and compare yourself to it.  Listen to your conscience.  Then repent of your sin, and ask God to save you through Jesus Christ.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 5 November 2009 at 11:37

Faith and adoption

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 13 October 2009 at 13:30

Posted in Christian living

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The threat to faith

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 10 August 2009 at 11:09

Becoming and being a Christian

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 June 2009 at 15:30

What is a true Christian?

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[I have recently been addressing the subject, “What is a true Christian?”  as part of a series on becoming and being a Christian, intended to help those who are asking the question, “Am I a new creation in Christ?” answer it from a Biblical perspective.]

The apostle John wrote his gospel so that we might know that Jesus is the Christ, believe, and be saved (Jn 20.31).  He wrote his first letter so that believers might “know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1Jn 5.13).

There are many things which the world – and many religious people in the world – assumes are certain marks of true Christianity.  These fool many into imagining that they are true believers when they are not.  Even many Christians build their assurance on these things, and find that they fail them when they need them, because they form no sure foundation.  These are inconclusive indications.

Gardiner Spring’s excellent The Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character or here [or, for Logos users, here] suggests seven things that are not, in themselves, conclusive marks that a professed work of grace is true or false.

Visible morality. Upright character is no sure indication of love to God.  A fair appearance does not necessarily indicate true heart righteousness (1Sam 16.7).

Head knowledge (mere speculative knowledge or intellectual perception) as opposed to spiritual understanding of the truth (Rom 1.21; 2.17-20; Jas 2.19; 1Cor 2.14).

A form of religion.  Many have the appearance of religion without the reality, the form without the power (2Tim 3.5; Mt 25.1-12; Is 58.2-3).  The Pharisees are the prime example of such people: a great reputation for religion, but a heart far from God.

Eminent gifts.  Some have great natural abilities (and, perhaps, verbal dexterity – the gift of the gab – is something that is often taken to indicate a heart for God), which they employ even in religious contexts (again, the gift of ready speech is one that people often mistake as a sign of true godliness).  Balaam and Saul both enjoyed eloquent prophetic experiences without entering the kingdom (Mt 7.22-23).  Bunyan became “a great talker in religion” before he became a true believer, and several of his characters in Pilgrim’s Progress demonstrate the same problem.

Conviction for sin.  We must be careful here.  Conviction for sin is necessary for salvation but not necessarily joined with salvation (note also that many Christians feel conviction for sin far more acutely after they are saved than before, and that some who are brought up in godly homes and converted young may have relatively little clear and distinct sense of sin).  Awareness of and a sense of guilt concerning sin do not mean that a man is saved or will be saved (Jude 14-15).  Ask King Saul, King Ahab, or Judas.

Strong assurance.  There is a difference between believing you are saved and believing in Christ and therefore being saved.  It is possible for someone entirely persuaded that they are right with God to be wrongly persuaded (Mt 3.7-9).

Notable time or manner of one’s professed conversion.  Even unusual and distinctive experiences do not demonstrate that one’s profession of faith is genuine.  There are some who live and die trusting in the memory of a moment – perhaps some warm and fuzzy feeling, or raising a hand or walking an aisle or responding to a call – without ever having known true spiritual life.

There is almost nothing more dangerous than to imagine oneself saved and yet to remain unsaved.  There is nothing more blessed than to know oneself a Christian grounded on a solid foundation, as the Spirit witnesses in the heart and to the work he is accomplishing in those whom he indwells.  To recognise these inconclusive indications for what they are liberates the true believer from the tyranny of mere subjectivism, and strips away the flawed and rotten supports on which we – and others – too often build our hopes.

What, then, are the Scriptural indicators that a genuine work of grace has taken place in the heart of a sinner?  When John writes his letter, he does so in carefully-planned circles.  Like an aircraft circling the same territory, John notes the same heart-terrain repeatedly.  At least four indispensable indications of true Christianity become plain as we circle through John’s letter.

The first is a humble and wholehearted embrace of the divine diagnosis of and remedy for sin (1Jn 1.7 – 2.2; 2.12-14; 3.5, 6, 23; 4.2, 9-10, 13-16; 5.1, 5, 10-13, 20).  A Christian man has an accurate view of himself as a sinning sinner.  He acknowledges the just judgments of a holy God (Ps 51.4; Lk 15.18; 18.13).  This Spirit-wrought conviction of sin leads to genuine repentance as his heart breaks over godlessness, he becomes crossrevolted by his sin and turns from it and forsakes it because it offends the Lord God (Jl 2.12-13).  With repentance is joined faith in Jesus as presented in the gospel in his might and majesty, his meekness and mercy.  Faith receives Jesus, looks to Jesus, comes to Jesus, flees to Jesus, leans upon Jesus, trusts in Jesus, holds to Jesus, and rests upon Jesus.  Let us remember that this is the essential point and gives birth to all that follows: the dying thief never had an opportunity to manifest the other three marks of saving faith (though he would have done had he lived), but still the Lord assured him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23.43).  Whoever trusts in Jesus, though he believes one moment and dies the next, has his life hid with Christ in God.

The second is a humble reverence for and joyful devotion to God and his glory (1Jn 1.3-5; 2.12-15; 3.1-2; 4.12-13, 19; 5.1-2).  A radical reversal of priority has occurred: the idol Self is toppled and God reigns in the heart.  A change has occurred: a heart that by nature is enmity with God (Rom 8.7) has been replaced by one that loves God entirely (Lk 10.37).  The man who lived for self now lives for God, offering himself as a living sacrifice (Rom 12.1-2).  Gratitude for grace received and delight in God himself issues in joyful service of the shining-sunLord of glory.  This is a man convinced of God’s excellent glory, for its own sake: he would, if called upon, serve without reward for he recognises God’s worthiness to be served: Romans 11.36 seems entirely pleasing and proper to him, for God in Christ is now at the pinnacle of his thinking and feeling and doing.  The testimony of such a man’s heart is “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is none upon earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73.25-26).  He believes it, knows it, pursues it, and repents afresh because he does not know and feel and prove it more.  He is concerned for God’s name and God’s people and therefore his time, energies, graces, gifts, faculties and efforts are consecrated to God, whether in the apparently spectacular or the genuinely mundane (1Cor 10.31).  His chief end and great delight is to glorify God and to enjoy him now and forever.  God in Christ is all in all to him, and he longs to know and feel and prove it more.

The third is a principled pursuit of godliness with an increasing attainment in holiness (1Jn 2.3-8, 15-16, 19, 29; 3.3, 6, 10, 24; 4.13; 5.2-5, 21).  The hypocrite likes the reputation of holiness, but the true child of God is satisfied only with the substance.  He considers his ways, and turns his feet back to God’s testimonies (Ps 119.59).  The world no longer sparkles as it did – or, at least, his attraction to it and affection for it have been fundamentally altered – and now he lives for God, called to be holy as God himself is holy (1Pt 1.16).  The daily-breadbonds to sin have been broken, and the persistent habit of unmortified sinning has been shattered because of his union with Christ. The new root brings forth new fruit (Mt 7.20; 12.33-35).  His obedience – though not yet perfect – is universal (throughout the whole man), habitual, voluntary and persevering.  He has taken up his cross, and continues to do so daily, as a disciple of a crucified Christ (Mt 16.24-25).  He pursues Christlikeness – it is the burden of his private and public prayers.  He increasingly manifests the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22-23); he has no love for the world (Jas 4.4); the previous pattern of conformity to, company with and compromise for the sake of the world is over (2Tim 3.4; 1Cor 16.33).  This is not sinless perfection, but laborious progress.  It does not mean that a Christian faces no battles but rather than he fights great battles, opposed as he now is to a raging and committed enemy of malice and power (Rom 7.13-25).  Sometimes he wanders; sometimes he is on the back foot; sometimes, grievously, he backslides.  However, the tone and tenor of his life is one of advance.  The trajectory of his life over time is upward.  The points plotted on his spiritual graph are not a seamless upward curve, and there are painful plateaus, but the line of best fit indicates persevering progress over time as sin dies and godliness is cultivated.

A fourth mark that John identifies is affection for and attachment to God’s redeemed people (1Jn 2.9-11; 3.10-18, 23; 4.7-11; 4.20 – 5.2).  This is more than natural affection (just liking them), mercenary attachment (what you can get out if it), party spirit (a gang mentality), or mere presence (just turning up at the right place at the right time).  The true Christian loves God’s people because they are God’s people, even though they are unlovely in themselves.  In that sense, he needs no other reason, and yet he has several.  He loves them because of what they are to God, loved by him and saved by Jesus, and it is therefore Godlike to love them.  He loves them because of what they are in themselves, marked out increasingly by the image of God, by likeness to the Jesus whom he loves.  He loves them because of what they are to him, members together with him of the one body of which Jesus is the saving and sovereign head (1Cor 12.12-14, 26-27).  He loves not in word only: it is manifest in his thoughts and deeds (Eph 4.1-6, 12-16, 25-32).  He is a true churchman: he does not simply “do church” but views and responds to the saints individually and gathered together with affection, commitment, service and investment.  He is not a spectator but a servant, concerned not just to get out but to put in.

These four marks will invariably be present in a true child of God.  They will not be perfect until glory, but they will be present now.

We cannot afford to be fooled, imagining ourselves saved when we are not.  This is a most desperately dangerous condition to be in, and a devastating conclusion to daw.

We do not need to be confused, either always doubting or building on a wrong foundation.  We can know whether or not we are saved.

John writes so that we can be sure, knowing ourselves saved and enjoying eternal life.

If these marks are not in your heart and life, then you are not a Christian, whatever you claim or imagine, and you should not fool yourself nor dishonour Christ by claiming his name without walking in his ways.  You blaspheme Jesus and expose him to scorn by taking the label of a true believer but living apart from his gracious power and saving wisdom.  The hypocrite gives men a reason to scorn and deride true religion by pretending to what he does not have.  We see this written on a large scale when those professing to be a true church depart from the truth, teach their own concoctions, live without godliness, and give occasion for men to blaspheme.  “Call that Christianity!”  No!  No, it is not Christianity – it is an empty masquerade that gives opportunity for sinners to deride or despair of Jesus, which leaves your hands with the blood of men upon them, and which will ultimately damn you if you are not saved from it.  It is better to know yourself outside than falsely to imagine yourself inside: you must therefore flee to Jesus, and acknowledge your need, repent of your sin, and trust in the Saviour.

But if these things are present in you and true of you then you are a Christian, and you should not dishonour Christ by denying the source of grace in you.  Some doubting and fearful saints are terrified that they will lay claim to God’s grace in Christ without having it, and so walk in shadow if not in darkness, robbed of joy and neither being blessed nor blessing others as they might.  But consider: these things simply do not grow in the soil of the unregenerate heart, and to possess them without a Christian testimony is to know the privileges of the kingdom without wearing its livery.  It might give the impression to some that the fruits of grace can grow in natural soil, and imply that unconverted men can attain to true godliness and genuinely Christian morality, and so prompt a despising of the work of God’s Spirit.  Others might be profoundly discouraged, imagining that a man can show marks of true holiness but not really be saved, and so wonder if they can ever truly testify, “I am his, and he is mine.”  Friend, if you have these things in you, then honour the God who put them there by owning yourself saved of God, and live accordingly.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139.23-24).  If you need Jesus, go to him now and you will be saved.  If you have Jesus – if he has you – then hold fast, love him, serve him, and rejoice in him, for you are a child of God, and he will keep you to the end, perfecting that which he has begun in you.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 23 April 2009 at 10:56

A dying man’s questions

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This is both poignant and painful.  I remember Pastor Ted Donnelly:

Unconverted people may call us glomy.  They may consider our meetings old-fashioned and dull, without the sparkle of the polished ecclesiastical comedians.  That cannot be helped.  But when they are in trouble, in a real crisis, will they turn to the clowns?  Will they look for someone to tell them little stories and make them laugh?  Time and again we find that people in need are drawn instinctively to those who are serious, in earnest, in touch with real life.  They sense a sterling character, an ability to help on a profound level.  In the long run, the jester has less impact than the man or woman with tears of compassion.  Those who once mocked us may come to discover that ‘it is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools’ (Eccles. 7:5).[1]

HT: Extreme Theology.

PS There are several videos like this that have been proved clever but not genuine.  I have no reason to doubt this one, but – should you know otherwise – please let me know and I will remove it immediately.


[1] Ted Donnelly, Heaven and Hell (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001), 54-55.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 9 April 2009 at 13:38

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“A sensible reformation of attitudes”

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That is what Tony Blair, erstwhile Prime Minister and now roaming head and chief cheerleader of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, is calling for with regard to homosexuality in a Times article today.  The piece reports on Mr Blair’s interview with Johann Hari of the gay magazine, Attitude, in which

the former Prime Minister, himself now a Roman Catholic, said that he wanted to urge religious figures everywhere to reinterpret their religious texts to see them as metaphorical, not literal, and suggested that in time this would make all religious groups accept gay people as equals.

Asked about the Pope’s stance, Mr Blair blamed generational differences and said: “We need an attitude of mind where rethinking and the concept of evolving attitudes becomes part of the discipline with which you approach your religious faith.”

Later on in the piece, we are offered the following profound insight:

He continued: “What people often forget about, for example, Jesus or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad, is that their whole raison d’être was to change the way that people thought traditionally.”

Worryingly, Mr Blair also has confidence that things are ‘improving’ elsewhere:

He also claimed that the mood was changing in evangelical circles, which have been long been anti-gay – the source of the dispute that has taken the worldwide Anglican Communion to the brink of schism.

Referring to his contacts with evangelical groups in the US and elsewhere through the foundation, he said: “I think there is a generational shift that is happening. If you talk to the older generation, yes, you will still get a lot of pushback, and parts of the Bible quoted, and so on. But if you look at the younger generation of evangelicals, this is increasingly for them something that they wish to be out of – at least in terms of having their position confined to being anti-gay.”

So, Mr Blair’s alleged Christianity is based entirely on temporally shifting metaphor, rather than eternally solid truth.  This allows him to interpret Jesus – “or, indeed, the Prophet Muhammad,” because we great religious thinkers are capable of seeing, apparently, that their diametrically opposed notions are perfectly reconcilable – as merely a rebel and progressive, concerned only to change the way people think traditionally.  In keeping with his pointless and nebulous view of faith, the architect of faith, Jesus, is simply trying to keep us on the move, bring us change, which is good for its own sake, being merely whatever is not traditional.  “Yes, we can.”

We also see the all-too-familiar vacuous idea of an ‘evangelical’ trotted out, probably more to do with a style of worship, dress and hair than anything substantial (for example, rooted in the gospel).  Here is a generational shift: old people will still give you those old chestnuts, “parts of the Bible quoted, and so on.”  But the young people, the radicals, the emergents, they are being nicely liberalised, and there is hope for them.  They do not want to be defined by their stance on homosexuality, as if any genuine Christian defines himself or herself by such a stance.

The Bible is not “anti-gay” in the sense that it tells us to hate homosexuals.  It is “anti-gay” in the sense that it is anti-sin, exposing homosexuality – along with a multitude of other sins – as what it really is: an offence against the God that made us.  Sexual sins, including homosexuality, get unusually short shrift because they are a high-handed demonstration of worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Rom 1.25).  The idea that true religion is defined simply by its stance on homosexuality is utterly vacuous.  Christians have always accepted “gay people as equals”:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.  As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.  They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.”  “Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3.9-20)

See: absolute equality.  Oops, there’s me, only in my thirties, and quoting parts of the Bible, and so on . . .

But the point is that the Bible levels every man before God: we are all, by nature and deed, guilty.  And it is to guilty sinners that God makes known his righteousness in Christ Jesus, his incarnate Son:

For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:22-26)

True religion is men and women saved from their sins by the overwhelming and glorious grace of God in his Son Jesus Christ, the embodiment of the good news, preached to sinners of all kinds, outwardly virtuous or evidently vicious, religious or irreligious or pagan, and each with a rotten heart.  It is the declaration of salvation, of a true and lasting change of heart, accomplished by the power of God in the hearts of men and women whose ingrained pattern of life was once to think and speak and act contrary to the Lord God of heaven.  The apostle Paul describes such sinners:

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.  Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.  (Romans 1.26-32).

Yes, homosexuality is in there (note, Mr Blair, in the New Testament, and not just in those tricky Levitical bits that you are so quick to dismiss).  In fairness, though, it is a fairly comprehensive catalogue, and not one that leaves any of us with a leg to stand on.

To such men and women the Scriptures of God offer an uncompromising warning and a glorious hope:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.  (1 Corinthians 6.9-11)

That is how true Christians define themselves: as new creatures washed in the blood of Jesus, set apart to serve God in the pursuit of holiness, indwelt by the Spirit of God and so continuing to pursue likeness to Jesus Christ.

Quite apart from these flaws in his thinking, the principle on which Mr Blair builds his argument is also inherently unstable.  What happens if accepting and promoting homosexuality becomes the norm?  Would Tony Blair have us then overthrow the new tradition?  If Tony Blair and those who think like him establish the agenda for the world, is that the time for everyone to rise up and change the way things are for something new?  This would be a recipe for chaos, a rolling maul of pointless, directionless change.

Given such thinking, would it not be about time we rethought slavery?  Being against slavery has become quite a traditional idea in the West.  Is it time to ring the changes once again?  It seems that the right to choose to end the life of a child in the womb is substantially accepted by the majority of people today.  Is that traditional enough for Mr Blair to call for a change?

Of course, the very premise on which he is arguing is patently a nonsense, and it is actually not what Mr Blair wants at all.  He wants to fix a tradition, to establish a norm, in his own image, and in the image of those who think like him.  Like every sinful man, in his heart he wants to dethrone God and be God himself.

What a heap of confusion!  We end up with a faith which has no foundation, a Jesus who is no God, and a gospel defined only by what it is not.  What a miserable and empty vision for religion.  What on earth – seriously, what on earth – does such a perspective have to offer?

How much more credible, coherent, consistent, hopeful, real and glorious, is the gospel of the true and living God, eternal and unchangeable:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  (2 Corinthians 5.17-21)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 8 April 2009 at 09:21

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