A Soothing Truth for a Discouraged Heart

There is a great Scriptural truth that every believer in Jesus Christ needs to remind himself or herself of constantly as they walk on the pilgrim pathway of this world. We can certainly get discouraged and feel ourselves becoming faint in heart. In those times, my tendency is to return to a kind of self-dependency mindset that is so contrary to the gospel. Like the little engine that could, I try to muster up all the courage and strength I can for the task or simply to keep going in the faith. However, the truth I need to focus on, especially during times when I am looking to myself to persevere in the faith, is this: God in His faithfulness will establish me (hold me up so that I don’t fall away). It is quite simple—my salvation is of the Lord from start to finish. My confidence must be in Him. My hope must be in Him. I must look outside of myself to Him at all times. He is my refuge and strength. He is my salvation. Oh, how I must rest in our faithful God and His promise to finish what He began (Philippians 1:6)!

Another way of putting this is that my salvation is God’s work! It is by His grace all the way. It does not start by grace and then it becomes up to me. Jesus is truly the author and finisher of my faith (Hebrews 12:2). I will persevere—only because God is doing His work in me. Now, this does not mean that I am passive. God’s work in me shows up in my life. It actually shows up in my effort as well. My effort is by His power which effectually works in me (Colossians 1:29). But my point here is that the truth of His faithfully upholding me is where my confidence must rest. God is faithful and that specifically means He will do what he has promised. Recently, I have been encouraged by II Thessalonians 3:3. Paul writes, “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.”  What wonderful news—I can rejoice in the faithfulness of my great God! I can worship and praise Him for he will not allow me to fall away from the faith. In light of this truth, I certainly must not live presumptuously, using this as an excuse to be careless. But I can let this truth encourage me not to lose heart but instead be renewed in my inner being! What amazing grace and infinite love. This awesome God, who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for my salvation, will certainly not stop working until I am safely in His presence where there is fullness of joy (Romans 8:32)!

 

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Some Reading Recommendations

Reading good Christian books is a wonderful practice. There are so many Christian non-fiction books out there that I find it helpful to get some good recommendations from sources I consider reliable. No one can read everything there is, so it is good to exercise some discernment and try to read what is truly profitable and Biblically sound. Here are a few recommendations from my own reading of late.

Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray

This is truly a classic work by a very sound systematic theologian. Murray wrote this in 1955 and it has been reprinted many times. It deals with significant matters of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), and it does so very clearly and concisely. There is some depth with regards to content, but this is well worth one’s time to read.

The Story of Reality: How the World Began, How It Ends, and Everything important that Happens in Between by Gregory Koukl

This is not your typical Biblical Theology story of redemption. Koukl is an apologist and does not simply tell the story of the Bible but all along the way compares it with other worldviews, gives clarification, and seeks to persuade readers that the Bible story is the real one! I am more than halfway through and am enjoying it very much. Not only that, but am considering giving it away to some folks as an evangelistic tool.

Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love by Jerry Bridges

I just finished reading this for the third or fourth time. It so wonderfully teaches the grace of the gospel. The book instructs believers in terms of avoiding legalism and living grace-driven lives without crossing over into antinomianism (living lawlessly). I find Jerry Bridges to always be God-centered, down-to-earth, clear, and doctrinally sound.

Reverberation: How God’s Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People by Jonathan Leeman

I am reading this for the second time. It is a great book about how the Word of God is to shape God’s people through the church. Leeman seems to have the ability to write about deep things in a very easy-to-understand way. How wonderful when God’s Word reverberates among His people and there is healthy spiritual growth!

 

 

 

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God: The Object of the Believer’s Joy

Salvation is about knowing and delighting in God. He does not need us, but we need him to be happy in the eternal and ultimate sense. Only God himself can bring us happiness. There is only happiness in God himself, not simply in the things that He gives us (though, of course, we should enjoy all of His good gifts). What I am saying is that God is both the source and the object of our joy! Let me ask you to simply read the following verses that wonderfully express the joy to be found in God!

Psalm 43:4 Then I will go to the altar of God, To God my exceeding joy; And on the harp I will praise You, O God, my God.

Isaiah 29:19 The humble also shall increase their joy in the LORD, And the poor among men shall rejoice In the Holy One of Israel.

Habakkuk 3:18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

Matthew 13:44 “ Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Luke 10:20 “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

John 15:11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

Acts 13:52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Romans 14:17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

Psalm 33:21 For our heart shall rejoice in him, Because we have trusted in his holy name.

Psalm 35:9 And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD; It shall rejoice in his salvation.

Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

I certainly realize that these verses mean so much more when studied in their context. But even a simple reading of them helps us to know that God desires his children to have joy, and that God desires his children to have that joy in him. This is not some minor truth that you should relegate to the less important aspects of being a Christian. This is something of major importance. When God is not the object of our joy, we are living a distorted form of Christianity. We are certainly not exalting God. We are saying that he does not satisfy. You can be busy “serving” God and doing “church stuff” yet all the while looking for joy in all the wrong places. In fact, you may be serving with the mindset that you are earning rewards—things that will bring you happiness. It is so urgent for us to understand that God is the perfect object of one’s joy. This truly is the goal of the gospel—knowing and enjoying God forever!

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Christmas Meditation: The Real Jesus

As we celebrate Christmas this year, we must understand that we are not at liberty to create a Jesus Christ to our own liking. This is because there is a real Jesus Christ and He is not to be trifled with. The trivialization of God in our culture is significant. God’s glory is at the center of our universe. The God who has revealed Himself to us in creation and in His Scriptures is holy and awesome. He is the living and true God. There is nothing and no one to compare Him to. He is glorious and great. He is worthy to be worshipped. He is infinite and incomprehensible in His fullness. He exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is to be known and worshipped for in Him alone can human beings find their satisfaction and joy and peace. We must not trivialize the second person of the Tri-une God—Jesus Christ. We are not at liberty to create a Jesus of our own liking!

Yet many do. There is the “sentimental” Jesus who comes to make us feel warm and happy inside, particularly about ourselves. He comes to make wishes come true—the Jesus not unlike some of the magic people we might find in Disneyworld; the Jesus who brings the kind of sentimentalism we might find on a nice Hallmark card. But the real Jesus comes to bring us truth—some of which is not pleasant for human ears. The real Jesus teaches that human beings are fallen and have sinful hearts. In Mark’s gospel, the real Jesus says: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” The “sentimental” Jesus doesn’t speak like this but the real Jesus does.

Then there is the “this is your best life now” Jesus who comes to make you successful—comes to give you health and wealth and prosperity if you will let Him be your life coach. This Jesus helps you get that job promotion and helps you make that smart investment and helps you win friends and influence people. This Jesus fits right in with the American Dream. But the real Jesus says to His followers that they are to live for His coming Kingdom. Of this life, He says to His followers in the gospel of John: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” And in another place in John’s gospel: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” The “this is you best life now” Jesus doesn’t speak like this but the real Jesus does.

There is also the “fixer-upper” Jesus who comes to resolve all of your problems in this life. If your kids are sick, He makes them well, guaranteed. If your marriage is broke, he will make it all better. If you’re disappointed about something, he will turn it all around for you. He is like having your own personal handyman for all of your life’s problems. Like a cosmic genie, He is there at your beck and call. But the real Jesus answers the apostle Paul’s prayer for deliverance from what was probably a serious physical problem with a “no” telling Paul that Paul will have to trust in His sufficient grace. The real Jesus does not promise that He will fix everything in this life and asks for His followers to trust Him.

So let’s talk about the real Jesus now. Though he doesn’t come to you as a therapeutic counselor to always make you warm and cozy with yourself; and though He doesn’t come so that you might live your best life now with health and wealth and prosperity; and though he doesn’t come to fix up every temporal problem you may encounter in life; He does come to do something much better!! Something with eternal value! He comes to show God’s love, mercy, and grace to sinners. He comes to save us from our sins. He comes to rescue us from God’s just eternal condemnation and bring us to God that we might know the living and true God and enjoy being in His presence forever! He does this by sacrificing Himself on the cross. He offers Himself up as the lamb of God, bearing, as it were, the very wrath of God that sinners deserve. His love is sacrificial; His grace is amazing; He offers us eternal life by taking upon Himself our deserving death. As Romans 4:25 says: “He was delivered up for our trespasses” and as Romans 5:8 says: “God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

So, it is true that He came to die in the sinners place—and, as he said Himself, He came to call sinners to repentance! And the story doesn’t stop at His crucifixion because on the third day, He rose again showing His triumph over sin and death and Satan. This is the real Jesus. He is alive! He ascended into heaven; He is coming again to judge the living and the dead. He will make a new heaven and earth and His kingdom will never end! Those who repent of their sins and trust in Him alone are reconciled to God and have life everlasting. Those who do not, will spend eternity apart from God in a miserable existence the Bible calls hell.

The Scriptures tell us in John 1:12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” And the real Jesus said in John 5:24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” He will ultimately fix things up completely for those who trust Him. And He will bring in one’s best life eternally. And He will make us feel wonderful on the inside as we find our satisfaction and peace and joy in Him and not ourselves. The real Jesus is Christ the Lord and the proper response is that human beings come and adore Him! This Christmas season, all of us should ask the question: “Am I trusting in the real Jesus?”

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A Fruitful Life

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.   Romans 7:4

The Christian life is to be a fruitful life, but apart from the work of the Spirit of God in the life of the believer there would be no fruit for God whatsoever. Here are three important basic truths about a fruitful life in Christ.

1. Under the New Covenant, All Believers Are Indwelt by the Holy Spirit

This means that the Holy Spirit is present with every believer to bring Christ’s work and life to that individual (Romans 8:9). Even believers in the Corinthian church who were not behaving at all like Christians continued to have the Spirit’s indwelling presence (I Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). The Holy Spirit was not sent to believers to replace Christ. He was sent to apply Christ’s work and bring Christ’s life to the believer (Ephesians 2:22).

2.Fruit Is What Christ’s Life in Us through the Holy Spirit Produces Both in Us and Through Us

We can make a distinction between the fruit of our service (John 15:17) and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23). The fruit of our service can be thought of as the good works and the result of those works when God uses them as means to affect and transform others. The fruit of the Spirit can be thought of as the character of Christlikeness that is produced in the life of a believer over time. Though we can make a distinction between these two kinds of fruit, real fruit in ministry cannot effectively happen without the fruit of the Spirit (I Corinthians 13:1-3).

3. The Fruit of the Spirit are Contrasted with the Works of the Sinful Nature in Galatians 5:19-24; the Fruit of the Spirit belong to the Believer and Should Be Cultivated in Our Lives

This contrast is to be thought of as two different ways to live. The works of the flesh (sinful nature) are seen as the works of an unregenerate heart (an unsaved person) while the fruit of the Spirit are the character traits of Christlikeness being worked into our lives by the Holy Spirit (5:21,24). Though believers still struggle greatly (because the sinful nature has not been irradiated), this struggle is not to be thought of as an up-for-grabs battle. There is a winner and it is Christ in us! The fruit of the Spirit can be thought of as a cluster of fruit, like a single jewel with nine facets. Also, the fruit of the Spirit are not necessarily exhausted by the nine words in the passage, as the additional wording “against such things” implies that there are additional ways to describe the fruit.

Fruit in our lives is a very real goal. By God’s grace and through His Spirit’s work, those in Christ are to make progress in the faith. Though our progress may be slow, it is, nonetheless real. We should praise the Lord for the ministry of the Holy Spirit who brings the reality of Christ’s work and Christ’s very life into our hearts!

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Are You Wise? “…Never be wise in your own sight” (Romans 12:16).

The above part of Romans 12:16 grabbed my attention as I was reading God’s Word a few mornings ago. Isaiah, in a litany of woes, states something very similar in Isaiah 5:21: “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” So we have a clear command in Romans never to esteem ourselves wise and a strong warning in Isaiah concerning the same thing. Here are several thoughts on these humbling verses for believers to reflect upon.

1. This does not mean that we should not think and behave wisely for that too is clearly commanded and commended (Proverbs 4:5,7; 16:16; James 3:13; Ephesians 5:15).

2. This does mean that we must humbly acknowledge that when it comes to “wisdom from above” (James 3:17) we are naturally bankrupt.

3. Because of the grace of God through Jesus Christ, our wisdom is Christ Himself (I Corinthians 1:30,31), which is exactly why we have nothing to boast about except our boast in Him!

4. So we must humbly walk wisely in Christ and in His wisdom alone (Colossians 2:6).

5. So when tempted to think I am a really wise person in and of myself, I am really thinking very foolishly!

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The “Already” of the “Already” and “Not Yet” Tension

Sometimes theologians speak of the tension between the already and the not yet. What they mean is that there is a kind of theological tension between the fact that Jesus has already come and inaugurated His glorious kingdom, and the fact that His kingdom certainly does not exist in its fullness yet. What a wonderful truth that Christ has come and brought in the reality of His kingdom! Jesus said in Matthew 12:28: “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Here are three glorious truths about the present reality of His kingdom that we experience as believers.

1. We have already been brought into that kingdom!

“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). We are not waiting for the new birth, the indwelling of God’s Spirit, union with Christ, justification, and the forgiveness of our sins. We have these things and much more. We even get to experience some of that corporate kingdom joy as we come together as believers in our local churches on the Lord’s Day. By God’s grace, we have entered a new realm of experience—the kingdom of Jesus Christ!

2. Satan has already been soundly defeated!

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). Christ’s death on the cross secured Satan’s defeat. Jesus’ victory over death was secured by His death. Since this death blow was secured in Christ’s death, there was no reason for Christ to remain dead—thus, the resurrection signified His victory. This does not negate spiritual warfare. It does not negate the fact that we are commanded to put sin to death and must be very aware of our spiritual enemy. However, it certainly means that we must recognize that we fight from a position of victory in Jesus.

3. We can, even now, experience the peace and joy of Christ’s kingdom!

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13). As we hope for the fullness of the kingdom to come in at Christ’s coming, we can presently rejoice in the Lord and experience His peace that passes understanding.

There are many things we must understand about the truth that the kingdom’s fullness is not yet here. There are warnings in Scripture to heed. There are commands in Scripture to obey. There is service we have been given the privilege to engage in. Nonetheless, there are so many wonderful blessings we presently enjoy because Christ has already delivered us from the domain of darkness and placed us in the kingdom of Christ!

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