Gospel Repentance

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  See what this Godly sorrow has produced in you:  what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.  At every point you proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”

                                                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 7:10-11

                At the heart of the Apostle Paul’s defence of his ministry to the Corinthians he shares these thoughts in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 in which he describes for us the reality of Gospel repentance.  These are such important verses that every Christian should commit them to memory, bringing them to mind constantly so that we can truly begin to live the time of experienced Christian faith that the Bible calls us to.  What Paul does here is to contrast Godly sorrow which leads to a real repentance and abundant life through Jesus Christ with a worldly sorrow that leads to a false, fleshly repentance that only continues us on the downward spiral to death.

What are the characteristics of each?  This calls for self-examination as we explore each one briefly today.

1)      Godly sorrow is the creation of the Holy Spirit as He convicts us of our rebelliousness towards God.  We constantly want our own way.  We want to solve our problems ourselves, so that our pride can be satisfied with what we have made ourselves to be.  God’s Spirit confronts this attitude of heart, and exposes its bankruptcy.  Such sorrow is always centred upon God.  We come to know that there is a fundamental brokenness in our lives which comes from our estrangement in life.  At this point we understand the wickedness of our sin.  It has separated us from the only source of real life.  As a consequence we find ourselves unable to know God in any real sense.  We may know all about Him.  But we do not know Him.  Here Godly sorrow leads us to the only real help available to us.  This is the grace of God in Christ.  God, in His great love for us, has done everything necessary to make us alive in Christ.  We are humbled because we have come to know that we can never solve the problem of us, on our own, in our own flesh.  The only solution is found in God’s grace.

2)      Worldly sorrow on the other hand is the creation of our own flesh.  It is self-centred instead of Christ-centred.  It is characterised by sorrow over the consequences of our rebellion against God.  How often have we found ourselves only beginning to feel concern over sin when we discover that we might get caught in it?  We want to escape its consequences, but not necessarily from sin itself.  When caught in our sin, worldly sorrow leads to a false repentance which leads us to try to reform our lives in our own flesh.  The best we can hope for here is that our behaviour will improve, but we are still left dead in our sin.  The consequence is that we are made to become increasingly self-righteous with no saving knowledge of Christ.

John Miller in Repentance and 29th century Man explores this theme with the following encouraging words.

“If conviction of sin is demanded as though this were the goal of things, if human unrighteousness is exposed apart from faith in Christ, then men will be left in a state of penance, and they will return to pre-Reformation misery, with salvation made entirely unstable because it is founded on what man does to recover himself.

                Sinners in such a state have no way of knowing whether God loves them and will receive them into His heart.  Psychologically and morally, all is left dark and shoreless.  When sin is exposed apart from the promises of God, reality for the man outside of the Lord becomes increasingly inverted and twisted.  The aching conscience cannot possibly find relief in this way.

                In other words, repentance can only be genuine and lasting when the evildoer sees that God’s mercy is available to him.  Put grace in an unreachable realm and you simply deepen the convicted sinner’s despair and opposition to God.  But John’s Gospel banners forth the absolutely finished character of Jesus’ work (John 4:34, 17:4, 19:30).  There is enough love, and more, accessible to any sinner who wants it.  One drop of Jesus’ blood will, as it were, atone for the worst of man’s sins.  How then can we fail to respond when we are assured that cleansing love flows in superabundance from Calvary?”  (John Miller, Repentance and 20th Century Man (Fort Washington, Pa.; Christian Literature Crusade, 1980) p. 80)

Biblical People

                “And He said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.”  So I opened my mouth, and He gave me the scroll to eat.  Then He said to me, “Son of man, eat the scroll I am giving to you and fill your stomach with it.”  So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ezekiel 3:1-3

                One of the great blessings of following a Bible reading plan such as the McCheyne plan, or any other plan that takes you through the whole Scripture on a regular basis, is that, over time, it gives you an increasing clarity on just what the Bible teaches.  This is especially true if you take the time to brood over the Scriptures.  That is Packer and Nystrom’s word from “Praying”, and it is used to describe the process of prayerful meditation upon the Word of God which leads to the application of God’s truth into our lives.  It is that process that I believe Ezekiel is being called to into the symbolic setting of his vision in Ezekiel chapter three.  He is told at least four times in these verses to eat the scroll.  He obeyed and discovered that God’s Word, even when bringing us a difficult message is always sweet.  It is the Word that brings us eternal life.  It is to be ingested, that is it is to become part of us.

Years ago I read a tribute of john Bunyan written by Charles Haddon Spurgeon which reflected upon the reality of what was at the heart of Bunyan’s life.  To paraphrase Spurgeon he stated that Bunyan was a thoroughly Biblical man.  His whole nature was infused with the Scriptures.  If you where to prick Bunyan with a pin he would bleed Bible because his blood was in fact bibline.  What a wonderful tribute to that godly preacher and author.  We need to acknowledge however that that was not a natural state for Bunyan.  He was a thoroughly Biblical man because he had taken the time to meditate prayerfully upon the rich truth of the Scripture.  He ingested it, and it changed him.  It could be argued that this was the result of certain events which were imposed upon Bunyan, as he was imprisoned for much of his life and ministry.  In the providence of God he was put in an environment where he could not be distracted from the prayerful meditation on God’s Word and the application of it to his life.   For us there are many distractions, but if we are to incorporate God’s Word into our lives we must make the commitment to meditate upon it.

Ezekiel is to ingest God’s Word, and then speak it prophetically to the people of Israel.  This is to be his life.  The people who hear, and who read him will not be responding to Ezekiel, choosing to like or dislike his message.  They will be encountering God.  They will be dealing with the God who is speaking to them.  The author of the book of Hebrews puts this in powerful terms as he writes to us about the God who has spoken to us in His Son.

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.”

                                                                                                                                                                Hebrews 1:1-2

                “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sins deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.  As has just been said; “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.””

                                                                                                                                                                Hebrews 3:12-15

                We are called to hear Him as He speaks to us in His Word.  With the Spirit’s help we come to obey the truth we find in God’s Word.  Therefore the word that we have heard in the Bible is God’s Word.  It must become part of us as we meditate upon it, prayerfully coming to understand and apply it to ourselves.  In this way we become Christ-centred people.

An Act of God

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

                                                                                                                                John 3:3

I have been reflecting over the past few days about birthdays.  Every year we each have a birthday and we are reminded of the day when we came into this world.  We are also reminded that we are each one year closer to the day on which we will stand before the Living God to give an account of our lives.  For each one of us birth was something that happened which was out of our control.  In no way were we in control of any aspect of it.  In reality the same can be said for our birth from above into the life of Christ.  When I re-examine my born again experience what I discover is that it was entirely an act of God.  I might think that I exerted some control over it.  When I look at its reality however what I discover is that the decisions that I made were the consequence of things that God was doing in me.  His gracious work in me was the motivation for all of the decisions which I then made.

To examine my testimony reveals that I came to Christ at an East Toronto Youth event in the early 1970s.  I had no plan on committing myself to Christ when I went to the retreat.  In fact I felt that I was already a believer at that time.  As the retreat concluded something happened that shook me out of my unbelief.  This was that I suddenly became aware that I was not in fact a believer.  Then I had a powerful experience of the love of God.  I knew then and there that God loved me.  It was very much like John Wesley’s description of his conversion where he described himself as having his heart strangely warmed as he was given a powerful sense that he was loved by God and that his sins were forgiven.  That was my experience.  Everything else fell into place at that point.  Long established behaviours were changed as I found myself being conformed to the image of Christ.  I now knew that I was a believer.  I wanted to read the Bible.  In fact I felt that I had to read the Bible.  Choices to involve myself in Christian fellowship seemed to be made for me.  I became involved as the Lord led me.

In much of this I thought at the time that I was making decisions to involve myself in these things.  Hindsight tells me that the Lord was changing me and opening up opportunities for me.  Even the choice I made to become a minister was made for me.  The Lord’s leading, and the choices that He led me to make all seemed to be under His control.

Jesus tells us in John 3:3 that we must be born again.  Another translation of this phrase is born from above.  It is the work of God’s Spirit, under His control and it is that one thing that makes us into real Christians.  It is God’s work in us.  We cannot control it, or create it.  All we can to in regard to it is to receive God’s gift when He gives it to us.  Jesus presents this to Nicodemus as a statement of fact that is designed to bring him to faith.  The Word of God presents this same fact to each one of us.  “We must be born again.”  Are you?  All of eternity depends upon your answer to that one question.

He Was In The World

                “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him,   the world did not recognise Him.  He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.  Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  The word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 1:10-14

                At times I am asked, as I was recently in an email, how we can live a holy life while living in this sinful world.  This is a vital question for us to ask.  So often people find themselves drifting through life, without really examining how they live.  We push down those questions and moral struggles which we face because we are engaged in the struggle to just survive.  There are times when we find ourselves facing that insistent inner discomfort which tells us that all is not right with our world.  What are we to do in response?

In order to adequately deal with this question we need to first of all answer the number one question of life which is, are we a Christian?  Have you been born again?  As the Apostle John introduces his Gospel this is the first thing that he confronts us with.  In fact it seems that this question of being born again is central to all that John writes in his Gospel.  Have you been born again?  What does John mean by this?  Why is it so important to him?

John, in chapter three of his Gospel tells us that we must be born from above, or again.  He confronts us with this as he reports on a conversation that Nicodemus had with the LORD Jesus Christ.  In explaining His meaning Jesus tells Nicodemus that to be born again is to be born spiritually.  It is a work of the Holy Spirit making us alive spiritually.  Technically we will call this to be regenerated.  Historically Christians like John Wesley called it the New Birth.  John tells us in the first chapter of his Gospel that this is the work of God given to those who receive the LORD Jesus Christ by believing on His Name.  This text leads us to that precious work of God where His only begotten Son came and dwelt among us revealing His glory in the cross of Calvary.  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once stated that we cannot adequately deal with the issues we face in life until we answer the primary issue, are we a Christian?  It is to this point that John brings us in his Gospel.

Behind what John is writing here is a rich vein of Old Testament Prophetic teaching which speaks to us about the necessity of God changing our nature so that we will live holy lives.  We cannot live a holy life in our own flesh, no matter how hard we try to do so.  Ezekiel 18:30-32 speaks about this to us.

“Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Repent!  Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.  Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.  Why will you die, O house of Israel?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Repent and live!”

                Earlier Ezekiel tells us in chapter 11:19-20 that this work is in fact the work of God, graciously accomplished within us when he writes.

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people and I will be their God.”

                Here Ezekiel points us to the Covenant which God has made with His people.  Jeremiah, in chapter 31:31-34 echoes these thoughts telling us that God is going to give His people a New Covenant written by the Spirit on their hearts, and causing them to walk in His ways.  I believe that this is what Jesus describes in John’s Gospel.

To be born of God is to be given this new heart which is responsive, and obedient to God’s purposes as revealed in His Word.  We delight ourselves in His Word.  It is a work of God in us.  It is vital that we are born again if we are ever to live a holy life in this sinful world.

Once we are saved then we are called to actively live out our life of obedience to His Word by faith in His power to work in us.  There are a number of scriptures we could appeal to here, (Romans 13:11-14, Philippians 2:12-13, 3:12-14).  I will only quote one here in conclusion.

“And do this understanding the present time.  The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because your salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.  So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the LORD Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13:11-14)

Trusting the Lord

“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian Churches.  Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.  And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.”

                                                                                                                                                                2 Corinthians 8:1-5

                The Word of God often astounds me with the richness of its teaching.  A few years ago while meditating  upon 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 for a series of messages focused upon our stewardship of the resources that God has entrusted to us, I found myself becoming increasingly convicted by the logical argument that the Apostle Paul advances as he encourages the Corinthians to follow the example of the Macedonian Churches in giving to an offering being collected for impoverished saints in Judea.  Paul uses the argument here to illustrate his point regarding our living Christ-centred lives.  In essence he confronts his readers with a description of what our lives will look like when we give ourselves to the Lord without reservation.  This is the fruit that comes from genuine repentance, and it is sorely needed in our 21st century world.

The question Paul confronts us with here is, “Do I trust the Lord without reservation?”  The Macedonians obviously did.  They firmly believed, and applied to themselves, the principle that the Lord would take care of them if they “sought first His Kingdom and Righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33)  That this is easy for us to speak about but much more difficult to live out is demonstrated by an extensive quotation by Scott J. Hafemann in The NIV Application Commentary on 2 Corinthians of teaching by William Law in A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2000, pages 352 – 353)

“Every exhortation in Scripture to be wise and reasonable, satisfying only such wants as God would have satisfied; every exhortation to be spiritual and heavenly, pressing after a glorious change of our nature; every exhortation to love our neighbour as ourselves, to love all mankind as God loved them, is a command to be strictly religious in the use of money.“(ch. vi, 53)

Like Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:9, Law’s call was to apply the cross to our money.

                “The Christian’s great conquest over the world is all contained in the mystery of Christ upon the cross.  It was there and from thence that He taught all Christians how they were to come out of and conquer the world, and what they were to do in order to be His disciples.  And all the doctrines, sacraments, and institutions of the Gospel are only so many explications of the meaning, and applications of the benefit of this great mystery.

                And the state of Christianity implieth nothing else but an entire, absolute conformity to that spirit which Christ showed in the mysterious sacrifice of Himself upon the cross.” (ch. xvii, 196)

                Further, like Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:6-7, Law say that conformity to Christ in giving was not an option or merely good advice, but the necessary outworking of what it meant to be Christian itself.

                “Every man, therefore, is only so far a Christian as he partakes of this spirit of Christ. 

                …The necessity of this conformity to all that Christ did and suffered upon our account is very plain from the whole tenor of Scripture.

                If “we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him.”…

                It was for this reason that the Holy Jesus said of His disciples, and in them of all true believers, “They are not of this world, as I am not of this world.”  Because all true believers conforming to the sufferings, crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ live no longer after the spirit and temper of this world, but their life is hid with Christ in God.” (ch. xvii, 196-198)”

To this we can only add Amen!!

A Glorious Interruption

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we obey His commands and do what pleases Him.  And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us.  Those who obey His commands live in Him and He in them.  And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.”

                                                                                                                                                                1 John 3:21-24

                “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

                                                                                                                                                                John 15:7-8

                A number of years ago at the Hope Centre Bible Study an innocent question led to a fruitful discussion on Christian discipleship.  We, in the Church, are called to be disciples, not to a program, or of an institution, but of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In the great commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel we are called to “Go into all the world and make disciples.”  That calling comes with the promise of the personal promise of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one to whom has been given the limitless power of the Son of the living God.  He will go with us as we obey the calling He has given us.

The issue that we wrestled with at the Bible Study was how this becomes a reality among us.  Isn’t it interesting how often it is the interruption which takes us away from our prepared study which leads to the most fruitful of discussions?  The Lord always knows what He is doing with us.  It seems that John, in his Gospel as well as in his first letter, leads us to an answer to this question.  It is through abiding in Him and having His words abiding in us.  In this great spiritual transaction we find real life from Him.  This life is characterized by love for one another, answered prayer, and real fruitfulness in Christian living.  Abiding in Him requires faith, (to quote Geoff Thomas Forsaking All I Trust Him) and an obedience to His commands which are surely to be found in the Word of God.  Such spiritual abiding requires the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

With all of this truth given by the Apostle John we are brought to recognise a precious truth.  This is that such abiding is a spiritual matter.  It is something which God does in us, which we must seek from God Himself.  We must ask Him for it.  In asking we must turn from our own schemes and plans and fleshly efforts in order to receive the free gift He has purchased for us in the cross of Hi Son.  It is always to be Christ centred and therefore it must be focused upon the cross of Christ.  Therefore it requires that we begin seeking it by repenting, turning from our own way to Him.  There is no other way to fruitfulness.  The result is however that it makes us into real disciples of Jesus who then bear fruit by taking the Gospel of His life into our needy world.

Have You Ever Wondered?

“So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it up in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.  Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.  Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where He was laid.”

                                                                                                                                                                Mark 15:46-47

                “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.”

                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 53:9

                Have you ever wondered why the Gospel writers go to such lengths to include the thought of the burial of Jesus in their accounts?   It would seem to be self evident that if Jesus died, that He also was buried.  The Roman custom with crucifixion seems to have been that the bodies would be left on the crosses for several days as a warning to others, and then they would be taken down and thrown unceremoniously into a mass grave.  That is not what happened with Jesus.  The writers of the books of the New Testament seem to go out of their way to tell us what happened here.  They have a very specific reason for doing so.  The Apostle Paul also gives us this teaching in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5. “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve.”  In the series of statements that Paul gives as a summary of the important points of the Gospel’s fulfillment of the promise of the Scriptures the Apostle Paul includes “He was buried.”  The Gospel writers all emphasize it as being of importance.

One reason for this focus is that the Gospel writers want us to continue to explore the evidence for the resurrection.  If they had not emphasized the evidence of the burial of the lord Jesus Christ there would have been no conclusive proof of His resurrection.  How would we prove the empty tomb if Jesus had been buried with the other condemned in a mass grave?  If there had been no witnesses, like Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and the women who had followed Jesus ever since the beginning of His ministry there would have been no way to discover what had happened to His body.

The Gospel writers however tell us that this evidence is available to us because there were witnesses and Joseph did bury Jesus in his own garden tomb.  On the first day of the week when the women went to the tomb that they had seen Jesus buried in they found the stone rolled away and the tomb was empty.  What condensation of God to our need for evidence.  He supplied all that we need right here.

There is another reason given here as well, and it is of great importance.  The Gospel writers include this account to tell us something else as well.  It is this that Paul focuses upon in his account.  Even the burial of the Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled Scripture.  Isaiah 53:9 tells us that the plan would be to bury Him with the wicked, but the reality would be that he would be buried with the rich.  That is exactly what happened in the providence of God.  Over the past few months I have been engaged in an intense study of the Gospels.  What I have been discovering is faith stretching because it lets us know that there is far more buried in this tiny gospel than I could ever have imagined.  I feel as if I am just scratching the surface here.  That is an incentive for a growing commitment to Bible Study by each of us.  There are treasures to be found here.

Gospel Fruit Through Intercessory Prayer

“As a prisoner for the lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ephesians 4:1-7

In focusing upon the message of this text we see that we are called to live in a way consistent with the Gospel of Christ.  In Christ we have been delivered out of this dark world and translated into the Kingdom of the Son of God.  This is a Kingdom which is characterized by the light of the grace of Christ.  Paul writes that we are to be diligent in pursuing the unity which the Holy Spirit has created within the Body of Christ.  In the real, concrete trials and tribulations of our lives we are to maintain this reality.  Notice that Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit has already brought this into being in the Gospel.  It is our responsibility to maintain it.

The life we are called to live is a consequence of the powerful reality of what God has accomplished in the Gospel.  Paul roots this in the eternal plan and purpose of God which is centred upon the sacrificial work of Christ upon the cross.  Christopher Seitz towards the end of his chapter, entitled “Prayer in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible”, in Prayer in the New Testament, edited by Richard Longenecker writes about this reality in the following extended quotation.

“In Isaiah, the “one and the many” relationship is extended, quite specifically, to the nations outside of God’s covenant.  The use of Moses suggests an awareness of his ongoing, figuratively real presence.  Yet the “new thing” of Isaiah points to an enlargement of thought: that the servant is a man of prayer.  We see into his heart of anguish and find firm resolve there (50:7).  His prayer is but the utterance of his life itself, which is given up in obedience – like Moses before him.  But his intercession, even though very similar to that of Moses, costs him his life, brings life to a whole generation, and removes their iniquity – something that Moses did not do.  And in the context of this vocation, the servant of Isaiah 49-53 sees the final eschatological moment released for a split second in the confession of the nations (cf. 52:15).

                It is striking, however, that the content, technique, or spirituality of the servant’s prayer is hidden.  His intercession is known by its results and by its ongoing, dynamic character.  Its fruit (“he shall see seed”) is encountered in the final chapters of Isaiah in the “servants” who follow where he once walked.” (Prayer in the New Testament p. 21)

                What I understand Seitz to be saying here is that Isaiah’s prophesy of the Servant of the Lord is of one who sacrificially lays down His life to redeem a people for Himself out of the Nations of our World.  At the heart of this Gospel work, which we know to be fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ is His intercessory praying.  This is a task that the Holy Spirit joins in accomplishing.  Those who believe are invited to join their own small voices to this great intercessory work.  Such intercession produces Godly, Gospel fruit.  There is life in it, life that comes from God Himself.  What Isaiah saw, was, and is, fulfilled in Christ, and we are the fruit of it.  Praise God!

Be Patient

“Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.   See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.  Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.  The Judge is standing at the door.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 5:7-9

                In meditating upon the final chapter of the book of James it becomes apparent that he has been working out a key principle of Christian living throughout the letter.  This is that the Christian life is one continuous pursuit of the promise and purpose of God in every area of our living.  Eugene Peterson focused his study of the Psalms of Ascent upon the premise that the Godly life is in reality “a long obedience in the same direction.”  This seems to be the focus of the letter that James wrote to a group of struggling Christians in the mid first century AD.  He begins the letter with these words,

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given him.” (James 1:2-5)

In the fifth chapter, after describing a whole host of trials that the Christian must overcome as we live out our faith in this world which is so hostile to the purposes of God, James returns to this theme, commanding believers to be patient as we await the coming of the Lord.  God has called us to become people of faith who passionately pursue the Lord Jesus Christ, and His matchless Holiness, while awaiting His return in Glory.   It is in this patient pursuit of the Lord that we find our faith tried and matured so that it will be revealed as genuine in the Day when the Lord returns.

In thinking of this I am reminded of those days when I was a middle distance runner.  The glorious days were those in which we ran a race.  To do well in the race however required that we be disciplined in the hidden days of training, when we ran many hard miles.  We struggled through those hard days, but they brought about a strength that saw us through the race that we were running.  James commands his readers to be strengthened in their hearts as they look ahead to the Lord’s return.  This is the work of the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:14-21.  The Holy Spirit uses means however.  James calls us to walk with the Spirit in those disciplines to which the Spirit calls us so that we will be strong and mature as we face the difficulties of our lives.

What are the disciplines that the Spirit calls us to engage in for this purpose?  They must surely begin with the following three things.

1)      A disciplined commitment to developing our lives of prayer.  God has called us to enter into the great privilege of fellowshipping with Him in Christ.  Nothing happens in our lives apart from a growing fellowship with God in prayer.

2)      The meditative application of the Word of God in our lives.  We must be engaged in more than just the reading of the Bible.  It must be transforming our lives as it is applied by the Holy Spirit.

3)      Increasingly we must find that our lives are becoming centred upon the one goal that is worthy of life.  This is the pursuit of the Kingdom of God as it is revealed in the return of Christ.

Being Found Faithful

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles to word of truth.”

                                                                                                                                                                                2 Timothy 2:15

                One of my favourite verses is 2 Timothy 2:15.  Nearly forty years ago I used this verse as my year book quotation as I was graduating from High School.  It was a verse that had captured my attention as I had first begun to feel that the Lord was calling me into full time Christian service.  It is a verse which has stuck with me all these years.  Recently I was delighted to discover that it was a verse that Charles Haddon Spurgeon used as he introduced a catechism to his congregation.  His purpose was to lead the people of God into the security which comes from being firmly anchored in Biblical doctrine.  This is one of our purposes in the building of the Church, to discuss and apply biblical doctrine to our lives so that we will be living securely in this Christian life.

To look carefully at this verse we find that we can highlight a number of the words that the Apostle Paul uses here.  The first is the word at the beginning of the sentence which means to show full diligence, fully applying ourselves, or acting with full and speedy commitment.  This is what Spurgeon meant when he wrote in An All Around Ministry (London: banner of Truth Trust, 1972, p. 125).

“Brothers, I beseech you, keep to the old gospel, and let your souls be filled with it, and then may you be set on fire with it!  When the wick is saturated, let the flame be applied.  “Fire from heaven” is still the necessity of the age.  They call it “go,” and there is nothing which goes like it; for when the fire once starts upon a vast prairie or forest, all that is dry and withered must disappear before its terrible advance.  May God Himself, who is a consuming fire, ever burn in you as in the bush at Horeb!  All other things being equal, that man will do most who has the most of the Divine fire.  That subtle, mysterious element called fire – who knoweth what it is?  It is a force inconceivably mighty.  Perhaps it is the motive force of all forces, for light and heat from the sun are the soul of power.  Certainly fire, as it is in God, and comes upon His servants, is power omnipotent.  The consecrated flame will, perhaps consume you, burning up the bodily health with too great ardour of soul, even as a sharp sword wears away the scabbard; but what of that?  The zeal of God’s house ate up our Master, and it is but a small matter that it should consume His servants.”

                The second word I want to highlight here is the one translated as one approved.  This word has as its meaning “to be found genuine because you have passed the test.”  Here is a word that was applied to the testing of an object, especially of coins, so that their genuineness can be demonstrated.  What Paul means here is that we will be tested so that the genuine reality of our Christian profession can be demonstrated.

Thirdly, Paul uses a word that means to present ourselves for service.  It means to be standing close beside the leader, ready for action.  We all know about those times when volunteers are needed and we find some moving to the front of the group so that they will be included.  Others are looking around at the ground or moving to the back of the group.  They do not want to be seen as uninterested, but they also do not want to be picked.

Finally Paul uses a word here which means to cut a straight line.  The meaning here is that we are called to understand, apply, and consistently follow the clear teaching of God Word in every part of our lives.  Real, genuine Christian faith is a powerful thing as it is lived out in our world.  We live in times when such Christian faith is desperately needed.  May we be found faithful.