The Best New Year Resolution Ever!

knowinggodbanKnowing God is the best resolution that anyone can make at any time, but especially at the beginning of a New Year.  Knowing God is eternal life. “…This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). 

The LORD says, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these things I delight, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).  Does this describe you?   Continue reading

Man of Sorrows

Man of Sorrows is one of my favorite Christian hymns.  Written by Philip P. Bliss (1838-1876), this hymn captures what Isaiah 53 seeks to communicate to us (especially verse 3) regarding the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah of God), our Savior.

Isaiah 53:1-3 reads as follows:

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (italics mine for emphasis).

Reflecting on just these first three verses of Isaiah 53 which prophetically pointed the children of Israel to the coming Messiah (Jesus Christ), makes one truly appreciate the amazing grace of God; His great love towards sinners; and His infinite wisdom in devising a plan of salvation for fallen mankind!

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”  “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).

As we join hands with our fellow brothers and sisters around the world in remembering the sacrificial death of Christ in our place, let us sing for joy with grateful hearts in praise and adoration to the Lord God for His great redemption accomplished for us through the Lord Jesus Christ, the Man of Sorrows!  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

Man of Sorrows! What a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

‘Why I want the right to die’ in Scotland

I was greatly shocked when my wife shared this article with me this afternoon.  Al Jazeera published this article on their website.  I encourage you to read it here.  Independent Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), Margo MacDonald has launched a fresh attempt to give terminally ill people in Scotland the right to choose when to die – which in my mind is outrageous and grossly immoral, cruel and careless.  It totally degrades the intrinsic value of human life as given by God the Almighty, who is our Creator (Genesis 1:27) and the Creator of heavens and earth!  This “End of Life Assistance” Bill sets out that anyone over the age of 16 could request assistance to die if that person was diagnosed as terminally ill and that he/she finds life unbearable.  Ms. MacDonald tried to get this bill passed in December 2010 but it was defeated.  According to the Huffington Post (UK), “A series of scrutiny sessions were held at the Scottish Parliament, taking in evidence from doctors in countries where forms of assisted suicide are permitted.”

I find Ms. MacDonald’s arguments flawed and unconvincing – but that’s not all that disturbs me.  The bill that she is pushing is in direct violation of the Sixth Commandment:  “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13).  This bill seeks to give man the legal freedom to take one’s life or that of another with impunity.

Here are some quotes from the article:

Assisted Suicide (“Mercy Killing”) – currently banned by law in Scotland & the UK:

In Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, it is currently a crime to help someone end his or her own life. A doctor who injects a patient with lethal drugs in order to kill them could be prosecuted for culpable homicide or even murder.

Margo MacDonald wants that legal ban repealed:

“If it came to the worst and I was faced with a very bitter and protracted end, I should have the right to ask for help to end my life earlier than nature intended,” Macdonald told Al Jazeera.

She added: “I would like the insurance policy of knowing that if it gets near, and I would like to shorten it, I would not be putting my family at risk. It is not about pain, it is about making sure you are still yourself.”

Margo wants autonomy not dignity – She has a warped view of “dignity” according to what she says here:

She told Al Jazeera that the same debate is going on all over the world and if her bill is passed: “Scotland would be seen as a place where humanity, above all, and individual autonomy is respected. This legislation is really about the right of a person to see their life through and keep their dignity to the very end.”

Some church leaders are fighting against this:

When this issue was last debated, the Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, told a special Mass for Healthcare workers: “Laws need to be objective in their statement of principle. It is wrong in principle for someone to take their own life; it is wrong in principle for someone to help them to do so.”

Peter Kearney, Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, told Al Jazeera: “Nothing has changed. Deliberate killing, even when assisting someone who is in a state of despair, is always wrong.”

Many doctors are concerned:

Many doctors are also concerned that legalizing assisted suicide could lead to frail or elderly people being coerced into taking their lives.

My Thoughts:

I hope that this bill is defeated once again in the Scottish Parliament.  I also hope and pray that Christians in Scotland and around the world will continue to speak out against this and similar violations of God’s law and order for His people.  From a human stand-point, Ms. MacDonald seems “unstoppable.”  She probably thinks so.  She is quoted as saying:

Since the defeat of my original proposal in December 2010, the volume of correspondence I’ve received on the matter, coupled with the continuing public interest, stimulated in part by some high-profile statements in favour of the general principle of assisted suicide, indicates to me a consistent level of support for individuals suffering a terminal illness or condition, for whom life becomes intolerable, to have the legal right to request help to end their life before nature decrees.

But those of us who believe in the Sovereign LORD who rules over the universe, know that the LORD is ultimately in control and that He has the power to stop this and all ills that have plagued Scotland and the world (see Proverbs 21:1).

Why Am I So Concerned for Scotland?

Just for the same reasons that I would be concerned if this was happening in any other country primarily because it goes against the will – it goes against the Law of God clearly stated in Scripture.  That’s the main reason why this disturbs me.  But there is more:

As one who has not in the least sense benefited from what the Lord has done through Scotland over the years, I cringe when I read this kind of stuff about Scotland or coming out of Scotland.  I feel a special affinity to Scotland for various reasons.  Let me mention three:

1.  The first missionary to bring the gospel to my home country (Malawi) was Scottish.  His name was Dr. David Livingstone.  Malawi is replete with monuments in honor of Dr. Livingstone and his work there – not the least of which is Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital which was named after Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland where Dr. Livingstone was born.  I had the privilege of visiting Blantyre (Scotland) a few years ago and saw the house in which Dr. Livingstone was born and raised.  This house is now the home of the David Livingstone Center.

2.  As a Presbyterian and Reformed Christian and church minister, I owe a lot of that to what the Lord has done through Scottish men like John KnoxSamuel RutherfordRobert Murray McCheyne, Professor John Murray, from centuries gone by (just to name a few) – but also from contemporary theologians and preachers like Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Dr. Alistair Begg, etc.

3.  I am now a gospel minister with a denomination that is rooted in Scotland, the Associated Presbyterians Church (APC) – and I feel for so many of my dear brothers and sisters in Scotland as I consider all the challenges and the spiritual battles that they face in their pursuit of Christ, His will and purposes.  I am concerned and this moves me to pray more fervently for the work of the gospel across Scotland and the UK.

Let’s Pray for Scotland, the UK and the World

Prayer is ultimately the answer – and our sure hope.  “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

Please join me in praying that God’s will may triumph over evil and that Scotland may be turned back to the Lord.  He has done it before, He can do it again.  Even though it seems like a dark cloud is hanging over Scotland and much of the western world, the LORD God can change that.  May the Light of Christ once again shine in Scotland even from the “farthest” corners of the world (like Malawi and such places where the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is now flourishing).  Perhaps it’s time to send missionaries back to Scotland!  Our God is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we can ever ask or imagine according to His power which is at work in us (see Ephesians 3:20-21).

Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce

In my previous post, I wrote of the importance of reading Christian biographies.  What I plan to do over the next few days is to share some of the biographies which the Lord has used to inspire, challenge and teach me over the years.  Typically, I will do this every Monday, but for this week, I will share some of them with you in between the other posts praying that the Lord will be pleased to use them to bless you too even as He has used them to blessed me.

I will start with William Wilberforce.  I do so simply because my wife and I just finished re-watching the movie Amazing Grace (released in 2006) which is based on Wilberforce particularly on his fight for the abolition of slave trade in Great Britain.  If you have high-speed internet, you can watch this movie for FREE online.

 

Eric Metaxas as well as John Piper wrote wonderful biographies on William Wilberforce.  I highly commend them to you.  The one by Metaxas is entitled, Amazing Grace:  William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery.  Piper’s is entitled, Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce.  I hope you will get a copy of one or both of these for yourself.

William Wilberforce was a man of great courage, tenacity and endurance.  Though there were discouraging moments in his life when he would have been tempted to give up the “fight,” he courageously kept on fighting for his cause and the Lord granted him success in the end.  He was blessed to have people like John Newton by his side encouraging him to keep going.  The move to abolish slave trade was near and dear to Newton’s heart as well. For many years, he was the captain of an African slave ship.  He lived a very grotesque life steeped in sin.  But by the grace of God, he was later converted and became a minister of the very gospel he once despised.  He authored the famous hymn, Amazing Grace whose melody (some believe) was taken from a West African sorrow chant which some of the slaves on Newton’s ship would have sung.  Watch Wintley Phipps talk about that in this video below:

 

Kevin DeYoung blogged on William Wilberforce and concluded his post with the following words:

In Revelation 13 John warns of a terrible beast who is allowed to make war on God’s people. Saints will be taken captive and destroyed. That’s the reality John outlines in verse 10. But the response to such antagonism is not to retreat but to entrench. “Here is a call for the endurance and the faith of the saints.” Some of us may be called to accomplish great things in the cause of Christ like Wilberforce.  Others will be called to endure great trials and suffering and even persecution on account of Christ.  All of us, in a world often unfriendly and unsympathetic to genuine Christian faith, are called to perseverance and faithfulness. There is no hope, no holiness, and no influence without it.

Praise the Lord for His amazing grace given to us through Jesus Christ.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace those fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

What Constitutes Saving Faith? Part 1

Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q & A 86).

I thank the Lord for yet another opportunity to consider with you the important truths taught us in His Word on the gospel.  Today (as promised yesterday), I plan to discuss the question:  “What is saving faith?”   While I will not be able to discuss this subject exhaustively, I do hope however that I will be able to do so sufficiently with the Lord’s help.

Common Faith vs Saving Faith:  Before going any further, I would like to point out an important distinction which is implied in the question that I seek to discuss – namely, the distinction between common faith and saving faith.  The very fact that we can ask this question suggests to us that there is a kind of faith which is not saving otherwise the question would be redundant and senseless.  If all faith is saving, then there is no need to talk about “saving faith.”  But the fact of the matter is that not all faith is saving.  Therefore, it is very important that we delineate and distill the distinction between common and saving faith, as best as we can, under the faithful guidance of the Holy Scriptures.

Common faith is natural and dead.  It does nothing for sinners and offers nothing to them.  Saving faith however is supernatural and alive.  It saves sinners by graciously offering them Jesus Christ through the gospel.  Each one of us needs to stop and examine ourselves to see whether we have common or saving faith.  Any cursory reading of the Scriptures warns us of the danger and deception of common faith.  We read of many who “believed” but had no saving faith.  Consider King Agrippa in Acts 26; or the hearers whom Christ compares to the rock in the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:6; or the multitudes who believed in the Name of Jesus when they saw the miracles which he performed in John 2:23, etc.  Although it could be rightly said that these “believed,” the Bible says that “Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24).

Saving faith is different from common faith both in its nature and essence.  According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel” (Q & A 86).  What a helpful definition and summary of what the Scriptures teach on saving faith!  A close examination of the teaching of Scripture suggests to at least the following five things about saving faith:

Firstly, saving faith is intended for God’s elect.  The LORD God has ordained from all eternity those who will be saved “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:1-14).  These are the true subjects of saving faith.  All of God’s elect have been chosen by God in Christ from the foundation of the world.  Therefore, these will come to Him and find life in Jesus’ Name (Acts 13:48; John 6:37).

Secondly, saving faith is invoked by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit works this faith in the hearts of God’s elect.  The Bible tells us that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Saving faith is “the gift of God” given to those who were once spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1-10).  Paul calls the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of faith” in 2 Corinthians 4:13.

Thirdly, saving faith is inspired by the Word of God.  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  The Word read or preached is by God’s appointment, the chief means by the Holy Spirit works faith in the hearts of His elect.  He uses the Word to draw sinners to Himself for their salvation.  A classic example of how this happens is recorded for us in Acts 16:14 concerning Lydia, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”  This was most definitely the work of the Holy Spirit.

Fourthly, saving faith inclines one’s heart toward Christ.  Saving faith is Christ-centered.  It supernaturally bends one’s heart Christ-ward.  By His Spirit, through the Word, the Lord God is pleased to open the eyes of His elect to His glory in Jesus Christ and He becomes their singular delight and passion.  “…The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).

Fifthly, saving faith initiates a lasting spiritual transformation in the life of the believer.  Hebrews 11:6 tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”  Also in Hebrews 12:14 we read, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  Saving faith will necessarily and gradually produce holiness in the life of the believer.  “You shall be holy for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; Matthew 5:44; 1 Peter 1:16).  Ephesians 1:4 tells us that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him…”  I like what William Gurnall says on this:

Mark, not because He foresaw that they would be of themselves holy, but that they should be holy; this was that God resolved He would make them to be.  Consider it is not necessary that thou shouldst be rich; but it is necessary thou shouldst be holy, if thou meanest to be happy.  You may travel to heaven with never a penny in your purse, but not without holiness in your heart and life also.

AMEN!

Please look out for Part 2 of “What Constitutes Saving Faith?” tomorrow, Lord willing!  Resting in Christ!

“Not Ashamed of the Gospel”

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)

Over the next few days, I would like to focus our discussion on the gospel.  A few days ago, I posted some videos by John PiperMichael Horton, and Jefferson Bethke talking about this very important subject.  I encourage you to revisit them if you haven’t already or if you simply don’t have enough time to read this blog.  But I hope that you will take some time to consider with me Paul’s words recorded for us in Romans 1:16-17.

“Not Ashamed of the Gospel” – Paul begins verse 16 by making this bold statement that he is “not ashamed of the gospel.”  O, how we need such courage and bravery today.  It is a terrible blight in our day that there are not enough men whose backbones are strong enough to stand up for anything.  There are not enough men who are bold enough to stand up for their convictions regardless of the cost!  That’s tragic!  Paul was a different kind of man.  It is worth noting that he was writing these words from Rome where he had been imprisoned for the sake of the gospel before his death!  Even though he knew that this bold statement would be considered outrageous by many in his day and that it would get him into further trouble, nothing could stop him from declaring his position on the gospel.  He was unstoppable!  He was the kind of person who would just make his opponents mad!  They couldn’t silence him!  For as long as he could breathe, he was determined to make this gospel known to the nations!

A Bold Statement:  The gospel “is the power of God for salvation!”  Here is the crux of the matter!  The reason Paul was so bold and unstoppable with respect to the gospel was because he so believed that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation” for all men (Jews and Gentiles alike).  Paul had been given this conviction by the Holy Spirit.  He once was lost but now was found.  Once, he was blind to the glories of the gospel and its liberating power through Jesus Christ.  But now he could see because the Lord was pleased to remove the scales from his eyes (Acts 9:1-19).  He personally experienced this very truth – that the gospel is indeed the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (emphasis added). 

A Sincere Confession:  Some background to Paul’s life as a Jew would be helpful here because for him as a Jew, this was not only a bold statement.  It was also a sincere confession.  As a Jew, he had been taught that his salvation rested in his personal obedience to the Torah and all its stipulations as set forth at Mount Sinai (see Exodus 19).  He once considered himself “blameless” with respect to “righteousness under the law” (Philippians 3:6).  Paul, with permission from the Jewish high priest, was determined to persecute Christians.  Any good Jew, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ crucified for sinners, was a “stumbling block” (1 Corinthians 1:22).  Anyone who endeavored to preach this gospel was not only weak but also a great enemy to the entire Jewish establishment.  But when Paul met Christ on the road to Damascus, he was radically changed and by the grace of God, he wholeheartedly embraced the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ for himself!

First, the focus of his life changed!  From that point on, he learned to “glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).  From a purely legalistic, moral and physical perspective, Paul had more than enough reasons to boast (glory) in the flesh.  Yet, he considered all that “loss for the sake of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:7).   In verse 8 of Philippians 3, Paul refers to this as “refuse” or “dung!”  That’s how disgusted he was with his own righteousness according to the law?  Why?  Was it because the law is bad?  Of course not!  In Romans 7, Paul himself makes a very strong defense of the law.  No!  It was not because Paul thought that the law was bad.  Rather, it was because Paul had discovered that his “righteousness according to the law” was like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) before God.  He realized that all those “good things” (i.e. his Jewish descent and his adherence to the law), were not good enough to commend him before God for salvation (Philippians 3:1-14).

Secondly, the passion of His life changed!  He was willing even to suffer for the sake of this gospel.  He was changed from a persecutor to a preacher of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Christ had now become the singular passion of his life as he himself writes in Philippians 3:8-9, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (emphasis added).  That was Paul’s confession as a changed Jew!  Praise be to the Lord for that!

So when Paul writes in Romans 1:16-17, he knows exactly what he is talking about because he was personally a beneficiary of this wonderful gospel of God’s grace.  He wants to tell us that God has put His saving power in His gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and not anywhere else!  Thus, we may safely conclude that salvation does not, cannot and will not come to us (as sinful creatures) through any other way but through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ which tells us that nothing in us or about us can commend us before God for salvation.  Even our very best deeds, are “like filthy rags” before God, yes “dung” – so ugly, worthless and disgusting!  But thanks be to God that that’s not the end of the story!

“The Just Shall Live By Faith”- By trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are given a new (yes, a REAL) righteousness, a “righteousness from God!”  Paul writes, “For in it (in the gospel), the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (parenthesis added) – Romans 1:17.  In other words, this gospel announces to us that a new kind of righteousness which does not depend on us but on God Himself is being offered to sinners like you and me!  This gospel announces to us release from bondage to the law.  This gospel calls us to trust God for our salvation.  This gospel offers us salvation by faith alone in Christ alone!  This gospel is the world’s best news!  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)!   We need to hear and believe it as does every person on the face of the earth!  As it is written, “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).  It’s only by trusting in Jesus Christ that one is saved from sin and from the eternal wrath of God.  That’s why the gospel also called “Good News!”  Praise the Lord through Jesus Christ!

In my next post, I plan to move our discussion on this important subject along.  Lord willing, I shall attempt to answer the question, “What Constitutes Saving Faith?”

Rejoicing in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ!  I pray that you are too!  See you tomorrow, God willing!