Proofs of Belief: I John

First, some important news. Starting October 2 the Bible in a Year Blog will resume daily posts that follow a one-year Bible reading plan. We will read through the New Testament first, and then on January 1 will begin daily posts covering the Old Testament with the final OT post on October 1 of 2019. Now would be the time to commit to a plan of reading the Bible all the way through in one year. You will read about three chapters a day on average. The Bible in a Year Blog will provide helpful commentary for your daily reading. If you prefer to start with the Old Testament first, plan on joining us on January 1.

“How can I know that my salvation is secure?”

Doubt plagues all believers at some time. For some it is a frequent occurrence. How can a Christian have assurance of their salvation? With the book of First John as a starting point, let’s look at how some great writers have answered the question.

The book of First John provides seven tests that a believer can use to confirm his salvation. First there is the test of obedience: “And hereby do we know that we love him, if we keep his commandments” (I John 2:3). True faith leads to action; it isn’t abstract or theoretical but practical. Next comes the test of brotherly love: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (I John 3:14). As you consider these tests, note that salvation is not a result of these behaviors. Rather, the existence of these behaviors reveals our born-again condition. Because we have the Holy Spirit we are able to love our brothers as we should. John also wrote about the test of the Holy Spirit. Those who are saved receive the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit within them testifies to the truth of their salvation (3:24, 4:13).  Additional tests in First John are the test of faith (believing the Gospel), the test of confession (being willing to admit our sin), the test of worldliness (hating the ways of the world and instead devoting ourselves to Jesus), and the test of habitual sin (no one who belongs to God continually repeats the same sin without remorse or repentance).

John MacArthur provides a series of questions to ask yourself:

  1. Have I experienced the leading, encouraging, assuring work of the Holy Spirit in my  life?
  2. Have I experienced any aspects of the fruit of the Spirit?
  3. Have I known and shown love for other members of the body of Christ?
  4. Has my heart longed to commune with God in prayer?
  5. Do I  have a love for God’s word and are its truths clear and compelling to me?

John Piper mentions five New Testament texts that deal with assurance:

  1. Romans 8:7-9. Do you submit to God’s commands or are you rebellious?
  2. I Corinthians 12:3. Is Jesus really your Lord? Do you seek His will in all things?
  3. Romans 8:15-16. Do you have a humble confidence before God that casts out fear? Do you cry out, “Abba, Father!”?
  4. I Corinthians 2:14. Do things of the Spirit attract you? Are you hungry for His truth and His fellowship and His power in your life?
  5. I John 4:7. Do you love people? Do you have good will toward them? Do you find fulfillment in working for the joy of their faith?

Charles Spurgeon urged his listeners to first examine their public life. Was it full of dishonesty, stealing, swearing, or drunkenness, or taking God’s name in vain, or failure to keep the Sabbath? Then he said they should look at their private life. Were they praying, studying the Bible, meditating on God, or were they a stranger to God and spiritual matters? Going deeper, “Hast thou ever wept over thy lost condition? Hast thou ever bemoaned thy lost estate before God? Say, hast thou ever tried to save thyself, and found it a failure? and hast thou been driven to rely simply, wholly, and entirely on Christ? If so, then thou hast passed the test well enough.” Finally, he asked, can you say that Jesus Christ is in you? If not, you are lost. “But if Jesus Christ be in thy heart, though thy heart sometimes be so dark that thou canst scarcely tell he is there, yet thou art accepted in the beloved, and thou mayest ‘rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.’ ”

Finally, put yourself on trial. If you were brought before the jury, and asked to give proof of your belief, could you do it? Would you have evidence to present of the change in your heart, in your thoughts, and your habits? Would those closest to you be able to give convincing testimony? What would your checkbook say about your priorities? What would you, yourself, say about the changes in your attitudes since you met Jesus? If these questions give you only doubts rather than conviction, today is the day to erase your fears and confirm your salvation. If, instead, you do well on today’s tests, then celebrate your victory and keep these proofs close in your thoughts so that you may be well equipped to persevere in your faith.

 

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I want to make a difference

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Faith is acting as if something is so, when it is not so, for it to be so, because God says it is so. Manley Beasley

To make a difference, we make things happen that otherwise wouldn’t happen. We take an uncertain future and turn it into a present reality. That takes faith. Sometimes it’s hard to determine exactly what change God desires, but more often the struggle comes when we see the change God wants yet hesitate to join him in making that change. Henry Blackaby calls it the crisis of belief. Gideon faced such a crisis when God commissioned him to deliver Israel from an army of marauders.

When God calls, we have an opportunity to move from fear to faith.

 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Judges 6:12

When God called Gideon to drive out the Midianites oppressing Israel, he found Gideon hiding from them as he threshed wheat down in a winepress. Gideon protested that he was a weak man from a weak family. He ranked among the most fearful men in the Bible at this low point in his career. But God wasn’t just trying to lift his spirits when he called him mighty warrior, and he wasn’t laughing at him. In God’s eternal now, Gideon was already the victorious general vanquishing the enemy. Gideon only needed to act through faith to make that future reality a present reality.

Just like a muscle, faith grows by exercise. We act faithfully in little things, and then God gives us the opportunity to fulfill greater tasks. With each victory our fears and doubts diminish.

When God calls, you are ready because he equips you.

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” Judges 6:14

God taught Gideon that the call to serve brought with it the power to serve – Holy Spirit power. We err when we refuse God’s call out of a false humility which claims a lack of ability. The ability isn’t ours but belongs to the Holy Spirit.

The Bible admonishes us to study and prepare for our witness to others. The church is designed to build up believers and make them grow to be more Christ-like. There is a spiritual principle of proving oneself trustworthy in small things before big things. However, the most important decision in determining our readiness to serve is deciding whether or not the call to serve comes from God. If it does, then we must respond.

When God calls, we must be faithful privately before we can be useful publicly.

That same night the Lord said to him, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.” So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. Judges 6:25-27

Gideon had to eliminate the idolatry in his own household in order to be a useful tool in God’s hand. We must get our own house in order before we can begin to help others. As Jesus said, we must first get the log out of our own eye, that being our own sinful shortcomings, before we can be used by God to address the sins of the world. Character matters greatly to God though the world may downplay it for the sake of expediency.

When we answer God’s call, it changes those around us.

The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.” But Joash replied to the hostile crowd around him, “Are you going to plead Baal’s cause? Are you trying to save him? Whoever fights for him shall be put to death by morning! If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” Judges 6:30-31  

Gideon’s father, Joash, did not support God’s plans to begin with. The altar of Baal and the Asherah pole belonged to him. Their presence was proof of Joash’s lack of faith, or at least his ambivalent faith. But his son’s bold action changed Joash, driving him out of his idolatry and opening his eyes to the reality of Jehovah.

Not everyone who steps out in faith will find their friends and families so supportive. Some of them will doubt, some will question, and some will actively oppose steps toward following God. But all of them will be changed in some way. All of them will be affected. And some, like Joash, will begin their own journey of faith.

When we consider what it will cost others if we obey the call of Jesus, we tell God He does not know what our obedience will mean. Keep to the point; He does know. Shut out every other consideration and keep yourself before God for this one thing only — “My Utmost for His Highest.” I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and for Him alone. Oswald Chambers

Image by Alex Hansen on Flickr. 

The Conditions of Salvation

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“In your opinion, what does it take for a person to go to heaven?” That’s the question I use as a simple means to determine someone’s relationship with God. Usually the answer is just as simple – either a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as the means of salvation, or a claim that good works such as right living is needed, or perhaps a denial of the existence of heaven. In any case, the answer is often just that straightforward.

But are things really that simple? For Christians in particular, is salvation really as elementary as saying, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my savior, and I am convinced he died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins”? Several verses in the New Testament support this simple view of salvation. Paul said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” and “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Does salvation have other requirements? Is it conditional in any way? Leaning on the principle that we must consider the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), we can find clear Biblical descriptions of a complex set of behaviors that accompany salvation. Rather than calling these behaviors conditions that are necessary for salvation, I would like to call them conditions that describe a born again believer. I am indebted to John Piper in his book, Future Grace, for developing this understanding of salvation.

Psalm 25 catalogs many of these salvific behaviors. I urge you today to read the psalm in its entirety to see how many of them you can find. Let me list a few of them.

1. Trust, a belief that confidently acts based upon faith.

In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.  I trust in you; (v. 1-2)

2. Hope, which looks forward as strongly to God’s future blessings as it looks backward in thanks upon the gift of salvation.

for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. (v. 5)

3. Humility, for God gives his grace to the humble.

He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. (v. 9)

4. Covenant keeping. Believers will not perfectly keep God’s commands, but they aim to do so, and when they fall short they quickly repent and seek forgiveness.

All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.(v. 10)

5. Fear, the respect and awe due to one so great and mighty.

Who, then, are those who fear the LordHe will instruct them in the ways they should choose. They will spend their days in prosperity, and their descendants will inherit the land. The Lord confides in those who fear him; (v. 12-14)

What other conditions of a saved person do you see in Psalm 25? Do you see them in yourself? They are the unavoidable result of the Holy Spirit working in those who are born again, who are made new, who are destined for heaven. They give a fuller and more complete picture of what it means to be saved.

So my prayer … is that every one would realize what a serious mistake it is to assume that conditionality means uncertainty. It doesn’t mean uncertainty for God’s children. Not if God is sovereign over conditions and he is sovereign over the condition faith. John Piper

Image by Jarret Callahan on Flickr.

Salvation at 3000 feet

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The movie Sully masterfully recreates the events of the Miracle on the Hudson, the forced water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in January 2009. Sully remains gripping throughout in spite of the well known fact that Captain Sullenberger successfully guided the plane to a safe landing without any loss of life. The film remains tense and dramatic because it tells another story: the storm of questioning and controversy that engulfed the heroic pilot after the crash.

Unexplained emotion weighed heavily on me long after the movie ended. Was it catharsis from reliving the near-death experience of the passengers? Or an overwhelming feeling of respect for the pilot? I struggled to make sense of it, but a picture emerged which brought home a deeper understanding of my mood. The plight of the crew and passengers, so realistically portrayed by the film, so precarious and close to destruction, painted vividly the nearness of my own death and destruction apart from Jesus Christ in a way that I do not ever remember. I don’t mean that I have experienced a life-threatening event in the past. No, but the movie drove home to me that before Christ saved me I stood as near to eternal death as the men and women of Flight 1549. Oh the grace and mercy of God that saved me from such a terrible death! The heroism of Jesus to pour himself out in order to save me when there was no other means of escape!

That was the second revelation in Sully. First, to experience anew the sense of lostness and rescue that attended my salvation 47 years ago. Second, to see so realistically illustrated the doctrine that there is only one way to heaven. Now Sully isn’t about heaven, but it does center on a choice – the choice that Captain Sullenberger made in the seconds which followed the crippling bird-strike that destroyed both of his jet’s engines. At 3000 feet altitude his plane suddenly became a glider, and in less than 3 1/2 minutes that glider would return to earth. Sully chose to make that landing in the wide, unobstructed Hudson River, but his doubters suggested there were other options he could have chosen. Watch the film and decide for yourself, but I think you will agree that in art, as well as in life, there is only one path that leads all the way home. Praise be to God for providing that way in Jesus Christ!

Firm to the end

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Just as there are two sides to every coin, so there are two sides to the doctrine of the security of the believer. On the one side we see boldly imprinted the hands of Jesus, who has promised that no one may snatch away those whom the Father has given him. But there is a flip side, and on the reverse of the coin another image stands out: the persevering believer. Both of these images are true, and both are necessary. There can be no security without Jesus, and there can be no salvation without perseverance in the faith.

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. Hebrews 3:12-14

Look at the dangers the writer of Hebrews describes. There is the unbelieving heart that causes one to fall away from the living God. There is the deceitfulness of sin that hardens some against God. There is the loss of original confidence that leads to the loss of our sharing in Christ. Are these dangers only a threat to unbelievers? The writer of Hebrews is speaking to the community of believers when he proclaims this warning, and therefore I think it is meant for the church. The exhortation is clear: persevere.

My point is not to deny the promise of Jesus that no one may snatch believers from his hand. But I want to stress the equally important flip side of that truth. Saved believers persevere to the end. If we do not finish the race, we will not gain the prize. We can argue about how we are able to persevere, and whether failure is an option, but there can be no disagreement that keeping our faith to the end is a prerequisite for salvation.

Now we want each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the final realization of your hope, so that you won’t become lazy but will be imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance. Hebrews 6:11-12

Look at the qualities that Hebrews uses to describe the life of the believer: diligence, faith, perseverance. We don’t obtain the promise by being lazy, but by the hard work of imitating those who have remained faithful to the end. Jesus assures us that our work will be successful, but it is work nonetheless. Is it only man’s work? Am I teaching a doctrine of salvation by works? No, not at all. It was God’s grace that opened the door to our salvation. It was the Holy Spirit that convicted us of sin, and the blood of Jesus that covered our sin. It was God’s mercy that kept death at bay until we confessed, and the Spirit’s power that enables us to resist sin. I cannot persevere without God’s help, but I must persevere by God’s help to the very end in order to enter the narrow door to salvation.

God has designed his church so that its members endure to the end in faith by means of giving and receiving faith-sustaining words from each other. You and I are the instruments by which God preserves the faith of his children. Perseverance is a community project. Just like God is not going to evangelize the world without human, faith-awakening voices, neither is he going to preserve his church without human faith-sustaining voices. And clearly from the words, “exhort one another” (verse 13), it means all of us, not just preachers. We depend on each other to endure in faith to the end. John Piper

Image by Stijn Bokhove on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

The Source of Blessing

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Where do you find your wealth?

Jacob is famous for robbing his brother of his birthright. After covering himself with hair and masquerading as Esau before his blind father, Jacob received the prized blessing. By his own effort he plotted and acted and achieved his goal, but what did it gain him? His brother’s hatred, the threat of death, and the loss of his home. Jacob ran away empty handed.

Twenty years passed before Jacob returned to his homeland, and look at the difference those twenty years made. Jacob ran away with nothing, but he returned a rich man. To appease his brother, he gave him a gift of a part of his wealth.

 So he lodged there that night, and took from what he had with him a present for his brother Esau,  two hundred she-goats and twenty he-goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty milch camels and their colts, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty she-asses and ten he-asses. Genesis 32:13-15

Jacob gave his brother over 500 livestock, and this was only a part of his possessions. Jacob had become a wealthy man. And here’s the key question: what was the secret of Jacob’s wealth? What was the source of his blessing?

It’s interesting that the deceiving Jacob was tricked by his own uncle during his time away from home. He worked as an indentured servant. His uncle continually tried to oppress him. Yet Jacob prospered. How? Jacob gave the answer as he told his family why they must leave and return to Canaan.

You know that I have served your father with all my strength;  yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not permit him to harm me.  If he said, ‘The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped.  Thus God has taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me. Genesis 31:6-9

Jacob saw that God was the cause of his prosperity and the only source of blessing. It wasn’t his human effort that made the difference; that had only led to trouble. It wasn’t his grasping after the family property that enriched him; that only forced him to flee as a fugitive. He prospered in spite of his uncle’s efforts to rob him. God blessed him.

Don’t read Jacob’s history and think that you need to do nothing to prosper. Jacob worked long and hard in his partnership with God – twenty years of daily effort. However, the secret to his success was not his own sweat, but his relationship with the LORD.

And don’t read Jacob’s story and see it as a magical key to unlock a treasure of material riches. God will bless you if you serve him, but he determines what the blessings will be. Money is a poor substitute for most of the blessings he gives us.

There are some of you, dear brethren, who have minds that are naturally given to inventions, and devices, and plans, and plots, and I believe that, where this is the case, you have more to battle against than those have who are of an ample mind, and who cast themselves more entirely upon the Lord. It is a blessed thing to be such a fool that you do not know anyone to trust in except your God. It is a sweet thing to be so weaned from your wisdom that you fall into the arms of God. Yet, if you do feel that it is right to make such plans as Jacob made, take care that you do what Jacob also did. Pray as well as plan, and if your plans be numerous, let your prayers be all the more fervent, lest the natural tendency of your constitution should degenerate into reliance upon the arm of flesh, and dependence upon your own wisdom, instead of absolute reliance upon God. Charles Spurgeon

Image by reway2007 on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

 

 

My two cents worth

 

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Nothing that you have not given away will ever truly be yours. C.S. Lewis

I know what you are thinking, because it’s the same thing I’m thinking. I don’t have much. Not much talent or skill. Not much charisma. Not much influence. Not much time. Maybe you have money. Maybe you don’t. That probably matters a lot less than your other resources. But still, like me, you are sitting there and thinking, I don’t have much.

And, you say to yourself, because I don’t have much, it doesn’t matter what I do with the little I have. So I’ll just do whatever I want to do with it. I’ll do what pleases me.

And that’s where you and I are wrong.

And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.  And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny.  And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.” Mark 12:41-44

Jesus made much of the poor widow’s offering. He admitted her poverty but celebrated her commitment. She truly had little (you and I usually have more than we are willing to admit) but she committed every bit of the little she had. And with God, little is much.

Here’s the lesson. It doesn’t matter how little you and I have – a little time, a little talent, a little influence. It matters whether we spend it on ourselves or use it for the Kingdom. In the economy of the Kingdom of Heaven your little is magnified by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s multiplied when it combines with the contributions of other believers. It’s celebrated by God.

So put in your two cents worth, but don’t throw it away on yourself. Spend it for the Kingdom and be amazed at how much your little was worth.

Lord, help me to think of thee and for thee; thou hast put me in this world for something; Lord, show me what that is, and help me to work out my life-purpose: I cannot do much; but as the widow put in her two mites, which were all her living, so, Lord, I cast my time and eternity too into thy treasury; I am all thine; take me, and enable me to glorify thee now, in all that I say, in all that I do, and with all that I have. Charles Spurgeon

Image by Zen Sutherland on Flickr. CC by-nc-sa 2.0