The Panic Button

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“What do I do when I’m afraid? I don’t want to panic.”

Panic causes people to do crazy things. Maybe it’s that old fight or flight response. The adrenaline kicks in and you react without thinking. Perhaps that explains what happened to Saul when he found himself outnumbered by the Philistines. He had been ordered to wait for Samuel to arrive before offering the sacrifice that would precede his attack on the enemy.

When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings. ” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. I Samuel 13:6-9

Samuel arrived soon after Saul’s action, and he called the king’s offering foolish and condemned him for it. Saul acted disobediently, and fear motivated his failure. He was afraid to wait, afraid to let God handle the problem, and afraid to obey the word of God in the face of trouble.

Don’t be afraid to wait. Sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing. Sometimes obedience requires waiting. Waiting leaves room for God. Fear, however, pushes us to act now to try to escape the threatening situation. “But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:25)  

Don’t be afraid to let God act. Like waiting, withholding action can be hard to do under the pressure of anxiety. We want to do something. Action makes us feel better, as it distracts us and gives a sometimes false assurance that we have the power to change the situation. If only God has the ability to solve the problem, we need to wait for him to work. His timing is best, though it often feels like he makes us wait until the desired outcome seems impossible. Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today…The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:13,14)

Don’t be afraid to obey the word of God in a difficult situation. Samuel had commanded Saul to wait for his arrival to offer the sacrifice. Yet Saul rationalized that the danger his men faced allowed him to disregard the word of God. His fear led to disobedience, and Samuel condemned him for it. His action showed that his fear was greater than his faith and his respect for God’s word. “I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” (Psalm 130:5)

(Saul) feared the human consequences of obedience more than he feared the divine consequences of sin. He feared the displeasure of the people more than the displeasure of God. And that is a great insult to God. Samuel had said twice to Saul and the people in (1 Samuel) 12:14 and 24, “Fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart.” But now the leader himself has feared man and turned away from following God. – John Piper

Sometimes in this life of faith God will remove his blessings from you. But remember that he knows how and when to replace them, either through the ministry of others or by himself. – François de Salignac de La Mothe-Fénelon

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference. –  Reinhold Niebuhr

Image by James Vaughn on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

Failing to keep the covenant


“Can a believer fail to keep the new covenant?”

At the end of his life, Joshua challenged the people of Israel to remain faithful to God and the covenant agreement they had made with him. He could see the danger that loomed over the Israelites. They had occupied the Promised Land, but there were still pockets of pagans who would tempt the people to abandon God. Joshua knew that God was a promise keeper and failure to follow him would bring certain destruction. He warned them of the danger with his last breath.

“But just as every good promise of the LORD your God has come true, so the LORD will bring on you all the evil he has threatened, until he has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. If you violate the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the LORD’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.” Joshua 23:15-16

The Hebrews failed to keep their covenant agreement with God. History reveals that their enemies drove them into exile, and only after paying the full measure of their punishment did God restore them to the land. The bad news is that their agreement with God was conditional: they had to keep the terms of the agreement, faithfulness to God, in order to avoid the punishment for breaking the agreement. The good news is that God made a covenant with them, not a contract, and instead of walking away when they failed him he continued to work with them, eventually restoring them.

Christians relate to God through a new covenant established in Jesus Christ. It is a covenant based on grace rather than works. Is it conditional? That is the question, but before we come up with an answer let’s consider another type of covenant, one that isn’t conditional. It’s called a royal grant, because in ancient times kings would sometimes make this type of covenant with their subjects. The king would give something valuable to a person or a group whom he wished to bless. It might be land or a monetary reward. There were no strings attached. It was a perpetual gift that would not be taken back. God made this kind of grant to Abraham when he told him that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky and that his people would occupy the Promised Land. Now, which kind of covenant do you think the covenant of grace is? A conditional one or a royal grant? Or something else altogether?

God described the new covenant by the prophecy of Jeremiah hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. Notice he said it would not be like the old covenant.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Jeremiah 31: 31-33

The emphasis was on God, who said, “I will make,” and “I will put” and “I will be.” When Jesus arrived, his words stressed God’s sovereignty in the process of salvation.

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:44

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” John 10:27-29

Luke made a similar point in the book of Acts. He didn’t say that those who believed were given eternal life, but instead:

 “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” Acts 13:48

Salvation and the new covenant are therefore entirely unconditional, right? I don’t think it’s that simple. Jesus, who spoke so strongly about God’s sovereignty, also stressed man’s responsibility. In the story of the sheep and goats he made it clear that a day was coming when the people of the world would be divided into two groups meant for punishment and reward, and the thing which would determine their outcome was, quoting Keith Green, “what they did, or didn’t, do.” I like Justin Taylor’s writing on this subject. He points out ways that grace is both conditional and unconditional.

Faith and new, holy living are both indispensable parts of the Christian life. They are “conditions” in this sense. But God undertakes through Christ to work in us; Christ’s own power is the guarantee that we will continue: “. . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13). … Salvation involved a “condition,” that is, Christ’s suffering and obedience. These had to take place if we were to be saved. At the same time, God through his prophetic word unconditionally guaranteed that Christ would meet the conditions! … God on his part made commitments to Christ in his OT promises. Christ, in his earthly life, committed himself to following the Father’s way. This covenant between God and Christ was both “conditional”—involving the necessity of Christ’s obedience—and “unconditional”—guaranteed by God. So the words “conditional” and “unconditional” must be used with care. We have to ask ourselves not only which covenantal relation we are discussing, but what aspect of that relation. – Justin Taylor, contributor on The Gospel Coalition

I also like what Contra_Mundum has written about the consequent conditions that must accompany our unconditional election:

The Covenant of Grace is not conditioned in any antecedent manner on any prior fulfillments, otherwise we could not have any such doctrine as “unconditional election.” Election is not based on anything foreseen or preexisting in the creature; but it is the very thing that vouchsafes a personal and everlasting salvation to an elect person. It is an absolute and unconditional gratuity. This is the “chosen in Christ” aspect of an individual’s redemption, and in that eternal (but not historical) perspective, men are in the Covenant of Grace apart from conditions of any kind.

The Covenant of Grace may be said to have “conditions,” in the qualified sense of consequent conditions, conditions that are the necessary consequences or results of specific divine activity on behalf of his elect. If such things as true faith, repentance, love for God and Christ, etc. are not present in the least degree (not even saying they must be visible or detectable traits); it is not possible to speak of such a person with respect to eternity. We might be speaking of a reprobate, or we might be speaking of a person who is elect but not converted. Nothing of his present (or future!) “condition” has impacted the divine decree concerning him. But in the nature of the case for an elect person, the divine determination for his everlasting felicity must eventually produce blessed conditions in keeping with election. Contra_Mundum on the Puritan Board

As is so often the case in God’s design, things are not either this or that, but both this and that. There are ways in which the new covenant is unconditional, and ways in which it is conditional. Therefore, in its unconditional aspects I can never fail to keep the covenant. God has chosen me and saved me and will finish the good work he has begun in me. In its conditional aspects, I, like the Hebrews of Joshua’s day, am in great danger if I fail to keep them. I must work out my salvation with fear and trembling.

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Resurrection Power


That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; Philippians 3:10

My pastor spoke about resurrection power this past Easter Sunday, emphasizing that the same power which raised Jesus from the dead is at work in believers every day. We need to remember that every time we face difficulty and discouragement. But what exactly is resurrection power?

First of all, it’s the power to give eternal life. “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). Jesus said he was the resurrection and the life. Any who believe in him, though dead spiritually, will live (John 11:25). Those who believe in him have escaped condemnation and have passed from death to life (John 5:24).

Resurrection power is also the God-given ability to defeat sin in the present. “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:5-6). When we believed in Jesus we were freed from the penalty of sin, but as we continue in faith we escape the power of sin. We no longer serve as slaves of sin, but as servants of God. By the power of the Holy Spirit we can finally say no to the sinful desires of the old man. If we fail to do so, it’s not because of lack of power, but because of our own willful choice.

The power of Jesus’ resurrection is the sovereign power of God, “the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:19-21). The power that sets Jesus above all ungodly authorities operating in the world is the same power that works in us. Therefore, we also have power to influence the evil and wickedness at work in the world.

Finally, Jesus’ resurrection power is the power to show Jesus to the world.  Paul said we are “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor 4:10-12). Resurrection power is becoming Christ-like in order to demonstrate Christ in the world, even when it means suffering. It’s the power to tell others the good news and the power to do good for others in Jesus’ name.

Now, there is no question, at least in my mind, about this: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the standard of power in the New Testament… What is there after that? … It is the miracle of miracles! …The proof, the standard of God’s power in the New Testament is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The standard of God’s power in the Old Testament was the deliverance of the people of Israel through the Red Sea which brought them finally into the land of promise. In the Old Testament the miracle is the raising of a dead nation, because they were in captivity, in Egypt, which is a type of the world. They were under the dominion of Pharaoh, which is a type of the devil, and they were brought as the Word of God says, “God called them with a strong hand. He delivered them with a strong hand and a stretched out arm…” In the New Testament the standard miracle, the standard of God’s power, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Then, because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, there is of course the resurrection of the individual from the dead. We are told so again and again. Ephesians 2 for instance says: “You have been quickened who were dead in trespasses and in sins.” Now, he does not say that we will die. He says that we were dead. And the same miracle power that raised up Jesus from the dead is the power that raised us up from the dead. – Leonard Ravenhill

When God accepted Christ, my Head, He accepted me. When He glorified my Head, He made me a partaker of that glory through my Representative. The infinite delight of the Father in His Only-begotten is an infinite delight in all the members of His mystical body. I pray that you may feel the power of His resurrection in this respect and become flooded with delight by the conviction that you are accepted, beloved, and delighted in by the Lord God. The resurrection will make your heart dance for joy if you fully see the pardon, justification and acceptance which it guarantees you. Oh that the Holy Spirit may now take of the things of Christ’s resurrection and apply them to us with justifying power! – Charles Spurgeon

Image by Plum leaves on Flickr, from painting by Eugene Burnand, CC by 2.0

Since Jesus rolled the stone away…


Since Jesus rolled the stone away

I’ll rise up from the grave one day.

Though now my body’s moldering clay

I’ll meet him in the air that day,

Since Jesus rolled the stone away.


Since Jesus bled and died for me

I’ll pray for grace on bended knee.

I’ll turn from sin, blood-washed I’ll be.

My chains he’ll break and set me free,

Since Jesus bled and died for me.


Since Jesus walked to Calvary’s hill,

I hear his words. I always will.

I hear his voice, it’s speaking still:

“Come unto me, whomever will,”

Since Jesus walked to Calvary’s hill.


Since Jesus bled and died for you

He’s calling out, his words are true.

Since Jesus rolled the stone away

He’s living now, he is the way,

The truth, and life. He’s walking still,

He walks for you up Calvary’s hill.

– Robert Dellinger

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No substitution


“No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.” — William Penn

“Why was there no substitute for Jesus when it came time for him to die?”

There’s a substitute for everything. Put a little lemon in your milk and you’ve got buttermilk. Use turmeric instead of saffron. Sprinkle that artificial sweetener in your coffee. Switch shortening for margarine. There are substitute teachers and substitute quarterbacks. Sometimes mom subs for dad, and sometimes the other way around.

Even the Bible has its share of switches. Seth took over for the murdered Abel. The ram in the thicket took the place of Isaac on the altar. At Passover the children of Israel slaughtered a lamb so they would not die when the death angel passed by. Jesus was crucified so that you and I would not have to die for our sins.

Wait. Why wasn’t there a substitute for Jesus?

So there isn’t a substitute for everything. There’s no substitute for hard work. There’s no substitute for experience. No one can take the place of a good parent. And no one could take the place of Jesus when it came time to die.

Not that we don’t try to put other things in his place. The world says there are many substitutes: Islam, Buddhism, humanism, atheism or whatever path you prefer. But if any path is acceptable, why did Jesus need to die?

No one else was sinless. A perfect, unblemished sacrifice was needed to take the place of our sin, but men inherit the sin of Adam and we all undertake our own sinful lives. Jesus “appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin” (I John 3:5).

No one else was both God and man. The measure of our sins is the one we sin against. We sin against an infinite and holy God, so only an equal sacrifice can buy our pardon for once and for all and forever. Because Jesus is God, he could pay “for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2). Yet Jesus was also necessarily human. “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law” (Galatians 4:4).  Human blood was required, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). Human experience was needed, so that our savior could sympathize with us, since he was tempted in every way as we are (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus was our kin so that he could be our kinsman-redeemer and have the right to buy us back when we were sold into the slavery of sin.

No one else would drink the cup. Jesus met all the qualifications of a savior, but he still needed to submit to God’s will in order to complete the transaction that substituted his blood for yours and mine. Would you have done the same, knowing the suffering that you would endure, and being completely capable of stopping it? I believe no one but Jesus possessed the love and obedient will to choose the cross.

No one else could show us the way. Jesus said he was “the way, the truth, and the life.” He didn’t say a way, but emphatically the way. Peter affirmed it when he said that there was salvation in no one else. Only Jesus came from God and returned to God. No one else talked like Jesus. He was the Word. As the people shouted when they heard him, “no one ever spoke like this man.” As Peter said to him, “you have the words of life.” No one else walked like Jesus, always obediently doing what he saw God doing and remaining sinless. No one else died like Jesus, willfully choosing horrible suffering when he could have rejected it, offering up his perfect blood as God and man.

And no one else rose from the dead like Jesus, never to die again, the first fruits of all believers who will one day follow him on that future resurrection day. Hallelujah! He is risen. He is risen indeed!

Image from Waiting for the Word, by Del Parsons, on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Who can forgive sins?



“Who can forgive my sins?”

Shortly after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples as they hid from the Jews. Thomas was absent. Any number of disciples in addition to the ten may have been there; the Bible doesn’t specify. Jesus gave them a charge as he anointed them with the Holy Spirit:

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John 20:21-23

The Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations such as the Lutherans interpret this passage to mean that priests and ministers have the authority to forgive sins on behalf of God. Other Protestants disagree and insist that the authority rests with God and has only been delegated to his son, Jesus Christ. It would be a mistake to dismiss the Catholic position prematurely, for the face value of Jesus’ command implies that believers are given such authority. We should note, however, that Jesus gives the charge to the group, the body of believers as a whole, and not specifically to individuals.

We sin against God

All sin, though committed against a fellow creature, being a transgression of the law, is against the lawgiver; and, indeed, begins at the neglect or contempt of his commandment. – John Gill

Ultimately God retains the authority to forgive sins, for the Bible makes it plain that our sins rest on him no matter where they begin. David admitted this in Psalm 51 when he said, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.” Joseph acknowledged it in Potiphar’s house in Egypt. “No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9) When we sin we transgress against God. Therefore, it is God who ultimately decides whether to pardon our sin. The question remains, has God delegated his authority to anyone else?

Jesus Forgives Sins

“Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Mark 2:7

The scribes and Pharisees were aghast that Jesus, a man, would claim the authority to forgive sins. Jesus proved his authority as he demonstrated his divinity by healing the paralytic man. The Pharisees were correct that only God could forgive sins. They were mistaken in failing to recognize that Jesus was God. It’s interesting to note that the Pharisees defended God’s authority even though the Temple worship with its system of priestly sacrifices was a daily practice at the time.

The New Testament is full of references to Jesus’ role in pardoning our sins. John the apostle wrote, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” In Romans, Paul wrote, “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” In First Timothy he said, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Even Isaiah, prophesying about Jesus in the Old Testament, said, “he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

Can anyone else forgive sins?

The question therefore amongst divines is, Whether Christ in this text hath given authority to his ministers actually to discharge men of the guilt of their sins; or only to declare unto them, that if their repentance and faith be true, their sins are really forgiven them? The former is by many contended for… – Matthew Poole

God holds the ultimate authority to forgive. Jesus serves as mediator, advocate, and intercessor between God and man. Is there a need or a place for anyone else to forgive sins? Apparently the church has felt such a need, for it has practiced private confession since at least the fifth century AD. In 459 AD Pope Leo I described the practice in a letter to his bishops. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1447, says that Irish monks took the practice of private penance to Europe in the seventh century. The practice was first codified in 1215 when the Fourth Lateran Council stated “All the faithful… should individually confess all their sins in a faithful manner to their own priest at least once a year…” Before the initiation of private penance the church would publicly excommunicate those who committed serious or grave sins, only readmitting them after they made extensive penance, a process which could take years.

In contrast to the Catholic position, most Protestants believe private confession and ministerial forgiveness is unnecessary and not supported by scripture. They hold that the charge given to the disciples in John 20 deals with the church’s mission to bring peace to the world through the ministry of the gospel. In that light, forgiveness of sins is confirmed for those who repent and believe the good news. Priests are not necessary for intercession because, as Peter said, the church itself is a royal priesthood and each man may ask God for forgiveness. Forgiveness or condemnation also operates through church discipline as described by Jesus in Matthew 18: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The New Testament records no instance of the early church practicing private intercession.

Is there any middle ground between these two positions? If there is, I think it would follow along these lines:

  • Priestly or ministerial confession is not required, but may be beneficial. As James said, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Such confession may be made between any believers, but priests and ministers are well equipped to offer counsel as well as prayer.
  • We should acknowledge that we have sinned against God, who holds the ultimate authority to forgive, and that the penalty for our sins was paid by Jesus Christ, who now intercedes with God on our behalf. Like the priests in the old covenant of temple sacrifices, contemporary priests and ministers may administer God’s forgiveness but they are not the source of that pardon.
  • Repentance is always necessary for forgiveness, but the practice of penance is a separate matter and beyond the scope of this article.
  • Congregations should take more responsibility for confronting their members when they sin, using church discipline to restore them.

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