“…in Him you have been made complete.” (Col. 2:10 NASB)
Contrary to popular opinion, there are no degrees of fitness for heaven. A person is either absolutely fit or he is not fit at all. This goes counter to the common notion that at the top of God’s totem pole are good, clean-living people, at the bottom are the crooks and mobsters, and in between are those with varying degrees of fitness for heaven. It is an enormous mistake. We are either fit or we aren’t. There is nothing in between.
Actually none of us is fit in himself. We are all guilty sinners, deserving eternal punishment. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. We have all gone astray and turned to our own way. We are all unclean, and all our best works are like filthy rags.
Not only are we totally unfit for heaven, but there is nothing we can do by ourselves to make us fit. Our best resolutions and noblest endeavors cannot avail to put away our sins or to provide us with the righteousness that God demands. But the good news is that God’s love provides what His righteousness demands, and He provides it as a free gift. “It is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast,” (Eph. 2:8, 9).
Fitness for heaven is found in Christ. Whenever a sinner is born again, he receives Christ. God no longer sees him as a sinner in the flesh; He sees him in Christ, and accepts him on that basis. God has made Christ to be sin for us, He who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (see 2 Corinthians 5:21).
So what it comes down to is this. Either we have Christ or we don’t. If we have Christ, we are as fit for heaven as God can make us. Christ’s fitness becomes ours. We are as worthy as He is, because we are in Him.
On the other hand, if we don’t have Christ, we are as lost as we can possibly be. To be without Him is the fatal deficiency. Nothing else can ever make up for this crucial lack.
It should be clear then that no believer is any more fit for heaven than another believer. All believers have the same title to glory. That title is Christ. No believer has more of Christ than another. Therefore none is more fit for heaven than another.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10)
While it is true, as we have seen on the previous page, that there are no degrees of fitness for heaven, it is also true that there will be degrees of reward in heaven. The Judgment Seat of Christ will be a place of review and reward where some will be rewarded more than others.
Also there will be differing capacities for enjoying the glories of heaven. Everyone will be happy but some will have greater capacity for happiness than others. Everyone’s cup will be full but some will have bigger cups than others.
We must get away from the idea that we will all be exactly alike when we reach the glorified state. The Bible nowhere teaches such dull, faceless uniformity. Rather it teaches that crowns will be awarded for lives of faithfulness and devotedness, and that while some are being rewarded, others will suffer loss.
Here are two young men who are the same age and who are converted at the same time. One goes out and lives the next forty years by giving top priority to the kingdom of God and His righteousness. The other gives the best of his life to making money. The first talks enthusiastically about the things of the Lord, the second about activity in the market. The first has a greater capacity for enjoying the Lord now, and he will take that greater capacity to heaven. The second, though equally fit for heaven through the Person and work of Christ, is spiritually dwarfed, and he takes that reduced capacity to heaven.
Day by day we are determining the rewards that we will receive and the measure to which we will enjoy our eternal home. We determine it by our knowledge of the Bible and our obedience to it, by our prayer life, by our fellowship with God’s people, by our service for the Lord, and by our faithful stewardship of all that God has given to us. As soon as we realize that we are building for eternity with every passing day, it should have a profound effect on the choices we make and the priorities we set.
“…as (a man) thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Prov. 23:7)
A. P. Gibbs used to say, “You are not what you think you are, but what you think—this is what you are.” This means that the mind is the spring from which behavior flows. Control the source and you control the stream that flows from it.
Therefore control of the thought-life is basic. That is why Solomon said, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23) Here the heart is used as a synonym for the mind.
James reminds us that sin begins in the mind (Jas. 1:13-15). If we think about a thing long enough, eventually we’ll do it.
Sow a thought and reap an act.
Sow an act and reap a habit.
Sow a habit and reap a character.
Sow a character and reap a destiny.
The Lord Jesus emphasized the importance of the thought-life by equating hatred with murder (Mt. 5:21, 22) and by equating the lustful look with adultery (Mt. 5:28). He also taught that it’s not what a man eats that defiles him but what he thinks (Mk. 7:14-23).
We are responsible for what we think because we have the power to control it. We can think about lewd, suggestive things or we can think about what is pure and Christlike. Each one of us is like a king. The empire that we rule over is our thought-life. That empire has tremendous potential for good and enormous potential for evil. We are the ones who determine which it will be.
Here are some positive suggestions as to what we can do. First, take the whole matter to the Lord in prayer, saying “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psa. 51:10). Second, judge every thought by how it appears in the presence of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Third, confess every evil thought instantly and expel it (Prov. 28:13). Next, avoid having a blank, empty mind. Fill it with positive, worthy thoughts (Phil. 4:8). Fifth, exercise discipline over what you read, see, and hear. You cannot expect a pure thought life if you feed on filth and pollution. Finally, keep busy for the Lord. It’s when you shift your mind into neutral that vile fantasies seek admission.
“Through faith we understand…”(Heb. 11:3)
“Through faith we understand…” These words embody one of the most basic principles of spiritual life. We believe God’s Word first, then we understand. The world says, “Seeing is believing;” God says, “Believing is seeing.” The Lord Jesus said to Martha, “Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see…”(John 11:40). Later He said to Thomas, “…blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). And the Apostle John wrote, “These things have I written unto you that believe…that ye may know…” (1 John 5:13). Believe first, then you’ll know.
Billy Graham tells how this principle came alive in his life: “In 1949 I had been having a great many doubts concerning the Bible. I thought I saw apparent contradictions in Scriptures. Some things I could not reconcile with my restricted concept of God. When I stood up to preach, the authoritative note so characteristic of all great preachers of the past was lacking. Like hundreds of other seminary students, I was waging the intellectual battle of my life. The outcome could certainly affect my future ministry.
“In August of that year I had been invited to Forest Home, Presbyterian conference center high in the mountains outside Los Angeles. I remember walking down a trail, tramping into the woods, and almost wrestling with God. I dueled with my doubts, and my soul seemed to be caught in the crossfire. Finally, in desperation, I surrendered my will to the living God revealed in Scripture. I knelt before the open Bible and said, ‘Lord, many things in this book I do not understand. But thou hast said, “‘The just shall live by faith.’” All I have received from Thee, I have taken by faith. Here and now, by faith, I accept the Bible as Thy Word. I take it all. I take it without reservations. Where there are things I cannot understand, I will reserve judgment until I receive more light. If this pleases Thee, give me authority as I proclaim Thy Word, and through that authority convict men of sin and turn sinners to the Saviour!
“Within six weeks we started our Los Angeles crusade, which is now history. During that crusade I discovered the secret that changed my ministry. I stopped trying to prove that the Bible was true. I had settled in my own mind that it was and this faith was conveyed to the audience.”
“And be ye kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32 NASB)
There is a definite order to be followed in connection with Scriptural forgiveness. If we would follow this order we would save ourselves a lot of headaches and heartaches.
The first thing to do when you have been wronged is to forgive that person in your heart. You don’t tell him yet that he has been forgiven, but by forgiving him in your heart, you leave the matter between the Lord and him. This prevents your gastric juices from turning into sulphuric acid, and saves you from other horrible physical and emotional disorders.
Next you go to the brother and rebuke him (Lu. 17:3). Instead of blabbing to others about how you have been wronged, “Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone” (Mt. 18:15). Try to contain the problem as much as possible, that is, try to keep it as private as you can.
If he does not confess and ask forgiveness, then go to him with one or two witnesses (Mt. 18:16). This provides adequate Scriptural testimony as to the offender’s attitude.
If he is still unbending, then you take the matter to the assembly, accompanied by the witnesses. If he refuses to listen to the judgment of the assembly, then, of course, he is dis-fellowshiped (Matt. 18:17).
But if at any point during this process, he repents, then you forgive him (Lu. 17:3). You have already forgiven him in your heart, but now you administer forgiveness to him. Here it is important not to gloss over the matter. Don’t say “Oh that’s alright. You really didn’t do anything wrong.” Rather say, “I very gladly forgive you. Now the whole matter is closed. Let’s get down and pray together.”
The shame of having to confess and repent may deter him from wronging you again. But even if he repeats his sin and then repents, you must forgive him. Even if he does it seven times in one day and repents seven times, you must forgive him—whether you think he’s sincere or not (Lu. 17:4).
We must never forget that we have been forgiven millions. We must not hesitate to forgive others for what amounts to a few dollars, figuratively speaking (Mt. 18:23-35).
“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17)
Today’s English Version translates the first part of this verse, “Whoever is willing to do what God wants will know…” It is a wonderful promise that if a person sincerely desires to know, God will show him.
When a sinner has come to the end of himself and when he prays in deep extremity, “Oh God, reveal Yourself to me,” God always does. It is a prayer that never goes unanswered.
A hippie, living in a cave in the Southwest, was ready to end it all. He had sought satisfaction in liquor, drugs, sex, and the occult. But still his life was empty, empty, empty. He could see no way out of his misery. Huddled in the cave one day, he cried out, “Oh God—if there is a God—reveal yourself to me, or I’m going to end my life.”
Within ten minutes, a young Christian, who “just happened” to be passing, stuck his head in the mouth of the cave, saw the hermit-hippie and said, “Hi, mind if I speak to you about Jesus?”
You know what happened! The hippie listened to the good news of salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to the Savior and found forgiveness, acceptance and new life. He had prayed out of the depths; God heard and answered. I have never heard of anyone who prayed like that without having a special revelation of the Lord to his soul.
Of course, the promise is true to Christians as well. If a man sincerely desires to know what the will of God for his life is, God will show it to him. If he wants to know the proper pathway as far as church fellowship is concerned, God will make it known. No matter what the need may be, God is committed to meet it, if we want His will supremely. The thing that stands between us and a true knowledge of God’s mind is our own lack of desperate desire.
“But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.” (Phil. 4:18)
Paul’s letter to the Philippians was really an acknowledgment of a gift which he had received from the believers at Philippi. We are probably safe in assuming that it was a gift of money. The surprising thing is the way in which the apostle magnifies the gift. He calls it “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.” In Ephesians 5:2 He uses a similar expression to describe Christ’s great gift of Himself at Calvary. He speaks of it as “an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.” It is breathtaking to think that a gift given to a servant of the Lord should be memorialized with language similar to that which describes the Unspeakable Gift.
J. H. Jowett comments finely on this point. “How vast, then, is the range of an apparently local kindness! We thought we were ministering to a pauper, and in reality we were conversing with the King. We imagined that the fragrance would be shut up in a petty neighborhood, and lo, the sweet aroma steals through the universe. We thought that we were dealing only with Paul, and we find that we were ministering to Paul’s Savior and Lord.” When we understand the true spiritual nature of Christian giving and the vast range of its influence, we are delivered from giving grudgingly or of necessity. We are immune forever to the gimmickry of professional fund-raisers who extort by cajolery, pathos or comedy. We see that giving is a form of priestly service, not a legal enaction. We give because we love, and we love to give.
The truth that my minuscule gifts to the Great God fill the throne room of the universe with fragrance should inspire me to humble worship and hilarious giving. Never again will the offering on Sunday morning be a boring, if necessary, part of the service. It will be as truly a means of giving directly to the Lord Jesus as if He were bodily present.
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Heb. 4:12a NASB)
A Christian university student was witnessing to another student who was from a liberal seminary. When the believer quoted a verse, the seminarian said, “I don’t believe the Bible.” The Christian quoted another verse, only to be met with “I told you I don’t believe the Bible.” The third time the Christian quoted a verse the seminarian became agitated and exploded, “Don’t quote the Bible to me. I’ve already told you I don’t believe it.” By then the believer felt completely frustrated and defeated. He figured that he was a total failure as a soul winner.
It so happened that Dr. H. A. Ironside was a guest at his home that night. At the supper table, the Christian student shared his disappointing experience about the seminarian. Then he asked Dr. Ironside, “When you are trying to witness to someone and he says to you, ‘I don’t believe the Bible,’ what do you do?” Dr. Ironside replied with a happy smile, “I just quote more of it.”
That is excellent advice for any would-be soul winners. When people say they don’t believe the Bible, just quote more of it. The Word of God is living and powerful. It has an effect on people even when they don’t believe it.
Suppose two men are dueling. One says to the other, “I don’t believe your sword is real steel.” What happens? Does the second man lay down his sword and admit defeat? Or does he give a scientific discourse on the carbon content and malleability of the metal? Ridiculous! He gives his opponent a good sharp jab and lets him feel how real the sword is. So it is with the Bible. The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit. It needs to be used more than it needs to be defended. It is well able to defend itself.
I do not deny that there is a place for proofs of the inspiration of the Scriptures. Such proofs serve a valuable purpose in confirming the faith of those who are already saved. In a few cases they help people come to saving faith. But generally speaking people aren’t convinced by human reasonings or arguments. “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Men need to be confronted with the powerful Word of God. A single verse of Scripture is worth a thousand arguments.
This highlights the importance of Scripture memorization. If I haven’t committed verses to memory, the Spirit will not be able to bring them forth at the appropriate time. But the main point is that God has not promised to honor my words, but He has promised to honor His own. So in dealing with the unsaved, I must use the sword of the Spirit generously and watch it produce conviction and conversion by a miracle of grace.
“…he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter.” (Isa. 53:7b)
I once saw a lamb die. It was a most moving, most awful sight.
As it was brought to the place of execution, it looked especially lovable. Children would have loved to cuddle it. The young of every species are darling—kittens, puppies, chicks, calves and colts—but a lamb is especially appealing.
As it stood there, it was a picture of innocence. Its white fleece, without blemish, gave the appearance of purity. It was gentle and mild, helpless and defenseless. It’s eyes were especially expressive; they spoke of fear, of pathos and poignancy. There seemed to be no reason why anything so young, so beautiful should have to die.
Now the legs were tied and the pathetic lamb was lying on its side, breathing heavily, as if aware of impending death. With one deft motion, the butcher moved the knife across the throat. The blood poured out over the ground. The little body was convulsed by the death throes, then shortly it lay still. The gentle lamb had died.
Some of the spectators had turned away from the sight; it was too sad to watch. Others were wiping away the tears. No one wanted to speak.
By faith I see another Lamb dying—the Lamb of God. It is a most blessed, most awful sight.
This Lamb is altogether lovely, the chief among ten thousand, the fairest of the fair. As He is brought to the place of execution, He is in the prime of life.
He is not only innocent—He is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, without spot and without blemish. There seems no reason why anyone so pure should ever be put to death.
But the executioners take Him and nail Him to the Cross, hands and feet. There He suffers the concentrated torments and horrors of hell as a Substitute for sinners. Through it all His eyes are filled with love and forgiveness.
Now His suffering time is ended. He dismisses His spirit and His body hangs limp on the Cross. A soldier pierces His side and out gushes blood and water. The Lamb of God has died.
My heart is filled. Scalding tears flow freely. I fall to my knees and thank Him and praise Him! Just to think—He died for me! I will never cease to love Him.
“…ye need not that any man teach you.” (1 John 2:27)
At first glance this verse poses problems. If we don’t need anyone to teach us, why did the risen Lord give teachers to build up the saints for the work of ministering (Eph. 4:11, 12)?
In order to understand John’s meaning, it helps to know the background of his letter. At the time he wrote, the church was being plagued by false teachers known as Gnostics. These heretics had once professed to be sincere believers in the Lord Jesus and had been in the fellowship of local assemblies. But then they had left to push their false views concerning the humanity and deity of Christ.
They professed to have superior knowledge, hence the name Gnostic, from the Greek word gnosis—“to know.” They probably said something like this to the Christians: “What you have is good, but we have additional truth. We can take you beyond the simple teachings and initiate you into new and deeper mysteries. If you are going to be full-grown and fulfilled, you need our teachings.”
But John warns the Christians that it is all a hoax. They don’t need any of these imposters to teach them. They have the Holy Spirit. They have the Word of Truth. And they have God-ordained teachers. The Holy Spirit enables them to discern between truth and error. The Christian faith has been once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), and anything that claims to be in addition to it is fraudulent. Christian teachers are needed to explain and apply the Scriptures, but they must never transgress by going beyond the Scriptures.
John would be the last one to deny the need for teachers in the Church. He himself was a teacher par excellence. But he would be the first one to insist that the Holy Spirit is the ultimate authority, and that He leads His people into all truth through the pages of Holy Writ. All teaching must be tested by the Bible. If it professes to be in addition to the Bible, if it claims equal authority with the Bible, or if it does not agree with the Bible, then it must be rejected.
“And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept. “(Matt. 28:12, 13)
The Lord Jesus had no sooner risen from the dead when His enemies began to fabricate an alibi to explain away the miracle. The best falsehood that they could concoct at that time was that the disciples came by night and stole the body. (The swoon theory, suggesting that Jesus did not really die but only swooned, didn’t surface till centuries later.) Unfortunately for the theft theory, as for all the other theories, it raises more questions than it answers. For example:
Why didn’t the chief priests and elders question the original report of the guards concerning the empty tomb? They accepted it as true and hastened to devise an explanation as to how it had happened.
Why were the soldiers sleeping when they should have been on watch? The Roman penalty for sleeping on duty was death. Yet they were promised immunity from punishment. Why?
How could all the soldiers have fallen asleep at the same time? It taxes credulity to think they would all have risked death for a time of sleep.
How could the disciples have rolled the stone without waking the guards? The stone was large and could not be moved noiselessly.
How could the disciples have moved the stone at all? In a typical Herodian-style tomb, the stone was rolled till it fell down into a lower slot. It was easier to seal such a tomb than it was to open it. Besides, the tomb had been made as “sure” as the Roman authorities were able to make it.
Is it likely that the disciples, recently so fearful that they fled for their lives, would have the courage to face the Roman guards and rob the sepulcher? They would know that such an offense was punishable by a severe sentence.
If the soldiers were all asleep, how did they know that the disciples had stolen the body?
If the disciples stole the body, why did they take time to remove the graveclothes and fold the napkin? (Luke 24:12; John 20:6, 7). Why would the disciples want to steal the body?
There was no reason. Actually they were surprised and incredulous when they learned He had risen.
Finally, would the disciples, honorable men that they were, go forth and preach the resurrection at great personal risk if they knew it was a lie? Paul Little said, “Men do not die for what they know is a lie.” They sincerely believed that Jesus has risen. The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!
“If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches.” (Luke 16:11)
Unrighteous mammon here refers to earthly riches or material treasures. No illusion is more prevalent than that the man who has a lot of material possessions is rich. We speak of houses and land as real estate because we think they are real wealth. We speak of stocks and bonds as securities because we think they provide security.
But in Luke 16:11 the Lord distinguishes between the unrighteous mammon and true riches. The things men think are wealth aren’t wealth at all.
John was a godly Christian who served as caretaker for a wealthy aristocrat’s estate. One night John had a vivid dream in which he was told that the richest man in the valley would die before midnight the following evening. When John met his employer the next morning, he shared the dream with him. At first the millionaire pretended to be completely unconcerned. He never felt better. And he didn’t believe in dreams anyway.
But as soon as John left, he called his chauffeur to drive him to the doctor’s office. He told the doctor he wanted a complete physical checkup. As expected, the tests revealed that he was in splendid condition. And yet he was still worried about John’s dream, so as he was leaving the doctor’s office, he said, “By the way, Doctor, could you come to my house for supper tonight and for a visit afterwards.” The doctor agreed to come.
The supper went on routinely and they talked over a wide range of subjects. Several times the doctor made a start to leave, but each time the host prevailed upon him to stay a little longer.
Finally when the clock struck midnight, the godless rich man, greatly relieved, said goodnight to the doctor.
A few minutes later, the doorbell rang. When the gentleman opened the door, the adult daughter of old John stood there and said, “Please, sir, my mother wanted to let you know that my father had a heart attack and died a little while ago.”
The richest man in the valley had died that night.
“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31)
One of the great tests of Christian behavior is whether there is any glory for God in it. Too often we test our conduct by the question, “Is there any harm in it?” But that is not the question. What we must ask is this: “Is there any glory for God in it?”
Before engaging in any activity, we should be able to bow our head and ask the Lord to glorify Himself in what we are about to do. If God cannot be honored by it, then we should refrain from doing it.
Other religions might be satisfied with behavior that has the absence of harm in it. Christianity moves beyond the merely negative to the distinctly positive. Therefore, as Keith L. Brooks said, “If you would be a successful Christian, stop hunting for the harm there is in things, and start looking for the good. If you want your life to be happy, cast your lot among those persons who are asking for the ‘good’ and not the ‘harm’ there is in it.”
Things might be harmless in themselves and yet be a dead weight in the Christian race. There is no law against an Olympic runner’s toting a sack of potatoes in the 1500 meter race. He can carry the spuds but he can’t win the race. So it is with the Christian. Things may be harmless and yet be a hindrance.
But usually when we ask “Is there any harm in it?” our question betrays a hidden doubt. We don’t ask that about activities that are legitimate on the face of them—such as prayer, Bible study, worship, witness and our daily work.
Incidentally, any honorable work can be done to the glory of God. That is why some housewives have this motto over their kitchen sink: “Divine services conducted here three times daily.”
Whenever in doubt, we could follow this advice from John Wesley’s mother; “If you wish to determine the lawfulness of a pleasure, follow this rule: Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes away the relish of spiritual things; whatever increases the authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin.”
“…whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” (Matt. 20:26, 27)
What is true greatness?
In the kingdom of this world, the great man is the one who has risen to a place of wealth and power. He has a retinue of aides and assistants, conditioned to follow his orders. He is accorded V.I.P. treatment and receives special favors wherever he goes. People regard him with respect and awe because of his rank. He never has to stoop to anything menial; there are always others to do that for him.
But in the Kingdom of our Lord, things are quite different. Here greatness is measured by the extent to which we serve rather than the extent to which we are served. The great man is the one who stoops to become a slave for others. No service is too menial. He does not expect any special treatment or thanks. When one of George Washington’s men saw him performing a menial service, he objected, saying, “General, you are too big a man to be doing that.” Washington replied, “Oh, no, I’m just the right size.”
Commenting on Luke 17:7-10, Roy Hession reminds us that “there are five marks of the bondslave: (1) He must be willing to have one thing on top of another put on him, without any consideration being given to him. (2) In doing this, he must be willing not to be thanked for it. (3) Having done all this, he must not charge the master with selfishness. (4) He must confess that he is an unprofitable servant. (5) He must admit that doing and bearing what he has in the way of meekness and humility, he has not done one stitch more than it was his duty to do.”
When our Lord left the heights of glory to become a Man on this planet, he “took upon him the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7). He was among us as One who serves (Luke 22:27). He said, “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). He girded Himself with a towel, the apron of a slave, and washed His disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17).
“The servant is not greater than his lord” (John 13:16). If He stooped so low to serve us, why should we think it beneath our dignity to serve others?
Wast Thou, Savior, meek and lowly,
And will such a worm as I,
Weak and sinful and unholy
Dare to lift my head on high?
“…by love serve one another.” (Gal. 5:13)
Someone has said, “Self thinks itself great and is served. Love serves and is great.”
A popular Gospel singer witnessed to the man sitting next to him in a restaurant and had the joy of leading him to Christ. In the weeks that followed, he discipled this new convert. Then Fred, the new believer, was stricken with inoperable cancer and was taken to a convalescent hospital where, unfortunately, care was below standard. The Gospel singer, a radio celebrity, visited faithfully, changed the bed, bathed and fed his “Timothy”, and did many other things that the staff should have been doing. On the night Fred died, this well-known singer was holding him in his arms, whispering comforting verses of Scripture into his ear. “…by love serve one another.”
A senior instructor at a Bible School often found the men’s room awash after the morning rush. He would patiently clean the fixtures, then get down and wipe the floor dry. Not all his best teaching was done in the classroom. The students were humbled and inspired by the example of their respected teacher cleaning up after them. “…by love serve one another.”
In that same Bible School, a member of the basketball team had the heart of a true servant. After a game, when all the players would rush down to be first in the showers, he would stay in the gym and see that it was set in order for the next day. He “found in the selfishness of others an opportunity to identify himself afresh with the Lord as the servant of all.” “…by love serve one another.”
A Christian mother from rural Turkey was taken to London to donate a kidney for her ailing son. She assumed that to give a kidney would cost her life. When the English doctor asked if she was sure she was willing to give a kidney to her son, she replied, “I am willing to give two kidneys.” “…by love serve one another.”
In a world dominated largely by self-interest, the pathway of selfless, sacrificial service is not overcrowded. Opportunities beckon throughout every day for innovative acts of servanthood.
“…as dying, and, behold, we live.” (2 Cor. 6:9)
The Bible is full of paradoxes, that is, truths that seem contrary to what we would normally suppose or truths that seem to contradict one another. G. K. Chesterton maintained that paradox is truth standing on its head to attract attention. Here are a few of the paradoxes trying to attract our attention.
We save our lives by losing them; we lose our lives by loving them (Mark 8:35).
We are strong when we are weak (2 Cor. 12:10), and powerless in our own strength (John 15:5).
We find perfect freedom in being Christ’s slave, and bondage when we are free from His yoke (Rom. 6:17-20).
We find more joy in sharing what we have than we do in getting more. Or, in the words of our Lord, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
We increase what we have through scattering it, and experience poverty through hoarding it (Prov. 11:24).
We have a new nature that cannot sin (1 John 3:9), yet everything we do is stained by sin (1 John 1:8).
We conquer by yielding (Gen. 32:24-28) and experience defeat by fighting (1 Pet. 5:5c).
We are abased when we exalt ourselves, but He exalts us when we abase ourselves (Lu. 14:11).
We are enlarged by pressure (Psa. 4:1 JND) and shrunk by prosperity (Jer. 48:11).
We can possess all things, yet have nothing; we can be poor, yet make many rich (2 Cor. 6:10).
When we are wise (in man’s view) then we are fools (in God’s sight), but when we are fools for Christ’s sake, then we are truly wise (1 Cor. 1:20, 21).
The life of faith brings freedom from care and anxiety; the life of sight brings fear of loss through moths, rust and thieves (Matt. 6:19).
The poet sees the Christian life as paradox from start to finish:
How strange is the course that a person must steer,
How perplexed is the path he must tread;
The hope of his happiness rises from fear,
And his life he receives from the dead.
His fairest pretensions must wholly be waived,
And his best resolutions be crossed;
Nor can he expect to be perfectly saved
Till he finds himself utterly lost.
When all this is done, and his heart is assured
Of the total remission of sins;
When his pardon is signed and his peace is procured,
From that moment his conflict begins. (Selected).
“…you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.” (Matt. 23:8-10 RSV)
The Lord Jesus warned His disciples against high-sounding titles that cater to the ego and put self in the place of the Trinity. God is our Father, Christ is our Master, the Holy Spirit is our Teacher. We should not arrogate these titles to ourselves in the assembly. In the world, of course, we have an earthly father, in our work we have a master or employer, and in school we have teachers. But in the spiritual realm, the members of the Godhead fill these roles and should be honored exclusively as such.
God is our Father in the sense that He is the Giver of life. Christ is our Master because we belong to Him and are subject to His direction. The Holy Spirit is our Teacher because He is the Author and Interpreter of Scripture; all our teaching must be guided by Him.
How strange, then, that churches perpetuate honorific titles just as if Christ had never warned against them. Priests and ministers are still called Father and Padre and are sometimes referred to as Dominie, meaning Lord. Clergymen regularly use the title “Reverend,” a word that is used in the Bible only of God (see Psa. 111:9, “…reverend and holy is his name.”) The title “Doctor” comes from the Latin docere, to teach. So doctor means teacher. The degree, whether earned or honorary, may come from an institution that is a pesthouse of infidelity rather than a bulwark of the Christian faith. Yet when a man is introduced as “Doctor” in the assembly, the implication is that his words have added authority because of his degree. This, of course, is completely unfounded. A hunchbacked garbage collector, filled with the Holy Spirit, may speak more truly as an oracle of God.
There is a place for titles in the so-called secular world. The principle that applies in that sphere is “Render therefore to all their dues: …honour to whom honour” (Rom. 13:7). But the principle that applies in the assembly is laid down by the Lord in the words, “…you are all brethren” (Matt. 23:8 RSV).
“For now we see through a glass, darkly…” (1 Cor. 13:12)
At few times in our Christian experience is this so evident as when we come to the Lord’s Table to remember Him in His death for us. “We see through a glass, darkly.”
There seems to be a thick, impenetrable veil. We are on one side of it with all our finite limitations. On the other side is the whole great drama of our redemption—Bethlehem, Gethsemane, Gabbatha, Calvary, the empty tomb, the exalted Christ at God’s right hand. We realize that there is something enormously vast there, and we try to take it in, but feel more like clods than like living beings.
We try to comprehend the Savior’s sufferings for our sins. Our minds strain to take in the horror of His being forsaken by God. We know that He endured the torment that we should have endured for all eternity. Yet we are frustrated to realize that there is so much more beyond. We are standing at the edge of an unexplored sea!
We think of the love that sent Heaven’s best for earth’s worst. We are moved when we remember that God sent His only-begotten Son into this jungle of sin to seek and to save that which was lost. But we are dealing with a love that passes knowledge. We can know only in part.
We sing of the grace of the Savior, that though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich. It is enough to make angels gasp. Our eyes strain to see the vast dimensions of such grace. But it is in vain. We are limited by our human shortsightedness.
We know that we should be overcome by the contemplation of His sacrifice at Calvary, but we are too often strangely unmoved. If we really entered in to what lies beyond the veil, we would be reduced to tears. Yet we have to confess…
Oh, wonder to myself I am,
Thou loving, bleeding, dying Lamb,
That I can scan the mystery o’er
And not be moved to love thee more.
Or, in the words of another, we must ask:
Am I a stone, and not a man, that I can stand
O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
And number drop by drop,
Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?
Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, our eyes are beholden. We long with burning desire for the time when the veil will be removed and when we will see with better vision the awesome meaning of the broken bread and the outpoured wine.
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:13)
Some of us will be eternally thankful to God for this verse because it taught us that assurance of salvation comes first and foremost through the Word of God and not through feelings. The Bible was written, among other reasons, so that those who believe on the Name of the Son of God can know that they have eternal life.
We can be thankful that assurance does not come through feelings, because they fluctuate with every passing day. “God does not ask the soul to say, ‘Thank God I feel so good,’ but turns the eye another way, to Jesus and His Word.” When someone once asked Martin Luther, “Do you feel that your sins have been forgiven?” he replied, “No, but I’m as sure of it as that there’s a God in heaven. For feelings come and feelings go/ And feelings are deceiving/ My warrant is the Word of God/ Naught else is worth believing.” C. I. Scofield reminds us that “justification takes place in the mind of God and not in the nervous system of the believer.” H. A. Ironside used to say, “I don’t know I am saved because I feel happy, but I feel happy because I know I am saved.” And he knew he was saved by the written Word of God.
When we read that the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the sons of God (Rom. 8:16), we must remember that the Spirit witnesses to us primarily through the Scriptures. We read John 6:47, for instance, “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” We know that we have trusted in Christ for our eternal salvation; He is our only hope for heaven. The Spirit of God therefore witnesses to us through this verse that we are sons of God.
Of course, there are other means of assurance. We know we are saved because we love the brethren; because we hate sin and practice righteousness; because we love the Word of God; and because we have the instinct of prayer. But the first and fundamental means of assurance is the surest, most dependable thing in the universe, the Word of God. George Cutting said it well in his memorable tract Safety, Certainty and Enjoyment: “It’s the blood that makes us safe; it’s the Word that makes us sure.”
“If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” (Rom. 11:6 NASB)
When a person gets grounded early in the doctrine of grace, he saves himself from a host of problems in later life. It is so basic to understand that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace and that it is given to those who not only do not deserve it but who in fact deserve the very opposite. There is nothing meritorious a person can do or become to earn eternal life. It is given to those who abandon any thoughts of personal worthiness but who rest their case on the worthiness of the Savior alone.
If we see that salvation is all of grace, then we can have full assurance. We can know that we are saved. If salvation depended in the slightest degree on ourselves and our miserable attainments, then we could never know for sure. We wouldn’t know whether we had done enough good works or the right kind. But when it depends on the work of Christ, then there doesn’t have to be any nagging doubt.
The same is true of our eternal security. If our continued safety somehow depended on our own ability to hold out, then we might be saved today and lost tomorrow. But as long as our safety depends on the Savior’s ability to keep us, we can know we are eternally secure.
Those who live under grace are not helpless pawns of sin. Sin does have dominion over those under law because the law tells them what to do but doesn’t give them the power to do it. Grace gives a person a perfect standing before God, teaches him to walk worthy of his calling, enables him to do it by the indwelling Holy Spirit, and rewards him for doing it.
Under grace, service becomes a joyful privilege, not a legal bondage. The believer is motivated by love, not by fear. The memory of what the Savior suffered to provide salvation inspires the saved sinner to pour out his life in devoted service.
Grace also enriches life by inspiring thanksgiving, worship, praise and adoration. The knowledge of who the Savior is, of what sinners we are by nature and by practice, and of all He has done for us causes our hearts to overflow in loving adoration to Him.
There’s nothing like the grace of God. It’s the crown jewel of all His attributes. Get grounded in the truth of the sovereign grace of God and it will transfigure all of life.
“The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.” (Lu. 6:40)
In this passage the Lord Jesus was reminding the Twelve that when they went out to disciple others, they could not expect their disciples to progress further in the spiritual life than they themselves had attained. In other words, the extent of our positive influence on others is limited by what we ourselves are. Or as O. L. Clark said:
You cannot teach what you do not know;
You cannot lead where you do not go.
The Savior went on to reinforce the lesson by the story of the mote and the beam. A man is walking by a threshingfloor when a sudden gust of wind lands a tiny speck of chaff squarely in his eye. He rubs it, pulls the top lid down over the bottom one, and tries all the wellmeaning advice of his friends as to how to get the mote out of his eye. Then I come along with a telephone pole jutting out of my eye and say to him, “Here, my dear friend, let me help you get that atom out of your eye.” With his head at an angle, he looks up at me with his remaining good eye and says, “Don’t you think you ought to take the pole out of your own eye first?”
Of course! I can’t help someone who is struggling with a besetting sin if I am even more shackled by that particular sin. I can’t press on him obedience to some plain command of Scripture if I have not obeyed it myself. Any spiritual failure in my life seals my lips in that particular area.
When my disciple has become perfect, that is, when I have finished training him, I cannot expect him to be one centimeter above my own spiritual stature. He may progress up to my height, but I cannot lead him beyond it.
All of which emphasizes afresh that we must take heed to ourselves. Our ministry is to be a ministry of character. It’s what’s inside that counts. We may be eloquent, clever, and fast-talking but if there are blind-spots in our lives, areas of neglect and disobedience, then our discipling of others is a case of the blind leading the blind.
“If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Rom. 10:9)
This favorite Gospel verse zeroes in on the two basic truths that are so hard for fallen man to accept—the incarnation and the resurrection. There can be no salvation without accepting these doctrines and all that they signify.
First we must confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, that is, that the One who was born in Bethlehem’s stable is none other than God manifest in the flesh. The deity of the Lord Jesus is essential to the whole plan of salvation.
Second, we must believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead. But this means more than the simple fact of the resurrection. It includes the fact that the Lord Jesus died on the Cross as our Substitute. He paid the penalty that our sins deserved. He endured the wrath of God that we should have endured eternally. Then on the third day God raised Him from the dead as a proof of God’s entire satisfaction with Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.
When we receive Him as Lord and Savior, the Bible says that we are saved.
But someone may ask, “Why is confession put before believing? Don’t we believe first and then confess?”
In verse 9 Paul is emphasizing the incarnation and the resurrection, and he gives the historical order in which they occurred - the incarnation first and the resurrection thirty-three years later.
In the next verse he puts believing before confessing. “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Here the order is that which takes place when we are born again. First, we trust the Savior and are justified. Then we go out to confess the salvation which we have already received.
Our verse has an artless simplicity and perennial freshness about it. No wonder the children sing:
Romans ten and nine
Is a fav’rite verse of mine;
Confessing Christ as Lord,
I am saved by grace divine;
For there the words of promise
In golden letters shine:
Romans ten and nine.
“Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” (Heb. 13:13)
We learn first from this verse that Christ is the gathering center for His people. We don’t gather to a denomination, a church, a building or a great preacher but Christ alone. “Unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. 49:10). “Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice” (Psa. 50:5).
A second lesson is that we must go to Him outside the camp. The camp here has been defined as “the whole earthly religious system adapted to the natural man.” It is the religious sphere in which Christ is dishonored or downgraded. It is the pagan monstrosity that masquerades today as Christianity, “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” Christ is outside, and we must go out to Him.
We also learn that meeting to Christ alone outside the camp involves reproach. It seldom occurs to Christians that there is reproach connected with obedience to the Lord in the matter of church fellowship. More often church associations carry a measure of prestige and status. But the closer we get to the New Testament ideal, the more likely it is that we will have to share His reproach. Are we willing to pay that price?
He called me out, the Man with garments dyed,
I knew His voice—my Lord, the crucified;
He showed Himself, and oh, I could not stay,
I had to follow Him—had to obey.
It cast me out—this world when once it found
That I within this rebel heart had crowned
The Man it had rejected, spurned and slain,
Whom God in wondrous power had raised to reign.
And so we are without the camp, my Lord and I,
But oh, His presence sweeter is than any earthly tie
Which once I counted greater than His claim;
I’m out, not only from the world, but to His Name.
“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” (1 Cor. 3:17)
In this verse, the temple of God refers to the local assembly. Paul is not speaking to individual Christians but to believers collectively when he says “which temple ye (plural) are.” The saints in Corinth comprised a temple of God.
It is also true, of course, that individual believers are a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle brings this out in 1 Corinthians 6:19: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” The Holy Spirit of God dwells in the body of every child of God.
But in our text for today it is the assembly that is in view. Paul is saying that if any man destroys the assembly, God will destroy him. It is the same word that is translated “defile” and “destroy” in this verse. It is used of marring a local church by leading it away from that condition of holiness of life and purity of doctrine in which it should abide, and of God’s retributive destruction of the offender who is guilty of this sin” (W. E. Vine).
So our verse warns us that it is a serious thing to tamper with a local fellowship. In fact, it is a form of self-destruction. Yet how diffident people often are in this very area. Here is a man who doesn’t get his own way in the assembly. Or he becomes involved in a violent personality clash with some other brother. Rather than make things right in a Scriptural manner, he lines up people to take his side and forms a faction in the church. Things go from bad to worse and soon there is an open split.
Or perhaps it is a carnal sister who carries on a campaign of gossip and back-biting against someone else. Her slanderous tongue lashes out until the church is filled with bitterness and strife. She will not stop until a once-prosperous assembly lies in ruins.
People like this are playing a perilous game. They cannot get away with it. The Great God of the universe is committed to wreck those who wreck His assembly. Let all who are inclined to faction beware!
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” (2 Cor. 2:14 NASB)
It is generally understood that Paul here borrows a figure from the victory parade of a military leader just returned from a foreign conquest. The general is at the head of the parade, savoring the sweet satisfaction of victory. Behind him are his jubilant troops. Then behind them are the prisoners-of-war, slated for punishment, perhaps death. All along the parade route are incense burners, filling the air with aroma. But the aroma means different things to different people, depending on whose side they are on. To those who are loyal to the commander in chief, it is the fragrance of victory. To the captives, however, it is an omen of defeat and retribution.
The pathway of a servant of the Lord parallels this picture in several respects. The Lord always leads him in triumph. Though it might not always seem like victory, the fact is that he is on the winning side and God’s cause can never fail.
Everywhere he goes, he carries the aroma of Christ with him. But this aroma means different things to different people. To those who bow to the Lord Jesus, it is the scent of everlasting life. To those who refuse the Gospel, on the other hand, it is the smell of death and destruction.
But in both cases God is glorified. He is glorified in the salvation of the repentant, and he is also vindicated in the refusal of those who are perishing. When the latter stand before Christ, at the Judgment of the Great White Throne, they will not be able to blame God for their plight. They had the opportunity to be saved but refused it.
We generally judge the effectiveness of Christian service by how many people are saved. Perhaps there is a suggestion in this passage that it would be equally valid to judge it by how many people, after receiving a clear presentation of the Gospel, reject it and plunge into hell.
God is glorified in both cases. To Him there is the sweet incense of grace in the first instance and of justice in the second.
Solemn issues! No wonder the Apostle asks, in closing, “Who is sufficient for these things?”
“Thou shalt never wash my feet.” (John 13:8)
The Lord Jesus had just girded Himself with a towel and filled a basin with water, preparatory to washing the disciples’ feet. When He came to Peter, He met this emphatic refusal, “Thou shalt never wash my feet.”
Why? Why didn’t Peter want to submit to this gracious ministry from the Lord? On the one hand, there may have been a sense of unworthiness; he did not consider himself worthy to be served by the Lord. But there is also the real possibility that Peter’s attitude was one of pride and independence. He did not want to be on the receiving end. He did not want to be dependent on others for help.
This same attitude keeps many people from being saved. They want to earn salvation or deserve it, but to receive it as a free gift of grace is beneath their dignity. They don’t want to feel indebted to God. But “no one who is too proud to be infinitely in debt will ever be a Christian” (James S. Stewart).
There is also a lesson here for those who are already Christians. We have all met believers who are compulsive givers. They are always doing for others. Their lives are poured out in service for their relatives and neighbors. Their generosity deserves high praise. But there is a fly in the ointment! They never want to be on the receiving end. They never want anyone to do anything for them. They have learned how to give generously but they have never learned how to receive graciously. They enjoy the blessing of ministering to others, but they deny to others that same blessing.
Paul proved himself to be a gracious recipient of gifts from the Philippians. In thanking them, he said, “Not because I desire a gift; but I desire fruit that may abound to your account” (Phil. 4:17). He thought of their reward more than of his own need.
“It is told of Bishop Westcott that at the end of his life he said he had made one great mistake, for, while he had always been willing to do for others to the limit of his ability, he had never been willing to let others do for him, and as a result some element of sweetness and completeness was missing. He had not allowed himself the discipline of receiving many kindnesses which could not be repaid” (J. O. Sanders).
An unknown poet summed it up well when he wrote:
J hold him great, who, for love’s sake,
Can give with generous, earnest will;
But he who takes for love’s sweet sake,
I think I hold more generous still.
“…he began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord.” (Acts 11:23 NASB)
There is an alarming tendency in some Christian circles to fawn over men because they are scholars, even though they are disloyal to the Person of Christ.
Here is a man, for instance, who is a brilliant writer, a master in the use of illustrations, a commentator whose word studies are superb. But this man denies the Virgin Birth. He explains away the miracles of our Lord. He rejects the literal, bodily resurrection of the Savior. He speaks patronizingly of Jesus as one who must find a place in any gallery of the world’s heroes. To him, Jesus is just one among many heroes. What this amounts to, of course, is damning the Son of God with faint praise. This man is simply not true to the Lord.
It is shocking, then, to find Christians defending a man like this for his brilliant scholarship. With mealy mouth, they extol his intellectual prowess and pass lightly over his heretical treatment of Christ. They like to quote him as a respected authority and to move in the same scholarly circles. If challenged for fraternizing with one who is an enemy of the Cross of Christ, they use weasel words to play down the seriousness of the offense. Not uncommonly, they attack fundamental, Bible-believing Christians for daring to speak out against one who is such an acknowledged authority.
It is time that Christians recapture a sense of righteous anger when their Savior is being betrayed in the halls of scholarship. This is no time for compromise. The truth concerning His Person and work is not negotiable. We must stand and be counted.
The prophets did not speak equivocally when the truth of God was at stake. They were fiercely loyal to the Lord and lashed out at those who dared to deny or belittle Him.
The apostles too bristled at any effort to rob the Lord of His glory. They chose loyalty to Christ over renown in the theological world.
The martyrs chose to die rather than compromise their loyalty to the Son of God. They were more interested in God’s approval than man’s.
Our responsibility is to be faithful to the Lord Jesus in all things, and to take an adversary relationship to anyone or anything that fails to give Him His proper place of preeminence.
“Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.” (Prov. 4:1)
In the first four verses of Proverbs 4, Solomon describes how good advice can and should be passed down from one generation to another. He tells how his father had taught him, then urges his son, in turn, to pay attention to good doctrine and sound instruction.
It is sensible for young people to learn as much as possible from their earthly parents concerning the practical affairs of life. But it is also true that, in the spiritual sphere, every young Christian should have a spiritual mentor—someone to whom he can go with his questions, someone in whom he can confide, someone who will share from a rich store of experience and someone who will be candid in dealing with areas of need. If a parent can fill this role, all the better. But if not, someone else should be sought out.
Godly, mature believers have accumulated a vast amount of practical knowledge. No doubt they have experienced defeats, but they have learned valuable lessons from them and have learned how to avoid them the next time. Older Christians can often see aspects of a problem that young people might miss. And they have learned to be balanced and to avoid unreasonable extremes.
A wise young Timothy will cultivate a Paul, trying to draw on his wisdom and know-how. He will save himself from humiliations and blunders by checking first with someone who has been through it before him. Instead of treating old age with contempt, he will honor those who have fought in the conflict and have maintained a good record.
Generally speaking, older saints will not push themselves on the young. They know that no advice is as unwelcome as advice that is unsolicited. But, when asked, they are always glad to share insights that have been of help to them along the way.
So whether a young person is having a struggle with lust, or wants to know how to find God’s guidance, or seeks to raise a family for the Lord, or wonders if God is calling him to the mission field, or needs help in managing his finances, or longs for a more effective prayer life—he would be wise to seek the help of a spiritual guide who can bring the light of Scripture to shine on the particular problem. Underneath those gray hairs there is often a fund of wisdom to be tapped. Why learn the hard way when you can profit from the insights and past experience of others?
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)
Faith is implicit trust in the Word of God. It is confidence in the trustworthiness of God. It is the conviction that what God says is true and that what He promises will come to pass. It deals primarily in the realm of the future (“things hoped for”) and the realm of the invisible (“things not seen”).
Whittier said that “the steps of faith fall on the seeming void, and find the rock beneath.” But not so! Faith is no leap in the dark. It demands the surest evidence, and finds that evidence in the Word of God.
Some people have the misconception that if you just believe a thing strongly enough it will come to pass. But that is credulity, not faith. Faith must have some revelation of God to lean on, some promise of God to cling to. If God promises something, then it is as sure as if it had already happened. If He foretells the future, then it is certain to be fulfilled. In other words, faith brings the future within the present and makes the invisible seen.
There is no risk in believing God. God cannot lie, He would not deceive, and He cannot be deceived. To believe God is the most rational, sane, logical thing a person can do. What is more reasonable than that the creature should believe the Creator?
Faith is not limited to possibilities but invades the realm of the impossible. Someone has said, “Faith begins where possibilities end. If it’s possible then there’s no glory for God in it. If it’s impossible, it can be done.”
Faith, mighty faith the promise sees
And looks to God alone;
Laughs at impossibilities
And cries, “It shall be done.”
Admittedly there are difficulties and problems in the life of faith. God tests our faith in the crucible of trial and affliction to see if it is genuine (1 Pet. 1:7). We often have to wait long years to see the fulfilment of His promises, and sometimes we have to wait till we reach the other side. But “difficulties are food for faith to feed on” (George Muller).
“Without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb. 11:6). When we refuse to believe Him, we are saying that He is a liar (1 John 5:10), and how can God be pleased by people who call Him a liar?
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
Commandments? In the New Testament? Whenever people hear the word commandments, they immediately think legalism. But the two words are not synonymous. No one spoke more of commandments than the Lord Jesus, yet no one was less legalistic than He.
What is legalism? Though the word itself is not found in the New Testament, it describes man’s ceaseless effort to earn or deserve God’s favor. Basically it signifies the attempt to gain justification or sanctification by lawkeeping. That is its real meaning.
But today the word is used in a wider sense to describe what are thought of as rigid, moralistic rules. Any attempt to classify certain practices as taboo is “legalistic.” In fact, the word “legalism” is now used as a handy club to beat back almost any restraints on Christian behavior or any negatives.
How, then, should a Christian think in order to avoid the danger associated with “legalism”?
First of all, it is true that a Christian is free from the law, but it is important to add quickly that he is not lawless. He is enlawed to Christ. He shouldn’t do as he pleases but as Christ pleases.
Secondly, it must be remembered that the New Testament is filled with commandments, including a fair number of negatives. The difference is that these commandments are not given as law, with penalty attached. They are given as instructions in righteousness for the people of God.
Next, things may be lawful for a Christian but they may not be profitable. They may be lawful but they may also be enslaving (1 Cor. 6:12 NASB).
It is possible that a believer may have liberty to do something and yet he might stumble someone else in doing it. In that case he shouldn’t do it.
Just because someone dubs a prohibition as “legalistic” doesn’t mean it is bad. People also use the word “puritanical” to denounce certain codes of conduct, but the behavior of the Puritans was more Christ-honoring than that of many who criticize them.
Very often when Christians castigate accepted patterns of godly behavior as “legalism,” it may be a sign that they themselves are becoming more permissive and are drifting from their moral moorings. They naively imagine that by throwing mud at so-called legalists or Puritans, they themselves will look better.
Our safety lies in staying as close to the teachings of Scripture as possible, not in trying to see how close we can get to the edge of the precipice.