A True Story!

Gather round and I’ll tell you a story. It’s a true story, and something of great value can be learned from it. In one sense it’s quite whimsical, but it is also very sad. So here goes…

Once upon a time there were two families who, having been part of a church for several years, suddenly announced that they had discovered together what true fellowship actually was. Having received such a ‘revelation’ of what the Christian life was really about, they had therefore concluded that everyone else with whom they had been in fellowship up to then were just hypocrites who were not following the Lord as they should. God had also, they said, shown them that they must leave the church and start a new life together living in community. So they left behind the brothers and sisters they now believed to be hypocrites and pursued their vision, making all the necessary preparations and arrangements for their new life together. Moving into a shared property they were finally free to experience together the ‘revelation’ of fellowship which they so fully believed the Holy Spirit had given them.

Three weeks later – yes, I kid you not – three weeks later they had a falling out and went their own separate ways, each family having presumably concluded that the other was another example of the same Christian hypocrisy in the church they had left to pursue the vision in the first place.

…and they all didn’t live happily ever after!

So what’s the big lesson here? And I gotta tell you, it’s a really vital one! And it’s the importance of properly understanding the simple biblical principle that if there is un-acknowledged and un-dealt with sin in our lives that we aren’t being honest about, then instead of judging ourselves and repenting of that sin, which is what we should do, we will start to see it in everyone else’s lives and (quite wrongly) accuse them of it instead.

What the two families in our story failed to realise, though it was pointed out to them before they left the church, was that the problem they thought they were identifying in others was actually in them. So when they left to start their new life together they just took the problem with them. And precisely because it was their problem, as opposed to anyone else’s, they inevitably ended up seeing in each other the same ‘hypocrisy’ which they had previously thought they were seeing in everyone else in the church.

When Jesus taught about removing the log in one’s own eye before trying to remove a speck in someone else’s, this is exactly what He was meaning. A Christian who has a tree trunk in their eye is not going to be very good at identifying a splinter in someone else’s. If a believer can’t even identify, and be honest about, their own sin, then how on earth do they expect to be able to think clearly and rationally concerning other people’s?

Many Christians seem to be completely unaware that the anger, resentment and sense of having been ‘offended’ by others which they so readily feel, is actually their reaction to, and therefore evidence of, the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin, but of sin which they aren’t willing to be honest about and repent of. Many believers spend their entire Christian lives going from church to church, group to group, fellowship to fellowship, only ever settling anywhere for any length of time to the extent that their ears are being ‘tickled’ by whatever it is they want to hear, and whilst no-one is likely to advise, correct or admonish them regarding their sin. But even when no-one is advising, correcting or admonishing them regarding sin, they often still eventually fall out with those around them thus moving on yet again, because their unrepentant state means they remain spiritual babies who get easily upset and offended at things which mature believers wouldn’t even notice, let alone allow themselves to be negatively affected by. They only ever think of themselves as being the innocent victims of the wrongdoing of others, whilst never being open to the fact that they might themselves be the guilty perpetrators of wrongdoing! It is sad that so many Christians today think in such a way!

A profound change came about in my own Christian life when the Lord started to work on me in this regard, and when I started to realise that my biggest problem wasn’t other people’s sin, but my own. I started to realise that, for instance, the problem wasn’t that other people were irritating, but rather that I was irritable – and Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that irritability is not love, and therefore sin! So what was the big change? It was that I started to at last identify what the real problem was! Me! It wasn’t, as I had always just assumed and taken for granted, that other people were, for instance, irritating, but rather that I was irritable! And man oh man, what a difference that made! It was exactly the same regarding how I would so easily consider other people to be annoying! And what I saw was that irrespective of whether others were being annoying or not, the real problem was that I would so easily get annoyed. And that was because of my own self-righteousness which I was failing to judge.

This is why we need to periodically ask the Lord to show us anew just how sinful we actually are, and just how terrible our sin actually is. We so readily justify our sinful reactions by concentrating on what we perceive to be the wrongdoing of others, and in particular of whoever it is we are reacting against at any one time. I’m not saying there is never a time for legitimate anger or annoyance – as scripture says, “Be angry, but sin not!” – but let’s be clear that so much of what we would like to put down to being righteous anger is really just our own intolerance, peevishness and resentment at having not gotten our own way over something, or with having not been agreed with, or whatever!

The two families in our story got into such a terrible mess because they weren’t willing to face up to the simple fact that the problem they were struggling with was in them and not others, and that it would therefore go with them wherever they went. They were just blaming others for their own un-dealt with sin and disobedience to the Lord. It’s a bit like if someone were to trip over their shoelaces, having not done them up properly, and then shift the blame by accusing others of having pushed them.

There are so many Christians of whom it can be said that nothing is ever their fault! The sin, the mess, the division and contention – or whatever – that surrounds them wherever they go is, so they claim, always due to the wrongdoing of others, and never their own!

May we not, I pray, be numbered among them!

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Is God’s Love Unconditional?

The term ‘unconditional love’ seems to have only appeared fairly recently in human history and is, I think, a product of the modern liberal western mentality which is obsessed with such notions as loving oneself and of always being affirmed and never judged. Past generations didn’t use the term because they simply had no need to. Because they better understood what love is than do people today, the term simply wasn’t necessary. One just talked about love. But because the term is so becoming so increasingly widespread even amongst Christians, we do need to give it some thought. Indeed, a great many believers seem to be incapable of talking about God’s love without needing to be constantly emphasising that it’s unconditional. But is it, though? Is it biblically correct to speak in terms of God’s love being unconditional?

Think of it like this! A coin has two sides and not just one, and many things in life similarly have more that just one aspect to them. So if we talk about something that has various aspects as if it only had one, then although what we say may be true in so far as it goes, it won’t be the whole truth of the matter and will actually be misleading. This is happening more and more in regards to how Christians are increasingly defining God’s love, and the result is not only that they are deceiving themselves, they are also deceiving unbelievers through the unbiblical content of their so-called evangelism.

I concur that it is most certainly the case that love is unconditional; but to merely emphasise that aspect of it’s nature, but to not also represent the other side of the coin, is to completely misrepresent what it is, and to completely fail to properly define it. You can no more have unqualified unconditional love than you can have a one-sided coin. Love that is not unconditional could not be considered to be love, but neither could something be considered to be love which claims itself to be solely unconditional with no further qualification! One-sided coins simply don’t exist, and neither does a love which claims as the only aspect of its nature it’s unconditionality.

Think of parents raising their kids. Any parent worth their salt loves their children unconditionally; but precisely because they love them unconditionally they also, by very definition, desire their ultimate happiness and well-being. Good, decent and responsible parents instinctively know that in order to accomplish this the child must be taught right from wrong and good from bad, and that the parent must be ready, whenever necessary, to actually impose discipline on the child in order to bring about that end. Parents who care nothing about their children’s behaviour, whether it be good or bad, and who care nothing about their developing characters, whether their kids are nice or horrible, and then claim that their lack of concern is because they love their children unconditionally, would not just be extremely bad parents, they would also be talking complete nonsense. Doing whatever is necessary in order to ensure that their childrens’ behaviour is moving from bad to good, and from wrong to right, is one of the necessary evidences that parents do indeed love their children. To then add the (completely unnecessary) caveat that such parents also love their children unconditionally is simply another way of saying that they love their children. A good parent, by very definition, loves their child unconditionally at any and every point in their moral development, but precisely because they do love their children with such unconditional love, they also cannot help but want to see them continually improving in their human and moral development. The ‘other side of the coin’ of love being unconditional is, therefore, that love also seeks to improve, in whatever way it can, the condition and well-being of its object.

The reason that love is, by very definition, unconditional, and why it could never be said to be love otherwise, is because the only alternative would be that it had to be earned. It would need to be secured by ongoing acceptable performance. But of course such could never be said to be love! It is simply the gaining of favour through merit, which is an entirely different thing to being loved! Conversely, however, to claim to ‘love’ someone whilst doing nothing to bring about their improvement is equally a complete mockery. You might as well assure a starving beggar in the street that you love him unconditionally, and then add that precisely because your love for him is unconditional it doesn’t matter whether or not you give him some food. Such would be both a mockery and travesty of any notion of love!

I therefore put it to you that the reason so many Christians are increasingly putting such emphasis on God’s love being unconditional, and going so completely out of their way to assure people that He loves everyone ‘just the way they are’, is because they have been deceived by the prevalent over-emphasis on the unconditional aspect of the nature of love, and the idea that the behaviour of those who are its objects is irrelevant to that love. And what this does, however unintentionally, is to spread the falsehood that the fact that God loves people unconditionally means that He won’t ever judge and punish them. Such is, of course, exactly what unrepentant sinners love to hear! It is a ‘gospel’ of having all the benefits of there being a divine Creator, but a Creator who puts no moral requirements upon those He has created, and Who will never punish them for their rejection of Him! What more could unrepentant sinners want by way of a totally false gospel? All the sin and depravity you could possibly want – with God’s unconditional love thrown in! And it’s Christians who are actually encouraging unbelievers to think like this. But here’s the problem: no such God, and therefore no such gospel, actually exists!

Of course God loves unbelievers unconditionally! Of course He loves them just the way they are! If you don’t love someone just the way they are then that’s just another way of saying that you don’t actually love them. But that doesn’t change the fact that, at the Great White Throne Judgement, this God-Who-unconditionally-loves-everybody-just-the-way-they-are will nevertheless throw those who haven’t repented of their sins, and who haven’t put their trust in Him, into the Lake of Fire for all eternity. However discomfiting to the modern mindset it might be, being loved unconditionally by the God Who actually does exist will avail those who reject Him absolutely nothing. Those who reject Him, and who refuse to repent, will be eternally lost, and the fact that in His love for them He has provided a way of escape, yet a way of escape which they refused to take, will make not the slightest bit of difference to fact of their eternal damnation!

Precisely because of His love the Lord has done everything necessary in order to provide salvation for all, but in order to receive that salvation the sinner must repent and believe, and if they don’t, then eternal judgement is all that awaits them! And the reason the Lord won’t let such into Heaven, even though He does indeed love them unconditionally, is because, as we have seen, there is no such thing as a love which doesn’t seek the improvement of the one loved, and therefore no such thing as a love that can’t be rejected by its object. If someone refuses to be improved by the unconditional love of God (or of anyone else for that matter), then the fact that He does so love them makes no ultimate difference. In refusing to be improved by Him they put themselves beyond anything further He can do. Though loved beyond measure, those who refuse to surrender shut themselves out from that love, and are thereby lost in their sins for all eternity. Moreover, if they so disliked the idea of being morally improved by a righteous God in this life, then just think how much they would hate being in Heaven in the next, where that same holiness and righteousness will be utterly revealed and totally all-encompassing! Don’t get me wrong! I’m not suggesting that they won’t hate being in the Lake of Fire, they most certainly will, but as those to whom God granted their desire to not be morally improved by Him, and to not be set free from their sin, they would also hate being in Heaven, though for completely different reasons!

The notion of a God of love Who just ignores sin, and Who accepts everyone just as they are, and Who is too loving to ever judge or punish anyone, is a complete fantasy! In fact, it is the most ridiculous and full-blown nonsense! There could no more be a God-of-love-but-not-righteousness-and-justice than there could be a coin with only one side. Love is, as we have seen, most certainly unconditional, but unconditional love, precisely because it is love, can never disregard the moral condition of its object.

There are ramifications here for believers too, and they are profound! We need to understand – indeed, be greatly reassured – that, as God’s children, He doesn’t love us any more when we are being obedient and faithful, and neither does He love us any less when we are sinning and in disobedience. When we are being obedient and faithful He smiles on us, but when we are sinning and being disobedient to Him, He still smiles on us, but desires to also discipline us and deal with our rebellion. He will even, if necessary, turn away from us relationally until we properly respond so as to restore our fellowship with Him. I don’t mean that He might not let us into Heaven after all, of course not! The believer getting to Heaven depends solely upon Jesus’ death, and there is nothing that can undo that! No! What I mean is that if we have un-dealt with sin in our lives then we are kidding ourselves if we think He is listening to us any more. He isn’t!

“If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me!” That’s what scripture says!

When we are in unrepentant sin the Lord just patiently waits for us to come clean and get right with Him so He can restore our relationship with Him. In such a circumstance the only thing He is saying to us, irrespective of anything we say to Him is, “Come clean and repent of that sin! You must say you are sorry!” (I have even from time to time found myself desperately repenting of just about everything except the specific thing He is actually convicting me of. Funny old world, isn’t it?)

Married couples understand this principle only too well! A husband who is unkind or disrespectful to his wife before he goes to work can hardly expect his relationship with her to be as it ought to be when he gets home, until he has put things right with her and said the needed sorry. It’s not that he and his wife have stopped being married, but rather that sin has disrupted the relationship between them until things are put right! So even though God’s children, we can nevertheless still be out of fellowship with Him relationally should we harbour unrepentant sin in our lives.

Perhaps we could put it like this: The issue isn’t actually whether God loves us, it’s whether or not we love Him; and Jesus said, “If you love me you will obey my commands.” Being loved is irrelevant unless the one who is loved responds in kind!

So let’s be a bit careful then when we talk about love being unconditional. Let’s make sure that we never, even inadvertently, give unbelievers reason to think that God’s love for them means that He isn’t concerned with how they behave or with their moral condition. Our loving God, precisely because He is love, will one day judge the living and the dead, and unrepentant sinners who have never embraced His salvation will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. That they were loved by Him is ultimately irrelevant to their impending eternal damnation! Their problem is that they didn’t love Him, and therefore refused to obey Him. Any understanding of God’s love that doesn’t take this sobering fact into account is pure, unadulterated deception!

For us as believers though what matters is simply this: precisely because the Lord loves us just the way we are, He wants to also improve us so that we don’t stay just the way we are. He wants to mature us, and to move us forward in Him into ever greater fulness of the Spirit and holiness of life.

As scripture so simply and clearly says, “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.”

A Revelatory Drive!

I was out driving the other day and a most striking thing happened. It actually happens a great deal, but for some reason, probably the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, the situation spoke to me rather powerfully.

I was driving through a non-dual-carriageway section of road through the beautiful forest that surrounds where I live. The sun was shining (doesn’t happen quite so much here as this other thing I’m going to describe) and, as usual when driving on my own, I had my music on full blast. (Some wonderful old 70’s classics if I remember correctly! You know, that whole Bubble-Gum music thing!) In other words, I was as happy as Larry and having a total blast; and because that rather long stretch of road has a 40 mile an hour speed limit I was driving – yes, you’ve guessed – at a sedate 40 miles an hour.

I then noticed that the gentleman driving the car behind me was not having the same great day that I was. In fact, from his waving arms and quite un-mistakeably less than polite gesticulations – all clearly visible in my rear view mirror – he was having an extremely bad one. And it was very clear why! He was angry because he was wanting to go faster than 40 miles an hour, but couldn’t because I wasn’t going faster than 40 miles an hour and because he couldn’t, for a few miles, get passed me. I was quite clearly the cause of some considerable disquiet in his life. But let’s just think about this a bit and ask some questions as to why I was driving at 40 miles an hour and causing someone such great distress.

Was I, for instance, driving at 40 miles an hour in order to be offensive? Well, no! I was driving at 40 miles an hour because that is the speed limit on that particular stretch of road, and because it is my understanding that God’s Word teaches that we should obey the governing authorities. Might it have been because I am a self-righteous person who just wants to show everyone how well I obey the law, and who wants to oppress anyone who doesn’t see things my way? Again, no! It was because that’s the speed limit on that stretch of road! So could it be that I am just a rather unpleasant individual who takes pleasure in upsetting people? Er…this is getting boring…no! It was just because I believe I should drive that section of road at 40 miles an hour irrespective of what others think of me for doing so or how it makes them feel.

It might also be worth asking whether it might be the case or not that I have got the speed limit wrong myself on that stretch of road, and that it might be 60 miles an hour and not 40 miles an hour. after all, should such be the case then one could, I suppose – but it would still be a stretch – say that this guy then at least had a point. Doing 40 in a 60 area for some distance when it’s difficult to overtake is, arguably, a bit annoying. But my answer here is simply this: Having lived in this area for over 50 years all told, I am pretty sure that I have repeatedly seen the signs that set the speed limit of that stretch of road at 40 miles an hour.  I could, of course, be wrong. (I could be wrong about absolutely anything!) My eyes may well be deceiving me. So if anyone thinks that might be the case, and has a beef with me for driving the road at 40 miles an hour instead of 60 miles an hour, then all I ask is that they show me the evidence. Just prove to me that I am wrong! Show me the sign that has the number 60 on it and not 40! I would then be more than happy to acknowledge that I have been getting it wrong all this time, being then free to drive that stretch of road at 60 miles an hour knowing that I am within the law in so doing.

So what it boils down to is this: I made someone extremely angry because my right-doing got in the way of their desire to do wrong. For absolutely no other reason than that I was doing the right thing, someone who had been doing the wrong thing (speeding), but who had been stopped in their tracks and forced to slow down and do the right thing because I was in now front of them, got angry with me and wasn’t holding back showing it. I wonder if you can see where I’m going with this!

I cannot tell you how many times Christians have gotten angry at me for no other reason than that I simply believe, teach, live and practise things that God’s Word seems to pretty clearly teach which, for whatever reason, they don’t happen to like. I have, for example, had Christians get angry with me again and again because I believe that wives should submit to their husbands – just as I believe that husbands should love their wives to the moon and back – and that women should not be in a leadership function in the church, or do teaching to the gathered body of saints. I have also had Christians get angry with me, again and again, because I believe, teach and practise that churches should be small, home-based and non-hierarchical. I have even had brothers and sisters in the Lord get angry with me, and on a good many occasions too, simply because I make clear that I believe all Christians should go purely by God’s Word and not in any way by extra-biblical man-made traditions which go against it.

But of course the very worst of the anger happens when one has, through whatever means, become a focal point of sin being revealed in believers lives. I have been slandered to the ends of the earth and back for trying to encourage believers with whom I have had to do to be honest about such sins in their lives as greed, immorality, resentment, slander, un-forgiveness, dishonesty, lying, hatred…and so the list could go on! When put like this it is easy to see how – just as with someone who wants to break the law regarding speeding, but who finds someone getting in their way – simply doing right can cause Christians who are doing wrong to get angry, just as the same right-living causes believers who are living wrong to be convicted of their sin. The anger and resentment is because they aren’t willing to come clean and simply put their hands up, be honest and repent.

And to any who do find themselves angered by what I teach (and not just me of course, it could be anyone), or what I practise, or even perhaps anything I have ever said to you personally, then I simply say this! Just show me the road sign that says the speed limit is 60 miles an hour and not 40 miles an hour, and I will change my driving accordingly. In other words, if you think I am wrong – and about absolutely anything too – then just show me that I’m wrong from scripture. Don’t get angry and skulk off into the shadows to do the whole bad-mouthing thing about me to others behind my back, or directly sound off at me in anger! Let’s talk! Let’s reason together, just like the Lord wants to do with us! Let’s open the Bible together and ask prayerfully, “What saith the scriptures?”

One last thing! Having established that I was driving at 40 miles an hour the other day simply because it’s what the law of the land says, and not because I wanted to upset the guy behind me, or because I want to do anything to upset or anger anyone, so too with what I believe, teach, live and practise. I can assure you that I have never wanted to upset anyone. Neither have I ever desired to make anything harder for anyone than need be. Yet I have been accused by other Christians of living how I live, and teaching what I teach, and saying what I say from every vile motive they seem to be able to think of. But of course the reality is that they are just angry and resentful because sin has been exposed in their lives to which they don’t want to admit. That guy in the car behind me the other day was having a veritable fit, and I have no doubt that he was calling me every unpleasant name under the sun. But not because I was doing anything wrong, but precisely because I was doing right. I had simply, though quite un-desiringly and inadvertently, become a stumbling block to him in his wrongdoing.

Christian, the next time you find yourself angry with someone and doing that whole “How dare they say that to me! They offended me!” thing, just ponder that the odds are that it is most probably evidence that you are being convicted by the Holy Spirit of something in your life which you don’t want to recognise and own up to. In your desire to avoid the message you just want to shoot the messenger. In order to deny and wriggle out of the sin that is being revealed in you, and in order to try to justify yourself in both your own eyes and eyes of others, you are seeking to discredit the person God is using to convict you. You can then tell yourself that you don’t have to listen to someone who is so discreditable and wrong.

Just remember though that the Pharisees did this to the Lord Jesus all the time!

 

The Christians biggest problem!

The more years I spend with the Lord the more struck I am by how few of the many believers I have had to do with understand how sinful and wretched they are. Oh yes, they realised at the point of their conversion that they needed forgiveness so as to make it to Heaven, but what I’m talking about here isn’t that initial conviction of sin when coming to know the Lord in the first place, but rather that increasing awareness and growing knowledge, day by day, week by week, year by year, of not merely the sins of which we have been guilty, but the all-pervading sinfulness of who we are in and of ourselves.

For myself I came to know the Lord as a result of a deep conviction of sin quite out of the blue and immediately cried out to be forgiven, truly desiring to follow the Lord in utter earnestness. It was a deep and genuine conviction of sin, of that there is no doubt, and it caused me to be completely undone before both Heaven and earth, but as years of discipleship passed I began to realise more and more that it had been merely the tip of an almost infinite iceberg. I came to see more and more clearly that my biggest ongoing problem as a disciple of the Lord wasn’t merely my sins, but rather my sheer unbridled sinfulness!

But don’t think for one moment that I’m talking about a Christian life lived in some kind of unremitting self-condemnation! Heavens no! Quite the contrary, in fact! Jesus made the point in regards to a woman of dubious reputation that to be forgiven much is to precisely love much! (Luke 7:36-50) And of course that is the key! The more one realises one’s utter sinfulness and depravity of both heart and will, the more one drinks in the sheer wonder of the Lord’s grace and love that took Him to the cross to die for it all. The more sinful I realise I am the more I appreciate His grace, forgiveness and acceptance, and the more I experience the unbounded love my Father in Heaven has for me. I cannot tell you how sad I am for the sinfulness of who I am, and that the Lord of glory had to suffer so greatly because of it; but neither can I tell you how happy I am that not only does such condition not come between us, it is actually the very means He uses to keep me hanging on to Him for dear life, and to keep me living closely to Him in ongoing repentance and trust.

The single greatest factor that accounts for the weakness and sheer worldliness of modern western Christianity is simply this: that so few believers understand and realise just how sinful and wicked they are! They conduct their discipleship in blissful ignorance of, and blindness to, the endless swathes of sin and self in their lives which the Holy Spirit wishes to deliver them from, but to which they hardly give a second thought, or judge themselves concerning. Selfishness, pride, materialism, presumption, resentment, un-forgiveness, slander, unkindness, dishonesty….and so the list could go on! I have known so many believers down the years for whom such things remain second nature, yet who reject entirely any thought that such is the nature of their character, let alone showing willingness to be honest and to actually come clean and repent. Not for them one of the most important prayers in the whole of scripture through which King David cried out to the Lord, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24)

The more we truly taste of our sinfulness, and allow the Holy Spirit to search us and reveal all that is in us which isn’t of Him, the less we will even desire to be unkind, or cruel, or dishonest, or greedy for gain, and for the simple reason that to know how infinitely much we have been forgiven leads to the inevitable increase of love for both the Lord and our fellow man. As surely as night follows day, he who is forgiven much will love much. Yet the converse is equally true! And the reason so many believers are so unloving (and I’m talking here about real love, not just the ‘nicey-nicey–never-doing-anything-that-could-possibly-upset-anyone’ version) is because they haven’t been forgiven very much because they don’t think they’re sinful enough to particularly warrant it.

Show me a man who sorrows daily before the Lord for his sinfulness and I will show you a peaceful and contented man who lives close to Him and who can therefore be trusted in every possible way. And should this make the reader aware of any lack in their lives regarding this, then let me suggest that you get before the Lord and ask Him to truly show you the sin He wishes to deal with in you. I guarantee you some very difficult times indeed if you do, but I guarantee you too a walk with the Lord you never even guessed was on offer!

 

Creation: From Chaos to Order!

When I consider the account of creation as reported in the early chapters of Genesis it seems to me that the first thing the Lord did was to create ‘raw’ energy which He then ordered, step by step, into the finished product. It took 6 days! And if that is a problem to you then be assured that the only reason He didn’t do it in 6 minutes was because He knew no-one would believe Him! But that aside, what’s happening here is that order is being systematically formed out of the initial chaos of raw energy, each day of the creation process establishing greater order until on the sixth day, with the crowning creation of a man and a women, the process was completed. Creation: from chaos to order, one step at a time!  Further, at the end of each part of the process; that is, at the end of each individual day of creation, the Lord declared the process up to that point to be good. But once Adam and Eve had been created, once the process was fully completed, the Lord then declared the finished product to be very good!

So we see in the physical creation of the universe that the Lord worked from chaos to order, declaring each stage as being good in and of itself, but with the completion of the final stage being declared very good! And of course this is extremely encouraging news for those of us who have been made a new creation in Christ Jesus. As with the physical creation, we have been newly-created at conversion in the chaos of our unbridled sinfulness (justification), immediately followed by the ongoing process of then being progressively set free from the power of that sin in our lives (sanctification), thus bringing about more and more the order of the increasing holiness of the life of Jesus within us. Sanctification is simply the process of the Holy Spirit progressing the newly born-again believer (the new creation) from unbridled sinfulness to increasing holiness, but doing so progressively one step at a time! And the encouragement we take from this is that, as with the creation of the universe, the Lord doesn’t view the process in terms of the remaining chaos of sin in our lives being bad, but rather that the order thus far attained is good!

We can therefore be greatly encouraged in our struggle against sin. We obviously mustn’t ever turn a blind eye to the sinfulness that remains in our lives, or pretend that it isn’t there, or that it doesn’t matter! Of course not! I have no encouragement whatever for carnal Christians who are blasé about their sinfulness, and who are not in repentance and sorrow regarding it! No! But for those believers who are Heaven-bent on living godly in Christ Jesus, and who are therefore prone to being overly sorrowful concerning the sin that remains, and who therefore don’t sufficiently rejoice over that which the Lord has already accomplished in them by way of sanctification, I bring the encouragement of affirming that the Lord sees the discipleship of such a one as being fully good, and not in any way bad. He doesn’t merely see the sin that yet remains, but rather with joy in His heart, and with great pleasure in us, sees the godliness now present in us which was once absent. And when we are with Him in glory on the other side of death, He will pronounce the very good concerning us, given that we will then be free of sin entirely.

If you are a carnal Christian who is lax concerning your sinfulness and not living in vital and careful repentance of it, then the Word of God to you is:

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:4-10)

You don’t hear those verses taught on very much, eh? But if you truly are living in humility and repentance before God, then His Word is somewhat different:

“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews12:4-11)

I don’t imply for one moment that I never need that rebuke from James, but my aim is to more and more to be counted worthy of the affirmation and encouragement from the writer to the Hebrews. If you aren’t serious about struggling against sin then sentiments such as these will merely seem negative and overly introspective to you: but if you are serious about your struggle against sin they are a veritable lifeline of hope from the Holy Spirit!

 

The Problem of Ever Increasing Permissiveness! Personally, I blame Christians…

Here in England it is the 50th anniversary of the repeal of the law that criminalised homosexual acts, a law that I personally abhor was ever on the statute books. It is not for governments to be legislating regarding sexual immorality, whether homosexual or heterosexual. There is a vast difference between behaviours that are sinful in the Lord’s sight, and those which should also be criminalised. What consenting adults do behind closed doors, so long as no-one is being hurt, or no other laws are being broken, is not the business of governments.

But of course the mere fact that it is such an anniversary means that we are being bombarded with even more gay propaganda than usual, and anyone would think that nothing could be more virtuous, or of greater praise, than behaviour that my parent’s generation took for granted as being morally dubious. I deeply regret that there are those who want to treat gay folk badly, whose bigoted thinking is that they should be discriminated against, or thought of as being second class citizens. Such treatment should no more apply to gay people that to straight people who do things one might disapprove of morally. Tolerance is not the same thing as approval, but rather the acknowledgement of the right to behave in ways one disagrees with. As a Christian it seems to me that tolerance should undergird all our relationships, and especially our relationships with those who make no claim to be following the Lord Jesus. We should therefore no more despise the gay community than we would people who drink too much, use bad language, gamble or take drugs, or who do anything else we might disapprove of. The essence of our discipleship is that we are saved sinners, so to take an especially high and mighty attitude against those who are gay just because they are gay, as if this is more sinful than other sinful things, is not only ridiculous, but hypocritical and obnoxiously self-righteous. Indeed, I am always quick to say that some of the nicest and most engaging folk I have ever met are gay, and the idea that anyone should be treated badly, or honoured and respected as a human being any the less less merely on the basis of their sexual preferences is a truly horrible one.

But what I want to comment on in this post is that all the polls are showing that each new emerging generation of genuine Bible-believing evangelical Christians are more and more open to the idea that sexual immorality, whether homosexual or heterosexual in nature, is acceptable to the Lord, and ought not to be regarded as being sinful in the way the Christian Church has traditionally taught. In other words, even evangelical Bible-believing Christians are increasingly discounting biblical teaching concerning sexual morality and family life. Why is this? Well, I think the answer is pretty clear…and pretty damningly clear as well!

If you jump out of tree you will inevitably proceed downwards and not up. The force of gravity inexorably drags everything towards the lowest point; and so it is with sin. Left to ourselves, even as Christians, we instinctively veer towards sin as opposed to righteousness. So basically, any excuse we can grant ourselves to justify moral laxness becomes actual working permission to get away with sinful behaviour we would not otherwise allow ourselves to indulge in. So if the previous generation of Christians have long since stopped calling certain sinful things sin in order to excuse and indulge themselves, then why shouldn’t the following generation of Christians widen the parameters of what is allowable as far as they are concerned?

What I am getting to is simply this: The last couple of generations of genuine evangelical Bible-believing Christians have, by and large, ignored what scripture teaches concerning two vitally important aspects of marriage and family life. Firstly, they have largely thrown out what God’s Word teaches regarding the sanctity of marriage by legitimising divorce and remarriage in situations where scripture does not. “Till death do us part…”, though still regarded in theory a solemn vow, has actually been considered optional for even genuine Christians for a very long time. Ask yourself: How many churches do you know of that would impose church discipline on any in their midst planning to illegitimately divorce with a view to remarriage. Secondly, Christians have virtually monolithically rejected what scripture teaches regarding gender differences and function. The clear biblical teaching of the headship of the husband coupled with the duty of wives to be submissive to them, plus that leadership in the church is for the menfolk, has not only been either explained away or just completely ignored, but those believers who do adhere to biblical practise regarding it all are often castigated by their fellow Christians for so doing.

What possible grounds, then, can Christians who reject what scripture teaches regarding the sanctity of marriage and gender differences, have for being surprised by a new generation of Christians who have decided to ignore what God’s Word teaches regarding sexuality. If it is legitimate for my generation of Christians to have rejected aspects of scripture’s teaching regarding family life (i.e. longevity of marriage and male headship), then why should it be considered it wrong for a newer generation of believers to reject others? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and it is hypocritical to say otherwise.

A significant proportion of genuine evangelical Bible-believing Christians in the West who were born from the eighties onwards simply have no problem with either gay sex or gay marriage, whilst older believers are horrified by such an outlook and completely baffled how it could have come to this. But I simply ask, what did we expect! If an older generation of Christians consider themselves free to reject certain biblical teachings, then what shouldn’t a newer generation consider themselves free to ditch a few more?

So yes, I do indeed blame Christians! As Western society has become more and more lax regarding the sanctity of marriage and family life, so also did Christians in that society. We bowed down to culture and not the authority of scripture. But I don’t primarily blame the current Christian generation for rejecting the bits of the Bible they don’t like. I rather blame those believers born in the 40’s and 50’s onwards who started the process off as far as Christians were concerned, who wanted easy divorce and remarriage so they could have their sexual cake and eat it too if a marriage didn’t suit them, and who then caved into the emerging surrounding cultural feminism so as to secure an easier life.

My conclusion is simply this: any Christian who thinks sexual sin, of whatever kind, is acceptable, should repent and get right with the God, and start living in obedience to His Word. But I think too that those believers who are horrified by what is now happening, but who are feminists, and who condone easy divorce and remarriage, should repent also. It was, after all, those two compromises with the world that kicked this whole thing off! It is nothing short of the most blatant hypocrisy to want to draw a line at sin C, because you think it’s going too far, having previously declared sins A and B to be alright because they happened to suit you!

“Every word of God is flawless. He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, or He will rebuke you and prove you a liar.” (Proverbs 30:5-6)

The Joy of Repentance

I can truly say that I want to please the Lord. For all the things I am not sure of, and everything I still don’t understand and can’t work out or properly comprehend, I am nevertheless absolutely clear that I do want to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. My problem is, however, the sin that stands so distressingly in the way. I want to please Him, yet know my heart to be full of pride, selfishness, covetousness, self-righteousness and all kinds of evil. In what possible way, then, can I please a holy God? Well, there is a way; and it not only pleases Him, it utterly delights His heart:

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”(Luke 15:3-10)

And there you have it! Those verses don’t say that it is the angels who rejoice, though I’m sure they do, but that there is rejoicing going on before them. And so I ask: Who is it in Heaven before Whom the angels stand? Answer! The Lord Himself! Imagine! The Almighty God rejoices when a sinner repents. It would obviously be so much the better if I could please Him by not actually being sinful any more, and that day will certainly come when I am with Him having been freed from this body, and it should certainly be the case for all of us that we are seeing a progressive victory in overcoming sin in our lives, but it is nevertheless wonderful to know that, in the meantime, being honest about sin, and coming clean through confession when we have sinned, brings Him joy. In other words, I can’t please Him with sinlessness (if only I could), but I can bring Him pleasure and joy through ongoing confession and repentance.

Now there are those who would argue that the rejoicing alluded to in the above verses is limited to a sinner’s initial conversion; that is, when they first come to the Lord in repentance and faith, and of course it most most certainly does include that. But in the same way that a father is joyful at the birth of his child, and then joyful from that moment onwards, so too is the Lord thrilled not just when we are born again, but continuously as we grow in Him throughout the ensuing years. There is no way I can properly express the joy I knew when Bethany was born, yet that joy has increased as every year has gone by, and not in any way decreased. Whatever thrilled me about her when she was born, and she thrilled me beyond words, still thrills me all the more as each month goes by as I have watched her grow and develop. What a sad father who knows joy for their child’s birth, yet not throughout the years that follow. In fact, in becoming a father I have experienced an ongoing paradox which I’ve never been able to properly describe, though I do intend to have a jolly good go!

At whatever point in time I look back to as Bethany’s father I know that I was as thrilled to bits with her as I could have been. When she was a baby my overwhelming feeling was, “Man, this is amazing! She’s incredible! It just can’t get any better than this! Please Lord, don’t ever let this change!” Then, when she was a toddler I was thinking, “Man, this is amazing! She’s incredible! It just can’t get any better than this! Please Lord, don’t ever let her change!” Then, when she was small child I thought, “Man, this is amazing! She’s incredible! It just can’t get any better than this! Please Lord, don’t ever let her change!” Then when she got to her teens I thought…and so on and so forth, right up to this very new morning as I write!

From the moment she was born I thought she was absolutely amazing and, just as did Belinda, I fell utterly and completely in love with her. At any given moment it was completely beyond me how she could be any better, and I could only see any change as a negative and a step down. I therefore longed that she never would. Yet as each and every ensuing minute, hour, day, week, month and year passed, it was equally utterly beyond me at any one of those given moments also how this fatherhood thing could get any better, and my ongoing desire was always, at any given time, that she would never change. And yet, by definition, she was changing all the time, if only in that she was slowly, but surely, in the process of growing up. So I could never imagine how it could have gotten any better because I knew it was already as good as it could possibly be, and so I therefore didn’t want anything to change; but of course she did change, and yet I was still always, in any given moment, thinking, “Man, this just doesn’t get any better! Please Lord, don’t let her ever change” And so it goes on…

For me, therefore, fatherhood has been to live in a completely paradoxical state of being utterly unable, at any given moment, to imagine how being my daughters father could get any better, thereby never wanting anything to change in such regard, yet finding the exact same thing to also be the case at every point during the ensuing years, meaning that it was actually getting better all the time, and that she was changing and growing, even though it seemed to me at any one moment that it never could get any better or that her changing could ever be an improvement. At any given present moment I could look back on any given past moment at which I genuinely perceived that neither parenthood, nor Bethany, could have gotten any better, therefore yearning for it to never change, yet whilst still perceiving exactly the same thing in any given present moment, which, by definition, meant it had obviously gotten better, and precisely because she had changed…yet it still couldn’t have gotten any better because it was already as good as it could get…and…and…Man, life sure is strange…!!!

However confusing all this might seem it’s really just a description of what it means to love someone…and I love my daughter very, very much. She is, quite simply, wonderful, and always has been, but of course it is as much my love for her that I am describing as it is a description of her, and that is the real point here when it comes to us understanding in what ways we can be pleasing to the Lord! Because however deep and real my love for Bethany is – and it is extremely deep and intensely real – it is as nothing compared to how deep and real God’s love is for me…and therefore for you! And He loves us in exactly this same paradoxical way that I have just described in regards to my own fatherhood. His joy at our repentance, indeed, His joy at us, is not just for when we are born again and when we first come to Him in repentance and surrender, but precisely, just like our human parenting, from that point onwards. We have been born again into His family and have therefore become His children, and that in itself makes Him extremely happy; but it is wonderful in the extreme to know too that, whereas I make Him happy simply because I am His child; indeed, I can’t but make Him happy in such regard – after all, I can’t ever stop being His son – I can actually bring Him joy and pleasure on top of that by being on-goingly honest, and repentant, concerning my sin.

My joy over Bethany is therefore actually two-fold: firstly, simply because she is my daughter; but secondly, because she truly is as delightful, kind, godly and gracious a young lady as you could wish to meet. (Just ask anyone who knows her!)  And although it is wonderful enough to know that we please the Lord simply because we are His children, I for one nevertheless want to please Him also by the way I actually am; that is, by living in honesty, confession and repentance of my sins. Many Christians, I am greatly saddened to say, aren’t particularly honest about their sins or repentant of them, but at least I can be if I so choose. And that choice brings me joy in knowing not just that the Lord both forgives and restores me, but that it actually brings Him joy and happiness that I am so living.

Like my joy over Bethany, the joy of repentance is also twofold: It is joyful for the one who is penitent because of the peace and forgiveness it brings, but it is also a joy to such a one’s Father in Heaven Who finds infinite pleasure in His children being honest about their wrongdoing, and then saying sorry not just to Him, but to each other as well.

As a young Christian, before I properly understood what the Lord’s grace actually was, and what it actually meant, I was uncomfortable in the extreme with the subject matter we are here discussing, and I remember coming across a book, the title of which utterly baffled me. It was called, “Repentance: the Joy-Filled Life!” Just the title frightened the life out me, and I wouldn’t have dared read it back then in a million years. But now? Well, now I get it! And man, how wonderfully I get it too!

The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to boldly approach the throne of grace in a time of need to receive mercy and help. Firstly, thrones are usually representative of power and strength, not grace and mercy. But then Jesus sits on this throne, and so I feel safe. Secondly, I come boldly and not in snivelling fear! Why?Because I’m qualified! I meet the criteria for approaching! And thirdly, I get what I come for! That is, grace, mercy and forgiveness! And why? Because my need, every day, even as a believer – no, precisely because I’m a believer – is to have my sins cleansed and removed by the Lamb of God Who takest away the sins of the world; mine included!