The Pilgrim’s Playlist

Out of the Depths I Cry to You, O LORD | Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

Psalm 130 ESV

 

If Psalm 129 addressed the distress of facing outside hostilities, Psalm 130 focuses upon our inward ones. As a penitential psalm (others include Psalms 6, 25, 32, 38, 51, and 148), repentance of sin is the primary theme. Given that repentance is crucial to our life as Christ’s disciples, we would do well to familiarize ourselves with how the Bible itself teaches us to repent through psalms like this one.

O LORD HEAR MY VOICE // VERSES 1-2

The psalm begins on a thunderous note. A tension between a deep sense of urgency and expectant patience in God’s omnipotence is found throughout the psalm, but the psalmist’s desperation is felt right from the start. He was within the depths, the pit of despair, from which he cried out the LORD for mercy. We must take note of a few things from these initial verses.

First, sin sinks us into the depths, whether we realize it or not. Sin is not a simple defect, a blemish to be healed with a little bit of balm and time. Sin is a chasm, ready to swallow alive all who venture to look over its edge. Sin is death. Without this understanding, the very concept of repentance becomes nonsensical, but if we see sin for what it truly is, it may lead us to call upon the LORD.

It should also be said that guilt over sin is of no use unless it leads us to actually calling upon the LORD for salvation. When guilt becomes condemnation, we are given a tour of the depths of our sin, but we are given no hope of rescue. This is equally as damning as never realizing sin’s sinfulness at all. We must have a brutally honest detestation of our sin, but we must then turn toward God. Only then can we be saved.

Second, repentance must include crying out to the LORD. Like a child for his mother, we must cry out to God for His mercy. An infant cries because it is utterly helpless. It possesses no strength on its own to feed itself, clothe itself, or comfort itself. It is entirely dependent upon its mother. Its cry, therefore, is one for mercy. Mercy for relief from hunger, from fear. So must our cries be to the LORD, a cry of absolute inability.

WITH YOU THERE IS FORGIVENESS // VERSES 3-4

After calling to the LORD for mercy from the depths, the psalmist now turns his attention toward God’s forgiveness of sin. Verse 3 places verse 4 in its proper perspective. Our God is a God of forgiveness, but He is also both holy and righteous. If God were to count each of our sins against us, who could stand in His presence? No one. None is sufficiently presentable. Even our best righteous deeds are filthy rags before Him. His readiness to hear our cries for mercy (let alone respond to them!) is a pure grace from His hand. And yet He gives to us that very grace. With Him there is forgiveness.

Of course, as Christians, we now understand the true price of that forgiveness. By God’s design, He could not simply erase away our sins as if they had never occurred. If, after all, He swept our sins under the metaphorical rug of heaven, He would not be entirely just. Justice demands a payment for sin, for each and every sin.

Our sin against God is no different. Sin can, therefore, only be forgiven whenever retribution has been made. Yet because of God’s eternality, our sin against Him bears an eternal consequence. Such is the beauty of Christ’s sacrifice for us. As the eternal God, Jesus was able to pay our debt in full. This is the means of our forgiveness: God dying in our place. The LORD willingly ventured into the depths in order to rescue us from the depths of our sin.

Because of such an amazing grace, we learn all the more to fear God. Does that statement seem correct to you? I would imagine that seeing the logic of verse 4 is a bit difficult. How exactly does God’s forgiveness lead to a greater fear of Him? The connection of the two is crucial because grace that does not lead to fear is what Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. This is the kind of grace that many believe in today. It costs nothing of God, and it requires nothing of us. Under this grace, God becomes our sponsor, not our savior. He funds our hopes and dreams as we pursue them endlessly. When we fail, He is always ready to forgive, as long as we do so sincerely. According to cheap grace, sin is an inconvenience, a mistake that the wise will overlook. The logic of atonement is, thereby, shifted. God’s punishment of sin is no longer just. In fact, we place the burden upon Him. We come to believe that a refusal to pardon sin is an unjust action. Grace and forgiveness become cheap because they are assumed to be intrinsic rights. The fear of God cannot coexist with this kind of grace.

Yet cheap grace is a counterfeit. God’s grace is not cheap. It cost the blood of Jesus, which is worth more than all creation combined. This grace is priceless and, being invaluable, being invaluable must be received with fear and trembling. Like holding a delicate artifact worth more than several lifetimes of wages, we should hold onto the grace that we have been given in awe. God’s forgiveness, therefore, must increase, not decrease, our fear of Him.

MY SOUL WAITS // VERSES 5-6

Having cried out to the LORD and expressed his confidence in the LORD’s forgiveness, the psalmist now turns toward his current plan of action: waiting. This isn’t what most of us would expect. We would rather do something, anything, to try to display our changed ways. But the psalmist simply waits. Such waiting upon the LORD is an expression of faith, evidence of our hope in God’s coming deliverance. Waiting reminds us that God alone can truly save. We cannot make God’s forgiveness of our sins “worth it” by merely doing better. That’s retroactively attempting to atone for our own sins. Instead, we wait in hope for God’s deliverance.

In the psalmist’s context, he awaited the forgiveness of his sins in Christ. In that sense, we are no longer waiting. The Savior has come, and we are saved. Yet we still feel this hopeful longing in at least two ways. First, although God’s forgiveness comes now without delay upon repentance, God may not immediately or even at all deliver us from sin’s consequences in this life. Second, even as we are reminded of our forgiveness in Christ, we still await to be fully freed from sin. Paul went so far as to call this our blessed hope. Each time we repent of sin, we would do well to cry out for this kind of rescue as well.

Do you long to be free from sin? Like watchmen are ready for morning, are you ready to be done with your wrestling against the flesh?

O ISRAEL, HOPE IN THE LORD // VERSES 7-8

Our psalm now ends with a theme which occurs in other penitential psalms as well: proclamation of the LORD’s graciousness to others. Psalm 25 ends by saying, “Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles” (v. 22). Psalm 32 concludes by calling the righteous to “be glad in the LORD” and “shout for joy” (v. 11). Psalm 51, the most well-known of the penitentials, sees David pleading for the LORD to open his lips for praise, for God to do good to Zion, and the pledge that he will teach fellow sinners the ways of the LORD. Why is this theme so present within the repentance psalms?

These psalmists understood the nature of God’s salvation. Yes, God rescues each individual from their own sins, and without their own personal faith in Christ’s atoning work, no one is saved. And yet we are each saved for more than just ourselves. We are delivered from sin in order to then act as messengers of God’s redemption to others. While there are obviously evangelistic implications here, notice that the psalmist is particularly calling out of God’s people, Israel. Why is this? The repentance of individuals is meant to be a communal reminder that God still saves. Even though every sin is forgiven in Christ, we each continue to sin and, therefore, have continual need of repentance. The repentant praise of our brothers and sisters remind us that God’s mercy is still great, that our hope is still secure in Him.

May we, as God’s church, repent alongside this psalmist. May we see the depths of our sin and cry out to the LORD for mercy.

May we have faith in His forgiveness, even as He teaches us to fear His name.

May we wait with unwavering hope upon our deliverance from sin both here and to come.

In our repentance, may we declare to one another that “with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.”

O church, hope in the LORD!

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The Pilgrim’s Playlist

Restore Our Fortunes, O LORD | Psalm 126

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
            we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
            and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
            “The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

Psalm 126 ESV

 

Psalm 126 officially begins the center three psalms within the Songs of Ascents. Having thus far set our eyes and meditations upon Jerusalem and expressed our confidence in God’s power to safely bring us there, we now set our sights on what our journey will most likely look like.

STRANGERS AND EXILES

Imagine that you used to live in Jerusalem. A little more than one hundred years before, the northern kingdom of Israel (your fellow Hebrews) was virtually annihilated by the Assyrians. The Babylonians soon conquered the Assyrians and have been brooding storm upon the horizon for Judah (the southern kingdom) ever since. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, had already squashed one rebellion ten years ago; after which, many captives of nobility were taken away to Babylon (including Daniel and his three friends). But recently a siege upon Jerusalem was ended by Judah’s new king, Jehoiachin, surrendering himself after only reigning for three months. Upon his surrender, Nebuchadnezzar ordered that the temple be stripped of its gold and took 10,000 people as captives to Babylon (mostly the craftsman and warriors). You, along with Ezekiel, are one of those exiles now forced to live in Babylon, the enemy’s capital, in order to use your skills to strengthen its expanding empire. Less than ten years later, the new king of Judah, Zedekiah, would attempt rebelling against Babylon, and Jerusalem with its people, walls, and temple would be decimated.

But for now, you are living in Babylon, strengthening your conqueror by your work, helping him prepare for the greater destruction of your people that you know is coming sooner rather than later. As you are forcibly taught your new language and surrounded by the ever-present worship of false gods, you pray to the LORD, the God of Israel, for a rescue, a message, anything, some sort of hope upon the horizon.

Then Jeremiah’s letter arrives. Jeremiah was the great prophet who was ever mocked and ridiculed by the Israelites as he warned them of their impending judgment from God by the hand of the Babylonians. Now his words were coming to pass. What message of hope could this man of God possibly have for the exiles in Babylon?

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.

For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:4-14)

Wait a minute, what? What do you mean God sent us into exile? Seek the welfare of the city? But they’re the bad guys, the villains who oppress nations and give glory to false deities! Seventy years? That’s a whole generation! So God is just going to leave us in Babylon to fend for ourselves?

The exiled Jews came to be known as the Diaspora, those of the dispersion, foreigners among the nations and exiles from their home. Peter purposely used these same names for the Christian readers of his first letter. He wanted his letter to be modeled after Jeremiah’s letter. The Christian life is one of exile, after all. Our home is the New Jerusalem that will descend from the heavens one day upon the new earth, but for now, we are pilgrims here, in Babylon. We’ve been studying that idea throughout the Songs of Ascents, yet within these center three psalms, we find another principle at work. Andrew Walls calls it the Indigenous Principle, and it tugs in tension against the Pilgrim Principle. John Piper summarizes these two ideas well:

In other words, the gospel can and must become indigenous in every (fallen!) culture in the world. It can and must find a home in the culture. It must fit in. That’s the indigenous impulse. But at the same time, and just as powerful, the gospel produces a pilgrim mindset. It loosens people from their culture. It criticizes and corrects culture. It turns people into pilgrims and aliens and exiles in their own culture. When Paul says, “Do not conformed to this world,” and “I became all things to all people,” he is not confused; he is calling for a critical balance of two crucial biblical impulses.

If we are truly in Christ, we should feel that tug. We are in the world but not of the world. We are pilgrims with eyes fixed on our heavenly home, yet we are called to seek the welfare of our temporary home here. We are called to both reject and transform the culture around us. Honor the emperor, but pledge ultimate loyalty to King Jesus. Build a home and plant a garden, but be ready to forsake everything to go where Christ leads. Such is the tension of the Christian life, and it is the tension addressed within these psalms. Our pilgrimage toward the Celestial City will often occur through the ordinary events of life. Thankfully, throughout the Scriptures we are reminded again and again that God delights to work through the ordinary facets of life.

RESTORE OUR FORTUNES, O LORD

We can’t be sure when Psalms 126 and 128 were written. Psalm 127 was written by Solomon. Spurgeon thought 126 was most likely penned before the Babylonian Exile, while Calvin considered it highly likely to come from that era. Whichever came first, the Spirit obviously intended for them to connect thematically. In fact, the phrase in verses 1 and 4 about restored fortunes could also be translated as returning the captives.

The main idea of this psalm focuses upon God’s restoration of His people. The structure, therefore, is as follows: joyfully recalling a previous restoration work of God (vv. 1-3), prayerfully petitioning for the LORD to do so again (v. 4), and joyfully hoping in the coming restoration (vv. 5-6).

Regardless of when this psalm was written, there were times of divine rescue for the Israelites to recount, as the psalmist does within the first three verses. Their slavery in Egypt is probably the largest example. Even though the patriarchs were nomads, they still possessed great wealth and status (particularly under Joseph’s rule in Egypt). Nevertheless, they were enslaved to the Egyptians for four hundred years before God rescued by the hand of Moses and brought them into the Promised Land by the leadership of Joshua.

The entire book of Judges follows a similar pattern. The Israelites are dominated by enemies, but God raises up a new champion to deliver them. Exile and captivity followed by restoration. David’s life, furthermore, contains two distinct periods of exile, first when he was on the run from Saul and the other when Absalom usurped his throne.

Yet each of these events ultimately mirrors the great deliverance from captivity that occurs in the New Testament, in which God sent the ultimate Champion to rescue His people from their true mortal enemy, sin. That deliverer was, of course, Jesus.

The Exodus and even the Babylonian Exile are nothing compared to the exile that all of humanity is under because of sin. Genesis 1-2 describe the paradise that God created for mankind as typified in the Garden of Eden, but in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve are exiled out of the Eden due to their rebellion against God. Each of us are born after those events and are, therefore, ingrained in that story. Every minute of our lives has been spent while in exile from paradise with God. Whether we are able to articulate it or not, we all feel that something has gone wrong (both collectively and individually). We are not what we should be nor is the world as it should be. An honest evaluation of the eternity that God has placed within our hearts will reveal that we, almost instinctively, feel like exiles from a home that we can’t quite remember, the paradise with God for which we were made.

Jesus came to rescue us from that exile, our banishment from the presence of God. As Christians, therefore, we can easily remember when God returned us from captivity and when He restored our fortunes. It was the moment that we became alive in Christ. He saved us from our sin and from God’s justified wrath against it. Then as we found peace with God, our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy. We rejoiced to find a love so vast as the love given to us by the almighty Creator. Fredrick Lehman’s word are found to be gloriously true:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
and were the skies of parchment made;
were every stalk on earth a quill,
and everyone a scribe by trade;
to write the love of God above
would drain the ocean dry;
nor could the scroll contain the whole,
though stretched from sky to sky.

Furthermore, the people around us began to notice the shift in character. Some may have scoffed at the change, but some concluded that God had done great things for us. Such is the nature of conversion. Our freedom from sin and union with Christ brings about a change that cannot easily be ignored.

It is worth noting that your salvation experience may not have been a 180 degree turn that can be pinpointed to one day. For many of us, the decision to follow Christ is more of a process, but this in no way diminishes the reality of salvation. The proof of conversion is not in a one-time decision, but in a lifetime of fruit produced by that conversion. Thus, one of the great purposes of church membership is to affirm the evidence of that fruit in one another. Even still we should long and pray for God to transform us to such a degree that the world around us cannot help but notice what great things the LORD has done for us.

If as Christians today we can pray and meditate from verses 1-3 by thinking about our conversion to the faith, what then are we to do with verse 4? Is it a prayer for a second salvation? Is it a prayer to be restored after having fallen away? First of all, there is no such thing as a second conversion. Christ died once for all of our sins, and, therefore, His blood cleanses away our sins once. Yes, we must continually repent of sin, but we do this to return to our Father and prove that we are His children. We are not justified again. Restored, yes, but justification only occurs once. If a second justification were required, Jesus’ blood would not be sufficient once for all. Indeed, a second act of justification would be like trying to crucify Christ again!

We can, however, as Christians experience seasons of exile. By this, I mean times of spiritual dryness (fittingly, Negeb is a dry, desert region of Israel) and melancholy. Although we may understand theologically that God does not abandon His people, times arise when we must battle to believe that truth against the felt reality around us. These are times when we simply feel isolated from the LORD. David’s cry echoes in our hearts: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1).

Have you experienced such a season? You know you shouldn’t put too much stock in how you feel, but you just can’t stop feeling like one of the Israelites wandering the desert, exiled from the Promised Land. Maybe its just a general, indescribable rut, or maybe it’s a piling up of afflictions. Regardless of the cause, the fact remains that God’s people will still have the need for praying, “restore our fortunes, O LORD.”

Yet notice that the prayer for restoration is literally surrounded by hope and joy. In seasons of spiritual exile, we must first remember again the grand miracle of our salvation. When we remember that Christ died to cleanse of our sins, we can then reassure ourselves of His plan for us in the present. If we feel abandoned by God, we can cling to our union with Christ, the indwelling of the Spirit, and our status as the Father’s children. If we feel overwhelmed by the sorrows of this life, we remind ourselves that God allows nothing to befall us that will not ultimately result in His glory and our good. Consider the utter confidence of this thought being expressed in verses 5-6! God never once promises that His people will be spared from tears and weeping. If anything, the Scriptures warn us to be ready to endure great suffering in this life. Yet our hope is that that suffering will be turned to shouts of joy in the end.

Unfortunately, the confidence of reaping shouts of joy from sowing seeds of tears and weeping does not necessarily come in this life. God owes us nothing, and every good thing we have is a gracious (aka undeserved) gift from Him. He, therefore, is not obligated to remove our affliction or our down-heartedness. God told the exiles in Babylon that seventy years would pass before they could return to Jerusalem. How many, therefore, died without seeing God’s restoration come to pass? And remember, God was the very one who put them in exile. Similarly, our ultimate hope must never be simply for an improvement of this life. Such a hope should earn us the justly dealt pity of the world (1 Corinthians 15:19). Instead, our great hope must be in the life to come, in the resurrection of our bodies into eternal life with Christ. That is the joy that is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit within us (Ephesians 1:14). That joy is a treasure which no thief can steal, and no moth can destroy (Luke 12:33). Only from that joy could the psalmist declare, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). Spurgeon, who suffered greatly throughout his life (both physically and mentally), found that same joy, so that he could claim, “Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library” (21 Servants, 761).

My appeal, therefore, is threefold. First, if you have never been rescued from your captivity to sin, cry out to Christ today. Pray for Him to restore your fortunes, the great treasure of God Himself, to you. Call upon the name of the LORD and be saved. Turn from the deceitfulness of sin, and follow Christ as your Lord, wherever He may lead.

Second, if you are in a spiritual drought and exile, pray to the LORD for restoration. If the cause is your own sin, repent before God and pray like David for the joy of your salvation to be renewed (Psalm 51:12). If the cause is not sin, call upon the LORD for deliverance, while trusting that even this time is meant for growth in His grace.

For all of us, this psalm calls us to hope in God, to await the fulfillment of our joy in Him. In our walk with the LORD, whether we currently feel that we are standing upon a mountaintop, within a valley, or just in the middle of a plain, we must recognize that this entire life is one of exile, meaning that we’re not home yet. Although the citizens of Babylon around us are experiencing their best life now, for we who long for Jerusalem and the God of that city, the best is yet to come.

The Providence of God

Joseph’s Brothers Go to Egypt | Genesis 42

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us. (Genesis 42:21 ESV)

He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?” (Genesis 42:28 ESV)

OPENING THOUGHT

Genesis, the first book of the Bible, can easily be divided into two main parts. First, chapter one through eleven deal with the shaping of the world as we know it through creation, humanity’s fall into sin, the great flood, and the humanity’s dispersion at Babel. Second, chapters twelve through fifty focus upon Abraham and how God would use his family to bring salvation to all of humanity.

We now follow the life of Joseph, Abraham’s great grandson. After being sold into slavery by his brother, Joseph rose to a prominent rank as a servant only to be falsely accused and cast into prison. As a prisoner, Joseph was placed in charge of other prisoners, like Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. After correctly interpreting the cupbearer’s dream, Jospeh beg him to mention Joseph to Pharaoh, but two whole years passed before the cupbearer remembered Joseph. In a blur of a moment, Joseph found himself removed from the prison, interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, and placed as second-in-command over all of Egypt. In all of these things, God’s providence has been on grand display, but Joseph’s story isn’t finished yet.

Today we learn that the famine struck Canaan as well, forcing Jacob to send his ten older sons to Egypt to buy food. Of course, the men must buy their food from Joseph, who is now an Egyptian noble named Zaphenath-paneah, and although they don’t recognize Joseph, he realizes who they are. Joseph then proceeds to test his brothers, casting them into prison and speaking roughly to them. But all of this is God providentially bringing the men’s guilt over Joseph to the surface that they might find true repentance.

GROUP DISCUSSION

Read chapter 42 and discuss the following.

  1. Jacob derides his sons for doing nothing when they know that Egypt has food to buy. Of course, their reluctance may have come from a fear of traveling to the land where they thought Joseph was most likely a slave. Similarly, can you think of times in your life when sin caused you to shirk your responsibilities?
  2. God uses Joseph’s harsh treatment of his brothers to remind them of their bloodguilt against Joseph. Can you think of a similar time when God used circumstances to convict you of sin? When is guilt beneficial, and when it is harmful? What is the ultimately goal of our guilt?
  3. When Joseph’s brothers find their money still in their bags, they are afraid, knowing that they might be accused of stealing whenever they return, and they held God responsible (and He was).  How can you resonate with the men’s fear of God? What is a biblical fear of God, and why is it important?

PERSONAL REFLECTION

Because all Scripture profits us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training us, reflect upon the studied text, and ask yourself the following questions.

  • What has God taught you through this text (about Himself, sin, humanity, etc.)?
  • What sin has God convicted or reproved you of through this text?
  • How has God corrected you (i.e. your theology, thinking, lifestyle, etc.) through this text?
  • Pray through the text, asking God to train you toward righteousness by conforming you to His Word. 

Sept. 23, 2016

Repentance: Running to the Greatest of All Treasures

This fits pretty well with the theme of my most recent post.

The proper response to the gospel is to repent (Acts 2:38). The question is, have you repented? If you haven’t repented in such a way that you’ve turned to Jesus by faith, your so-called repentance is deficient and damning.

What Does TV Say About Sex?

This is a much needed call for us to be mindful of what media is teaching us.

In ten minutes, I heard at least three lies: 

  1. Heterosexual sex outside of marriage is commendable and good.
  2. Homosexual relationships are commendable and good.
  3. It’s fun and exciting to invite someone you don’t know to come on to you sexually.

Save Your Soul: Stop Writing

As writers, we often hand over our souls and stories for the price of approval, advances, page-views, speaking opportunities, and more book deals. But sometimes (not always) the best thing to do is to be silent. To listen. To hear.

15 Reasons Why Visitation Is Vital for Your Pastor

Here Andrew Roycroft writes a response to Thom Rainer’s post on why pastor’s should not visit much. I really appreciate the thoughts of both Roycroft and Rainer, and together the two articles provide a nice balance for pastoral and congregational visitation.

Pushing Kids Into Transgenderism Is Medical Malpractice

The problem with taking the steps to transition physically—cross-gender hormones and surgeries—is that physical changes are likely permanent, but the feelings driving the desire may change, especially for young people.

 

 

a thought on repentance, obedience, & the Law

I’ve wrestled with this question a lot.

Though I was saved at an early age, I didn’t fully understand the gospel (especially the eternal security of believers) until I was in college.

As a kid, I truly wanted to live a Christ-like life, I knew I was a sinner, and I believed that Christ died for my sin. I struggled, though, with the notion of what Jesus’ forgiveness looked like.

It seemed both logical and desirable to repent regularly, both of known and unknown sins. Yet for several years, the need to ask for forgiveness consumed me.

Each night I would fall asleep praying for forgiveness over and over again. I was terrified that if I died in my sleep, God would send me to hell because my last thought might be a sinful one.

My young mind essentially created its own penitential system for dealing with sin. Instead of trusting God to forgive all of my sins by grace through faith, I established a means of working off my sins through the constant and repetitive asking of forgiveness. I was heaping up empty phrases, hoping to be heard for my many words (Matt. 6:7). It was an attempt to barter for grace instead of receiving grace through faith.

Once For All

A trip to New Mexico one summer changed everything.

I don’t remember who preached or what text they preached, but after worship service, I sat on a pew and understood (for the first time) the significance of Christ dying once. As common sense as it might seem, I never truly considered that Christ’s death paid for ALL of my sins– past, present, and future.

And it was the future sins that really got me.

On that cross, all of my sins were future sins, but He died for them. This meant that He knew them, even the ones that will come decades from now. None of my sins came as a surprise to Him, and because of that once-for-all sacrifice, I could be truly certain of my forgiveness and salvation.

But that isn’t to say that we should stop repenting of sin.

In many ways, repentance is the great mark of a true Christian.

We are called to repent of sin continually, not just initially (Matt. 3:8).

However, laying my cards on the table, the question “Must I repent after each sin?” is a loaded one. The word must implies an obligation, a requirement, or even a coercion to do something, but as followers of Christ, we get to repent of our sins, knowing that God is faithful and just to forgive us. It is a joy to ask our Father for forgiveness and strength to turn from sin because we already know what His answer will be.

Outward Obedience

While studying to preach on Christ’s relationship to the Old Testament Law, I finally came to understand why Paul calls us captives under the Law before Christ came (Gal. 3:23).¹

Laws are necessary, but by nature, they merely rein in our sin. A law’s power is equal to the consequence for breaking it, and those punishments leverage our sinful nature for the benefit of society. For instance, if the consequence is severe enough, most people will not risk stealing. Or we could ask, how many killings are prevented simply because the fear of punishment hinders an act of blind rage?

Laws confine sinful behavior by establishing a punishment as a reason to refrain from sin.

Because of this, obeying a law does not make me a inwardly moral person; it only means that I am outwardly behaving according to the law.

Outward obedience does not necessarily correlate with an internal godly morality.

This is why Jesus’ teachings so angered the Pharisees. They nearly perfected outward obedience, but Jesus called their bluff. He knew their hearts didn’t line up with their actions, so He called them what they were: hypocrites (Matt. 23:25).

Inward Obedience

Fortunately, Jesus had a better answer to the problem of sin than the Law could provide.

Jeremiah describes Jesus’ followers as having the law written on their hearts (Jer. 31:33). This means that they would no longer be compelled to obey God’s law out of fear of punishment; instead, they would actually want to obey.

Our captivity to the law is broken on two fronts.

First, Jesus’ death decisively eliminates the eternal punishment of sin, allowing us to live in the joy of knowing that we will never suffer the wrath of God, only His loving discipline.

Second, we have a joy from obeying the law because Christ has now written it within our hearts. We, therefore, no longer feel obligated to obey God; instead, we joyfully obey Him with thanksgiving!

Jesus has erased the must, the obligation, from obedience and from repentance.

Conclusion

So, in answer to the original question, if a Christian dies immediately after sinning, they are still in Christ because God already justified them once for all. The lack of time to repent of a particular sin will NOT override God’s grace.

But of course, given time, Christians will naturally desire to repent.

Repentance is what we do.

And that desire will come from gratitude to God, not requirement or mere necessity.

My younger self’s brokenness over sin and desire for obedience was certainly a good sign of truly following Christ, but I’m immeasurably thankful for the grace of knowing the gospel’s truth and assurance more fully.

Does repenting of sin ever become a requirement in your heart instead of being a desire, delight, and grace?


 

1) Charles Leiter’s The Law of Christ has helped me tremendously to understand our New Covenant relationship to the Old Testament laws. Hopefully, the brief discussion of the topics in this post will encourage you to study them more deeply in Leiter’s book.

To Laodicea: Be Zealous & Repent | Revelation 3:14-22

Seven Letters Week 8

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

I know your works: you are night cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16)

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. (Revelation 3:17)

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)

OPENING THOUGHT

Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Revelation were essentially report cards on the health of each church. Ephesus had great works and doctrine but had forgotten their first love. Pergamum was conforming to the society around them, while Thyatira allowed false doctrine into the church. Sardis was a church that appeared to be healthy but was actually dead. Smyrna and Philadelphia were beacons of good news in the midst of the rebukes. Jesus urged Smyrna to remain faithful until death and Philadelphia to patiently endure by holding fast to Him.

We conclude the series this week with the final church: Laodicea. Similar to the church of Sardis, Jesus has only rebukes for the Laodicea church. Located near the Colossians, Laodicea was a prosperous city with little need for aid from the Roman Empire or its neighboring cities. Apparently, the church developed a similar mentality.

Laodicea did not suffer from the kind of poverty or persecution that other churches were facing; instead, they were wealthy and prosperous. Yet because they only considered themselves to be materially rich, Jesus concludes that they are actually poor. Due to their prosperity, they thought they were in need of nothing, yet they were lacking Jesus. Therefore, Christ urges Laodicea to buy gold from Him in order to be truly rich and to open the door at which He is knocking. As Laodicea was essentially a church without Jesus, we must strive to not follow in their footsteps.

Read verses 14-16 and discuss the following.

  1. Jesus opens His letter to Laodicea by stating that they are neither cold nor hot, and because they are lukewarm, He will spit them out of His mouth. What does Jesus mean by calling them lukewarm?
  2. Why does He threaten such a negative reaction as spitting them out of His mouth?

Read verses 17-18 and discuss the following.

  1. Here Christ lists how the church of Laodicea saw itself (rich, prosperous, and in need of nothing), but then He offers His view of them (wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked). What problem caused the church to see itself differently than how Jesus saw them?

Read verses 19-22 and discuss the following.

  1. What actions does Jesus command the church to take in response to the rebukes given?
  2. What promises does Christ give to those who repent?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Living in a prosperous society always leads to the possibility of developing the same sinful independence as the church in Laodicea. After all, it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God precisely because materially wealth often masks spiritual need. Therefore, consider whether you are rich with gold that comes from Christ.
  • Prayerfully reflect upon the message to Laodicea, considering any areas of your life where repentance is needed.

To Thyatira: Repent of False Teaching | Revelation 2:18-29

Seven Letters Week 5

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. (Revelation 2:19)

Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. (Revelation 2:16)

Only hold fast to what you have until I come. (Revelation 2:25)

OPENING THOUGHT

Having discussed the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum, we now come to the center of the seven letters of Revelation. To the Ephesians, Christ applauded their works and theology, but He condemned their lack of love. For the church in Smyrna, Jesus had nothing to say against them; with the world attacking them, He encouraged them to persevere throughout hardship. The church in Pergamum was a mixed bag: some were holding firm during persecution, but others were conforming themselves to the society around them.

The church in Thyatira is essentially the foil of the Ephesians. Jesus begins by commending the works and love of the Christians there. They were succeeding where the Christians in Ephesus were failing. However, Jesus then rebukes them for tolerating false teachings in their midst. So the success of the Ephesians was Thyatira’s failure. Thyatira and Ephesus were in this way mirror opposites of one another.

It could also be said that Thyatira was the unfortunate progression of Pergamum. Both churches were guilty of the sin of comprising with the society around them and tolerating the false teaching within the church. The letter to Pergamum focused more on former, while Thyatira exemplifies the latter. It is too true that compromise with the world is a stepping stone toward the blatant accepting of false teaching within the church.

Read verses 18-19 and discuss the following.

  1. Christ begins His message to the church of Thyatira by commending their love, faith, service, and works. They were triumphing in the areas that the Christians in Ephesus were failing. Could Jesus’ say of you His words in verse 19?
  2. Like those in Thyatira, are you continuing to grow in good works?

Read verses 20-23 and discuss the following.

  1. In the Old Testament, Jezebel was a wife to the king of Israel, who incited Israel to worship the false god, Baal. Jesus is likely using this as a symbolic name for one or more false teachers within the church of Thyatira who were leading the believers away from the truth. What sorts of heresies might have been taught to Thyatira?
  2. What are some false teachings that are prevalent within our culture?

Read verses 24-29 and discuss the following.

  1. Like the church of Pergamum, Jesus urges the Christians within Thyatira to hold fast until He comes. In what ways can we hold fast and guard ourselves against false teaching?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Take time this week to pray specifically for people being deceived by false teachings and for those who are holding fast to Christ in the midst of false teaching.
  • Prayerfully reflect upon your works, love, faith, service, and patient endurance for Christ, and consider how you might continue to grow in weaker areas.