The Pilgrim’s Playlist

Deliver Me, O LORD | Psalm 120

In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
Deliver me, O LORD,
from lying lips,
from a deceitful tongue.

 What shall be given to you,
and what more shall be done to you,
you deceitful tongue?
A warrior’s sharp arrows,
with glowing coals of the broom tree!

Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech,
that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
I am for peace,
but when I speak, they are for war!

Psalm 120 ESV

 

God rarely chooses to do what we expect or want. Fittingly, the Songs of Ascents do not begin with the easily remembered words of Psalm 121:1-2, “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Instead, they begin with Psalm 120, a lament. Although lamentations are often abnormal for us today, we will discover by studying this psalm its important place as the first of the Pilgrim Songs.

LAMENTATION: A HOLY DISCONTENTMENT

Lamentations are songs of sorrow, prayers of anguish, to God. Such psalms comprise the largest genre within the Psalter. One out of every three psalms are laments. The Bible expects us to be familiar with laments because life is full of lamentable things. Psalm 120 is one such psalm, so the first question for us to ask should be: why is the psalmist lamenting?

He is crying for God to deliver him from the people around him. The description is twofold. They are deceitful and violent. The similar language of other psalms helps us understand what’s happening.

Psalm 109:1–3 | Be not silent, O God of my praise! For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause.

Psalm 140:1-3 | Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart and stir up wars continually. They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s, and under their lips is the venom of asps.

The psalmist finds himself among people who are opposed to God and His truth and peace; instead, they delight in causing strife and spewing slander. The Slanderer and Accuser is their father, for they are like him in nature (John 8:44-45). They willfully reject the peace and truth of God.

And the psalmist is distressed. Regardless of how the actual events unfolded, he felt as though he was a sheep in the midst of wolves. That’s one great point of poetry, after all, to capture the emotions of the writer. He feels lost and abandoned by God, left to wander in the wilderness alone.

While the psalmist probably lived in Israel, he claims that he was dwelling and sojourning in two lands: Meshech and Kedar. The first was in present day Turkey, while the second was in Arabia. These locations must then be symbolic. Meshech might represent the liars, those who serve false gods rather than the LORD, and Kedar may be the violent since they were Ishmaelites who regularly came into conflict with the Hebrews. More broadly, however, they seem to represent the Gentile world as a whole, the lands of the godless. If he lived in Israel, this would become a forceful rebuke that many of God’s own people have rejected God’s ways. Biologically, they were Israelites, but they were Gentiles at heart. Alongside David, he cries: “Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak” (Psalm 12:1-2).

Such a lamentation is the perfect place to begin the Pilgrim Songs. At the heart of Christ’s followers must be a kind of holy discontentment. Don’t misunderstand me. Improper discontentment is the root of many sins. The discontentment of Adam and Eve (with pride) caused the first sin to be committed. It is proper, therefore, to pursue the contentment of God as Paul did (Philippians 4:11-13). We must learn to eat and drink and enjoy the life that God has graciously given to us (Ecclesiastes 2:24).

But another form of discontentment exists as well, a holy and godly discontentment. This psalm expresses it well. It is a discontentment with the world as it is, broken and marred by sin. It looks forward to something better. It longs for a renewed paradise, a world without evil, sin, and death. It hates the constant rebellion of God’s creatures against the Creator. It especially hates when that very rebellion is found in his own heart. Such discontentment yearns for peace and truth in the midst of a world of war and lies. It cries out for God’s final rescue.

This discontentment with current conditions is in the heart of all pilgrims. The Separatists aboard the Mayflower risked the cruel waves of the Atlantic and the brutal winters of the New World because such a journey was better than staying in England. The Israelites (despite their complaining) continued to wander the wilderness because the hope of Canaan was better than the slavery of Egypt.

The pilgrimage of the Christian life is same. We are in this world, but we are not of it (John 17:14-16). We hate the sin that both surrounds us and indwells us. Our hearts cry out for rescue, for deliverance from this life. Like the Israelites, we have been rescued from slavery but are not yet in the Promised Land. We are sojourners and exiles in the wilderness of this life. We have seen the eternal truth and can no longer be satisfied with the lies of this world. Eugene Peterson captures this discontentment perfectly:

Christian consciousness begins in the painful realization that what we had assumed was the truth is in fact a lie. Prayer is immediate: ‘Deliver me from the liars, God! They smile so sweetly but lie through their teeth.” Rescue me from the lies of advertisers who claim to know that I need and what I desire, from the lies of entertainers who promise a cheap way to joy, from the lies of politicians who pretend to instruct me in power and morality, from the lies of psychologists who offer to shape my behavior and my morals so that I will live long, happily and successfully, from the lies of religionists who ‘heal the wounds  of this people lightly,’ from the lies of moralists who pretend to promote me to the office of captain of my fate, from the lies of pastors who ‘get rid of God’s command so you won’t have be inconvenienced in following the religious fashions!’ (Mk 7:8). Rescue me from the person who tells me of life and omits Christ, who is wise in the ways of the world and ignores the movement of the Spirit.

The lies are impeccably factual. They contain no errors. There are no distortions or falsified data. But they are lies all the same, because they claim to tell us who we are and omit everything about our origin in God and our destiny in God. They talk about the world without telling us that God made it. They tell us about our bodies without telling us that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. They instruct us in love without telling us about the God who loves us and gave himself for us. (27-28)

Christian, do you feel such a discontentment with the world? Is Christ your ultimate treasure?

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t enjoy the gifts of God in this life. By all means, we must! But even as we celebrate those gifts, our hearts must yearn for more, for the delights of which this life can only offer us the slightest taste.

If you are fully satisfied with this world, you will never complete the treacherous journey toward the next one. Do not allow “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word” (Mark 4:19) so that it proves unfruitful.

Do you possess a holy discontentment with this life? Do you cry out to God for an end to your sojourning in Meshech and Kedar? Do desire to be free from the empty lies of this world, to live forever in the truth of God?

AN UNFAILING HOPE

The greatness of sorrow and turmoil within lamentations can sometimes blind us to the hope that is almost always present within them as well. Such hope is evident twice in this psalm.

First, we must not fail to notice that the psalmist grounds his lamentation by remembering his history with God: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me.” Before he cast his petition at God’s feet, he recalled God’s faithfulness to answer Him in the past. Such verses are why we need to let the Bible guide the complaints we lay before God’s throne! He felt abandoned by the LORD, but he gently reminded himself that God had yet to fail him.

Second, he surrendered the judgment of his enemies over to God. Verses 3-4 are essentially poetic ways of trusting God to enact vengeance on behalf of His people. As suggested, the broom tree was used in the same function as coals, which provides a vivid imagery of God’s fiery judgment against these violent liars.

Like the psalmist, we stand upon the promise that God will one day rescue us from our sojourning. He will pour His wrath and perfect justice upon everyone who rejects His Son, and He will gather His people to dwell with Him forever. Our hope in the wilderness is that God will bring us to our blessed rest in Him. He will preserve us through every trial along the way because He will be faithful to finish the work that He began (Philippians 1:6). In faith, both we and the psalmist sing the words of John Newton: “Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

A PRAYER OF JESUS

While the words of this psalm must be the cry of every Christian, we must remember Bonhoeffer’s council that the Psalms are not primarily about us but about Jesus. With this thought in mind, we can safely claim that no one has more right to pray this psalm than Christ. The world itself was Meshech and Kedar for Him, and we are the violent and the deceitful. We rejected God’s commandments, serving our own passions and desires. We deserved the “warrior’s sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree” because we actively chased after lies of the world.

With His birth, Jesus entered this fractured and corrupted place. The eternal God left His home and throne to become a pilgrim among us. Jesus “was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3).

Jesus had more right to pray this prayer than any of us. He had the right to pray down God’s judgment upon us, and yet Jesus absorbed the arrow of God’s judgment in our place by His crucifixion. We can look by faith for God’s rescue because Jesus “was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

Are you a citizen of Meshech and Kedar, separated from the truth and peace of God? Then look to Christ, who has paid the penalty for your sins and now offers you life in His name.

Are you a follower of Christ, placing one foot in front of the other as you traverse the straight and narrow path? “Lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Brothers and sisters, “consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3).

May this song of Christ be an expression of our hope as we journey ever closer to our heavenly home. May we cry in our distress to the LORD, who has answered us by the blood of His Son.

Advertisements

12 Tests for Knowing I’m Saved

This Sunday I preached Matthew 7:21-23, which is easily one of the most solemn texts in all of Scripture.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said of these verses: “These, surely, are in many ways the most solemn and solemnizing words ever uttered in this world, not only by any man, but even by the Son of God Himself. Indeed, were any man to utter such words we should feel compelled not only to criticize but even to condemn him.”

This is because Jesus’ words reveal an unsettling truth: many who profess to know Christ will not enter the kingdom of heaven. They believe they are following the narrow path to life, but they are actually walking down the broad road toward destruction.

This is absolutely terrifying because our eternal destination is at stake.

A chill should run down our spines whenever even imagine hearing Christ’s word: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

I’ve already written on if we are able to lose our salvation, but the question still remains: how can we know that we are saved?

Paul Washer seeks to answer this question in the third book of his Recovering the Gospel series, Gospel Assurance and Warnings. In the book, Washer looks to John’s first epistle as containing tests for evaluating whether our faith is real or false.

In 1 John 5:13, the apostle states, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” This means that the purpose of 1 John is to help us KNOW that we have eternal life.

Below you will find 12 tests that Washer pulled from 1 John for evaluating our walk with the Lord.

With an open Bible and an honest heart, use God’s Word “to see whether you are in the faith.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Test 1: We know that we are Christian because we walk in the light (1 John 1:4-7). Our style of life is being gradually conformed to what God has revealed to us about His nature and will.

Test 2: We know that we are Christian because our lives are marked by sensitivity to sin, repentance, and confession (1 John 1:8-10).

Test 3: We know that we are Christian because we keep God’s commands (1 John 2:3-4). We desire to know God’s will, strive to obey it, and mourn our disobedience.

Test 4: We know that we are Christian because we walk as Christ walked (1 John 2:5-6). We desire to imitate Christ and grow in conformity to Him.

Test 5: We know that we are Christian because we love other Christians, desire their fellowship, and seek to serve them in deed and truth (1 John 2:7-11).

Test 6: We know that we are Christian because of our increasing disdain for the world and because of our rejection of all that contradicts and opposes God’s nature and will (1 John 2:15-17).

Test 7: We know that we are Christian because we continue in the historic doctrines and practices of the Christian faith and remain within the fellowship of others who do the same (1 John 2:18-19).

Test 8: We know that we are Christian because we profess Christ to be God and hold Him in the highest esteem (1 John 2:22-24; 4:1-3, 13-15).

Test 9: We know that we are Christian because our lives are marked by a longing and practical pursuit of personal holiness (1 John 3:1-3).

Test 10: We know that we are Christian because we are practicing righteousness (1 John 2:28-29; 3:4-10). We are doing those things that conform to God’s righteous standard.

Test 11: We know that we are Christian because we overcome the world (1 John 4:4-6; 5:4-5). Although we are often hard pressed and weary, we press on in faith. We continue following Christ and do not turn back.

Test 12: We know that we are Christian because we believe the things that God has revealed concerning His Son, Jesus Christ. We have eternal life in Him alone (1 John 5:9-12).

The Narrow Gate | Matthew 7:13-14

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

OPENING THOUGHT

Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount to His disciples in order to teach them what citizenship within the kingdom of heaven should look like. He began the sermon with the Beatitudes, which defined the characteristics that ought to mark Christ’s followers. He then clarified the Christian’s purpose on earth and explained how we are supposed to relate to the Old Testament’s laws and commandments. In chapter six, Jesus taught how we give to the poor, pray, and fast incorrectly. He also encouraged us to store our treasure in heaven, not on earth, and when they are secure with God, we can truly live without anxiety, knowing that God is in control.

In chapter seven, Jesus warned us against hypocritically judging others, telling us to first take the log out our own eye before getting a speck out of our brother’s eye. He then encouraged us to petition the Father in prayer. He explains that our heavenly Father will lovingly give to us what we need, so long as we first recognize our dependency upon Him. Furthermore, once we know the loving-kindness of the Father, it will transform how we love and treat the people around us.

Today, we will cover just two small verses, yet they are loaded with meaning and impact. Here Jesus commands His disciples to travel down the difficult path, entering into the narrow gate, which leads to eternal life and to avoid the easy road with a broad gate, which leads to destruction. Our Lord is describing in metaphor the only two ways of living that are available to us. Either we will follow Christ down the narrow road or we will take whatever path pleases us, which ultimately is all a part of the broad path to destruction.

Read verses 13-14 and discuss the following.

  1. Jesus tells us that there are only two paths with two gates, the narrow leads to life and the broad leads to destruction. What is the narrow gate of which Jesus is speaking?
  2. Why is the gate narrow and the path hard that leads to life?
  3. Is God righteous by only providing one way of salvation?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Obey. Consider Jesus’ command: enter by the narrow gate. Take time to prayerfully meditate upon the gospel, coming to God in repentance once again.
  • Pray. Pray for friends and family in your life who are traveling down the broad and easy road toward destruction that they may come to know the truth of the gospel.

a thought on eternal security & saltless salt

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He boldly proclaims that His followers are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. These are tremendous claims, but I want to focus for the moment upon Jesus’ warning about salt losing its taste. Christ warns that if salt is no longer salty then it is only good for being thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. It’s a terrifying warning because it emphasizes the utter worthlessness of a “Christian” that doesn’t display Christ.

This ought to beg us then to ask a very important question: Can a Christian lose their salvation?

For the sake of our present text, let’s look at the issue using the salt metaphor, asking whether salt can lose its saltiness.

The first interpretation states that it is impossible for a believer to lose their salvation. Scientifically, we know that sodium chloride is a stable compound, which means that it will not naturally cease to be salt. Salt cannot lose its saltiness. Likewise, this view argues that a Christian will never fall away from grace. If we are saved by grace alone, why would our continued salvation be the result of anything but the grace of God? We are not saved by works, and neither can we lose our salvation by our works.

The second interpretation goes in the opposite direction, positing that we are able to lose our salvation. The commentators and theologians that support this view argue that salt in Jesus’ day was rarely pure salt. Instead, most salt was mixed with other minerals, and over time, the actual salt would dilute, leaving behind something that resembled salt without its taste. In this way, salt could lose its saltiness. Holders of this view suggest that Jesus had this in mind; therefore, Christians are able to fall away from grace.

I am more in favor of a third view, which acknowledges truth in both of the previous two. Can a Christian lose his or her salvation? I think not. Salt is salt, and a Christian is in Christ. Saved by grace, raised to life from being dead in sin, partaking in the second birth, given a new heart and new life, each of these biblical means of describing salvation do NOT point to something that is reversible.

However, there is still a valuable lesson to learn from the “salt” of the second interpretation. Though the lump of minerals may have tasted salty for a time, it lost its saltiness because in truth it was not actually salt. Though it contained a portion of salt, it’s impurity ultimately revealed its true nature.

It’s important that we keep both lessons. The Bible clearly speaks of the eternal security for believers. We rightfully should take great comfort in knowing that God alone can keep us from falling away.

However, we also cannot ignore that Jesus spoke of saltless salt for a reason, not as an empty hypothetical warning. In the end, there will be many who presumed to follow Christ but are ultimately denied entrance into His kingdom. (Matt. 7:21-23)

This interpretation is not so much in line with the phrase “once saved, always saved”; rather, it is more like, “if saved, always saved.”

A healthy fear of being saltless is good, and it’s proper to ask ourselves regularly whether our lives truly reflect Christ or not.

Am I truly a follower of Christ, or do I simply have the appearance and taste of one?


Below are related Scriptures for further reflection of this important issue.

Philippians 2:12-13 | Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

2 Peter 1:10-11 | Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Matthew 7:21-23 | Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Jude 24 | Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.

John 10:28-29 | I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

Romans 8:30,38-39 | And those whom he predestined he also called and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified… For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.