They Will Not Prevail

The enemies of God are planners and schemers. In Psalm 2:1-3 the nations and rulers plot and take counsel on how they can break God’s chains. What can we do to escape God? How can we run from Him? How can we evade his rules? What can we do to destroy his Word and make him disappear? Imagine a bunch of corporate lawyers sitting in a back room late at night plotting the overthrow of another company.
In our culture this plotting takes place through things like feminism, sexual freedom, the acceptance of evolution, the careful parsing of God’s word by weak-willed men (and women) so that it becomes impotent, college classes on gender studies, failure to call public leaders to repentance, and a denial of sin as the problem in our lives.
For Christians who love God’s Word and its Author, this scheming can be discouraging. Our resources are paltry. Leaders are dropping like zombies in The Walking Dead. Doctrinal compromise is normal. Every day more laws get passed that destroy the remnants of Christianity that were once in our culture. And what of the Church? She is harassed and persecuted around the world. Where she is not persecuted by the enemies of God she is threatened by wolves who have found their way into the sheepfold. All in all, there are times we wonder if Jesus missed something when He said, “The gates of hell will not prevail against his church” (Matthew 16:18).
There is a great encouragement for us in Exodus 15. Exodus 15:1-21 is the song that Israel sung after the Egyptians had been drowned in the Red Sea.  The song exalts in God’s marvelous power to deliver his people from the strongest of enemies. Verse 9 takes us behind the curtain to see what the Egyptians were planning:

The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’

The Egyptian army had it all worked out. They were going to overtake that ragtag band of slaves, led by an 80 year old shepherd and destroy them. They were going slaughter them by the seashore spilling their blood all over the sand and then go back to feast. They were cocky and sure of themselves. After all, Israel’s back was to the sea and Egypt had the greatest army in the world. What or who could possibly stop them? 
But just like Psalm 2:4 God laughed. Man can plot and scheme, but God is the one who directs history. God’s plans are the only sure plans.  Egypt does not prevail. Instead they are destroyed. Exodus 14:30 says that Israel saw the bodies of the Egyptians washed up on the shore. Exodus 15:1-10 says God
Threw the horse and rider into the sea
Cast Pharaoh’s army into the sea
Drowned Pharaoh’s choicest of captains so they sank like stones
Dashed the enemy into pieces
Consumed them like stubble
Covered them with the sea
All those plans, all those schemes thwarted in a moment by a God who is not like other gods (Exodus 15:11), but is glorious, fearful, powerful, and a man of war. 

If you are Christian do not fear the plans of the great men of this world. Politicians, professors, movie stars, talking heads, Muslims, and false teachers of all stripes can plot and scheme to tear down God and his people, but in the end they will not prevail. They will come to nothing. They are but a drop in the bucket and dust on the scales (Isaiah 40:18).  Do not listen to the fear mongers in the press or on your Facebook page. Even your Christian friends can get sucked into the vortex that says that God will not deliver and it would have been better to stay in Egypt (Exodus 14:10-12). Tell them to not be afraid. God has already saved us to the uttermost in Christ. We have already seen the salvation of God (Exodus 14:13). Sin, Satan, death, and our enemies have all been put under his feet. Jesus has all authority (Matt. 28:18-20).  He rules over the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:5). Why the fear? Why the anxiety? Why the lack of trust? Christian believe him. He rescued Israel. He will rescue us. 
But if you are not a Christian or if you used to profess faith in Christ, but now you are drifting away, you should fear. You will not come through the sea. You can plot, scheme, push those thoughts about death away, hope it is all a myth, ignore God’s word, but it will not change a thing. One day you will stand face to face with the God who drowned thousands. If Pharaoh was destroyed by Him, what chance do you have? If his chariots were dashed to pieces on the rocks, what hope have you of escaping by your own power? But He is not all wrath. He is also kind to those who trust in His Son Jesus Christ (Psalm 2:7, 12) and turn to Him. Join the glorious band who have been delivered by the blood of Jesus. Join those of us who because of God’s kindness came through on the dry land (Exodus 15:19). You too can see the salvation of God (Exodus 14:13) if you will just trust in Jesus and follow Him.  

Book Review: Saved by Grace

Saved by Grace: The Holy Spirit's Work in Calling and RegenerationSaved by Grace: The Holy Spirit’s Work in Calling and Regeneration by Herman Bavinck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the best books I have read on the intersection between calling, regeneration, and the means of grace, especially the preaching of the Word. Bavinck takes particular care to show what we should and should not believe concerning the regeneration of covenant children. He also shows how the reformed position refutes both the Anabaptist’s rejection of means, as well as the Roman Catholic position that regeneration is automatically conferred through the sacraments. As a minister in the CREC I have been involved in the Federal Vision controversy on various levels. My understanding of the strengths and dangers of Federal Vision were clarified by reading this book.

View all my reviews

A Declaration of Insanity

It is odd that a book that is usually the cornerstone of a doctrine of sinless perfection begins with an extended section on the nature of sin, which removes any doubt that we are sinners. I just finished preaching I John 1:5-2:2. Here are some thoughts from this great passage.

God’s character restricts who he fellowships with. God cannot have communion with darkness therefore we must be light (Ephesians 5:8) if we are to be in fellowship with God.

A man cannot be a Christian and live a life dominated by sin.

People can claim to be Christians and yet be lying. They are shown to be liars by their actions (walking in darkness) or by their theology (I am sinless). There is such a thing as a false profession.

When we have fellowship with God by walking in his ways we also have fellowship with other Christians. We cannot claim fellowship with God and live in bitterness and antagonism towards our fellow believers. Yet this does not mean that everyone who claims to be a Christian we must be in fellowship with. See point above.

A claim to be without sin is a declaration of insanity. Any man who believes this about himself is living in a fantasy land.

Few of us will say we are sinless. However, many of us function as if we are not sinners. When we are confronted with our sin our mouths drop open and we say, “Impossible!” So while theologically we may not claim to be sinless, practically we live as if we are.

The truth and God’s Word are equivalent (See also John 17:17). Notice this pattern
I John 1:6 We lie and do not practice the truth
I John 1:8 We deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us
I John 1:10 We make him a liar and his word is not in us

Truth is not just a person, Jesus Christ, nor simply a set of beliefs, though it is both of those. Truth is something we practice or do. True grasp of the truth produces actions formed by that truth.

Regular confession of sin is the antidote to an elevated view of our own holiness.

I John 1:9 is not an excuse to keep on sinning. Anyone who uses God’s mercy in forgiving sins as excuse to keep on sinning does not understand God’s mercy. (See also Psalm 130:4).

One goal of Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and sending of His Spirit is so we might not sin. Jesus, John, Paul, and Peter all believe we can make substantial progress in holiness in this life. We can never be perfect. We just begin to obey in this life, but it is real Spirit fueled obedience that is conforming us to the image of Christ.

Jesus’ blood is the key to our forgiveness and cleansing. It is easy, much easier than we would like to admit, to forget the cross.

God is faithful to his promises to forgive our sins and make us clean. He has shown this faithfulness in the death of His Son.

Christ is our propitiation, a covering our for sins that turns God’s wrath away from us. Trying to remove God’s wrath from the equation is a compromise.

Jesus Christ is our ever present intercessor. This means we always need intercession. There is never a day when we don’t need Christ pleading before the Father on our behalf.

Our Intercessor is righteous. We can put complete faithfulness in our High Priest. He will never do us wrong.

I John 2:2 does not teach that Christ’s death on the cross was a covering for all the sins of all the men who ever lived. But it does teach that he covered our sins at the cross.

What Does It Mean to Be Saved?

John loves to use simple, everyday words to get across grand truths. Words like light, darkness, bread, know, walk, all have deep meaning within John’s writings. Here are the different ways John describes our salvation in his first epistle. I did not try to list all the ways John writes of our salvation. Nor do I list all Scripture references for each concept. Many of these he mentions several times. I also understand that some of these are causes of our salvation and others are effects of our salvation. We often view our salvation in a narrow way. The different ways John describes our salvation can help open our eyes to what it means to be saved. Rather than comment on them I am going to list them to show the variety he uses.

Being saved means we have eternal life and have passed from death to life (I John 1:2, 2:25, 3:14, 5:11, 13).

Being saved means we have fellowship with the apostles, with the Father and the Son, and with each other (I John 1:3,7).

Being saved means we walk in the light (I John 1:7, 2:10).

Being saved means that by the blood of Jesus our sins are cleansed and forgiven (I John 1:7, 9).

Being saved means that Christ is the propitiation for our sins (I John 2:2).

Being saved means we know God and know the truth (I John 2:3, 21).

Being saved means we keep the commandments of God (I John 2:3-4).

Being saved means we abide/remain in God and abide/remain in the light (I John 2:6, 10).

Being saved means that God abides/remains is us (I John 4:4, 13).

Being saved means we are anointed (I John 2:20, 27).

Being saved means we are children of God, have been born of God, and God’s seed remains in us (I John 3:1, 9).

Being saved means we believe on the name of Christ (I John 3:23, 5:13).

Being saved means we love God and the brothers (I John 3:17, 4:7, 19).

Being saved means we have the Spirit (I John 4:13).

Being saved means we confess that Jesus is the Son of God (I John 4:15).

Being saved means we have overcome the world (I John 5:5).

Being saved means we believe the witness/testimony of God (I John 5:9-11).

Good Works and Final Salvation

It was interesting to find this quote from Peter van Mastricht (1630-1706) about three periods of justification. Mark Jones quotes this with approval in the chapter “Good Words and Rewards” in his excellent book Antinomianism. I have removed Scripture references.

From this come three periods of justification that should be diligently observed here, namely 1: The period of establishment, by which man is first justified: in this occasion not only is efficacy of works excluded for acquiring justification, but so is the very presence of these works in so far as God justifies the sinner and the wicked. 2: The period of continuation: in this occasion, although no efficacy of good works is granted for justification, the presence of these same works, nevertheless, is required. And it is probably in this sense that James denies that we are justified by faith along but he requires works in addition. And lastly 3: The period of consummation in which the right unto eternal life, granted under the first period and continued under the second, is advanced even to the possession of eternal life: in this occasion not only is the presence of good works required, but also, in a certain sense, their efficacy, in so far as God, whose law we attain just now through the merit alone of Christ, does not want to grant possession of eternal life, unless [it is] beyond faith with good works previously performed. We received once before the right unto eternal life through the merit of Christ alone.  But God does not want to grant possession  of eternal life, unless there are, next to faith, also good works which precede this possession. 

Mark Jones closes the paragraph with this note.

It is a sign of the times that not a few in the broadly Reformed church today–indeed, even professors of theology, would have a real problem with Van Mastricht’s conclusion that eternal life is not granted unless good works are performed by the godly.

Do we believe that good works are necessary for final salvation? I have found very few Christians, even reformed ones, who would say yes.  Jones’ book challenged me on this issue.

A New Creation in Ephesians

Four things are created in Ephesians:

First, we are created for good works (2:10).
Second, God created one new man from the Jew and Gentile (2:15).
Third, God created all things (3:9).
Fourth, God created a new self in his likeness (4:24).
Our salvation is viewed as a new creation, a making something new which is equal to the making of the world. By His Word and Spirit the worlds were made. By His Word and Spirit we are remade. By His Word and Spirit Heaven and Earth made. By His Word and Spirit Jew and Gentile are made into one new body. By His Word and Spirit Adam and Eve were made in the likeness of the living God. By His Word and Spirit we are remade into the likeness of express image of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. By His Word and Spirit that which was formless and void was made into the stars, sky, Sun, moon, and earth. By His Word and Spirit our dead souls are made alive in Christ. 

We should stand amazed at the beauty of the world, the stars hanging in the black heavens. But we should also stand amazed at the 4 year old who loves to lift her voice like the children in Psalm 8 in praise to her Savior.  And we should stand in awe of the 94 year old whose body is broken, but whose soul is being remade in the likeness of Christ. The new creation of a fallen human is no less a feat than the original creation of the world from nothing.