Sometimes It Causes Me To Tremble

Intricate Boarder 01YouTube has almost everything! Including R.C. Sproul’s Holiness of God series, which John and I have been watching all weekend.

The Lord’s timing in getting me interested in watching this series couldn’t be more fascinating. Throughout 2017, I’ve opened my private prayer time by worshiping God for His holiness and recalling the opening scene in Isaiah 6.

 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” ~~Isaiah 6:1-7 (ESV)

Perhaps that’s a familiar passage to you. I hope so in the sense that I hope you read your Bible regularly and thoroughly. But I hope it’s not so familiar to you that you gloss over it without trembling at the description of God’s powerful, almost dreadful, holiness.

And yes, I realize I blogged about holiness less than two weeks ago, quoting this same passage. In that article I focused on how casual we are toward God in contrast to Isaiah and the apostle John. Although they trembled and fainted when they encountered God’s holiness, we consider Jesus our buddy who will overlook our sin and give us whatever we ask.

Today I want to briefly remark that truly coming into contact with the holiness of God confronts us with our sinfulness. When we recognize His absolute purity and see His separation from even the slightest degree of corruption, we can’t help but also see our wretchedness in comparison. Isaiah certainly saw the contrast, and immediately wailed over his unclean condition.

The Lord cleansed Isaiah by applying a burning coal to his lips. While we shouldn’t interpret Isaiah’s experience as allegorical to our own, may I suggest that cleansing us from our sin also requires pain. In our case, it’s often the pain of separating from sinful habits, relationships or situations that corrupt our souls.

Encountering God’s holiness demands that we repent of our unholiness. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit Himself empowers this repentance as we walk in obedience to Him. Our flesh won’t like this obedience any more than Isaiah liked the searing coal on his sensitive lips, but the joy of having the Lord make us holy is well worth it.

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A Dalliance With Hypocrisy

Bible Shadow

What a wonderful feeling to wake up having my blog post completely mapped out, including cross-references! Such a thing rarely happens, so I tingled most of the morning with anticipation.

The idea came to me after I went to bed last night. In bed, I can’t hold either a physical Bible or my computer, but that didn’t bother me. I knew the passage I’d use. I’d look it up after my devotional reading in the morning, and then I’d write a fantastic post that would surely impress my readers.

Successfully avoiding the temptation to replace my regular reading with blog research, I deliberately slowed my pace to make certain that I properly understood the passage in my devotional reading. I took careful notes, making sure I read each verse in context. At last I finished. Confidently, I located the passage for my blog post and began reading.

Oh no! In my prideful little mind, I had merged two distinct instances from Jesus’ life. The entire premise of the post I’d planned had no historical basis. For a naughty moment, I tried to figure out ways to make my narrative work, only to realize that doing so required mishandling the very Word of God.

What a vile thought! How could I consider such a thing?

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit convicted me right away, making it abundantly clear that the blockbuster post I’d concocted in bed last night couldn’t be written. At least not with any sense of integrity. Obviously, any attempt to write such a flagrant misrepresentation of Scripture (besides being absolutely ridiculous) would be the height of hypocrisy.

Actually, the temptation happened much more quickly than this account indicates. I’ve only realized the seriousness of it by typing it all out. I don’t believe I really would have attempted to mangle God’s Word that badly.

So I didn’t know what to write today. I considered not writing at all, or reblogging something from my archives. I decided that humbling myself and confessing my dalliance with hypocrisy might help you appreciate the importance of handling Scripture respectfully. The more I think about it, the more I realize that Paul’s instruction to Timothy also applies to lowly bloggers.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. ~~1 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)

God’s Word must never be manipulated to suit our convenience. Scripture is nothing less than the very Word of God, and therefore deserves to be treated with the utmost respect. Perhaps the Lord used my self-serving moment of folly to remind me to handle His Word reverently and with the awareness of what a valuable treasure it is.

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Perspectives In Titus: The Liberating Grace And Its Obligation To Serve

Titus 2 v 14

Ladies, God got me really excited as I prepared today’s Bible study on Titus that I want to dive right in! So let’s look at our passage and then enjoy working through verse 14.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. ~Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)

Last Monday, after we talked about Christ’s appearing, we noticed Paul’s boldness in proclaiming His deity. Now we circle back to the theme of God’s grace. Specifically, Paul’s words to Titus reveal God’s grace as a means to accomplish His purpose in establishing the churches in Crete, as well as the Church as a whole.

Verse 14 continues a complex sentence that begins in verse 11, and centers on the purpose and result of God’s grace. It immediately follows the assertion that Christ is indeed God with a further assertion that our great God and Savior Jesus Christ gave Himself. At the risk of distracting you from the primary point of this passage, I want to say a bit about the idea that our great God and Savior Jesus Christ gave Himself.

In John 10:18, Jesus explicitly declared that He would lay down His life of His own accord. Neither the Sanhedrin nor the Romans ultimately caused His crucifixion. Even God the Father didn’t force Him to the cross. True, His human nature asked for another way (Mark 14:35-36), yet He went voluntarily, focusing on the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).

Furthermore, He gave Himself on our behalf. As Jamieson, Fausset and Brown put it, redemption means to deliver from bondage by paying the price of blood. He took pity on our enslavement to sin, and bought us back by shedding His precious blood. See 1 Peter 1:18-19 for an appreciation of the value God places on Christ’s blood. Acts 20:28 teaches that He bought us as a church, not merely as individuals, although we must keep in mind that individuals make up the church. In relation to the verse before us, the emphasis is on the precious blood that Christ shed as a payment for His church.

Jesus redeemed us from lawlessness itself, rather than merely the penalty of sin. As verse 12 has already said, God’s grace trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions — redemption gives us the ability to say “NO!” to our sin nature. Barnes emphasizes that the Lord’s principle objective in redeeming us is our purity (or holiness), citing Hebrews 9:14 as a cross-reference.

He also redeemed us to make us a people belonging to Him. This point reminds us that redemption signifies His ownership of us (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Although we most definitely benefit from our liberation from our own sin natures, that wonderful liberation obligates us to serve Him in gratitude for His mercy.

Paul once again emphasizes a distinction between Christians and the world, especially because of the well-known lawlessness of Cretans. But Christians in all places and eras must separate from the corrupt cultures that surround us. Therefore, He had to purify us, since no sin can exist in His presence.

The Lord also redeemed us to be zealous to do good works. Ephesians 2:10 echoes this thought by stating that we are created, at regeneration, to walk in good works that God has already prepared for us. Please notice that redemption gives us the zeal; the good works don’t cause us to be redeemed. God’s grace so fills us with gratitude that we no longer want to engage in the lawless behaviors that characterized the Cretans (and indeed characterize our postmodern culture). Instead, grace gives us the zealous eagerness to please Christ.

Titus 2:11-14 depicts God’s grace as a conduit for honoring Him, as we’ve seen over the past  few weeks. I pray that each of us might apply His grace when temptation calls us to indulge our selfish desires. How wonderful of the Lord to give us this liberating grace that frees us to serve Him!

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A Sin All To Common

Pure WordsBefore I say anything else, let me confess that I’ve recently sinned in the area I want to address today. The Holy Spirit has graciously convicted me of using crude language (in my case, as humor), and He has brought me to repentance. Therefore I can’t write this essay from a self-righteous posture. Instead, I write with the attitude that I’ve been forgiven of a serious sin that I hope to help you avoid.

Scripture forbids Christians from using impure language.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. ~~Ephesians 5:3-6 (ESV)

I well understand that we live in a culture where even the President of the United States of America uses foul language in his public speeches. And I know we can’t go anywhere in public without hearing words that should offend us because they offend the holy Lord. Facebook overflows with horrible language that should make a sailor blush — often on the Timelines of lovely young women. So yes, I know that we face tremendous temptation to let impure words flow from both our mouths and our keyboards.

As Christians, however, we have an obligation to live differently from the world. I’m not advocating a legalistic morality that breeds self-righteousness, but rather a commitment to purity that honors the Lord. As His daughters, we want to reflect His holiness, even in our speech and writing.

Yesterday I came across a blog post by a Christian (at least, this person claims to be a Christian) that contained expletives in the first three paragraphs. At that point, even though I wanted to read the rest of the author’s thoughts, I felt convicted that I shouldn’t deliberately expose myself to language that I struggle to avoid using. I also felt sad that the writer would use those corrupt words repeatedly in a blog that claims to be written for the Lord.

Again, I realize that our culture treats filthy language as normative. But it also treats a whole host of other sins as normative. The Lord, however, calls us to honor Him, not to imitate non-Christians. He faithfully forgives us when we confess to using filthy language, but His grace should inspire us to then use our words for His glory.

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Discernment Ministries That Lose True Discernment (Avoiding Their Mistakes)

Discern YourselfTwo days ago I wrote about the necessity of using wisdom in discernment ministry. Sadly, I got more caught up in the attacks Brannon Howse is making on Justin Peters than I’d planned, and consequently had little time left to write about my real concern. I hope I can rectify that omission today.

As I said Wednesday, there’s definitely a time and place for naming false teachers in discernment ministry. I’ve done so many times in this blog, and I’m planning an article for next Wednesday on another evangelical trend that needs to be exposed. But I fear that, in our zeal to warn people of dangerous teachers and trends, we may have distorted the concept of discernment, forgetting that its real purpose lies in our Christian maturity.

Consider the argument that the writer of Hebrews makes as he pleads with Jewish Christians to lay aside their efforts to earn salvation in favor of resting in Christ’s finished work on the cross:

11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. ~~Hebrews 5:11-14 (ESV)

Here, discernment has precious little to do with generating conspiracy theories or calling out false teachers, and everything to do with helping these believers live in fidelity to the Gospel. Discernment isn’t sanctified gossip used to ruin reputations; it is the means of learning how to conform to God’s will.

Oddly, some bloggers and podcast hosts seem to have lost sight of this true purpose of discernment. They ironically fail to discern when they cross the line into fault finding for the sake of parading their supposed discernment skills. In so doing, they forget basic principles of Scripture, such as respectfully expressing disagreement while recognizing someone as a brother or sister in Christ unless they teach outright false doctrine.

Biblical discernment calls us, first and foremost, to distinguish good from evil in our own lives. How obedient are we to the Lord? Are we understanding His Word properly? Do we apply it correctly to our own lives before we hold others to its standards? Sisters, these questions make me uncomfortable, and they draw me to repentance. They confront me with my need to exercise discernment in my own life well before I call out anyone else.

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Giving Permission To The King

Cinderella's  ClosetThroughout the bulk of my Christian life, I’ve heard the following sentiments:

“God is a Gentleman; He won’t violate your will.”

“Give the Lord permission to work in your life.”

“You need to get out of the way in order for God to work.”

“Let go and let God.”

You’ve undoubtedly heard these same ideas, and maybe you’ve even said them. They sound very reasonable, and even a bit spiritual. Many celebrity evangelicals routinely teach them, urging us to partner with God as if He’s helplessly wringing His hands as He waits for us to participate in whatever He’s doing.

Now, I understand that the Lord chooses to work through human beings much of the time. He calls Christians to obedience, especially in regard to proclaiming the Gospel to all creation. The same letter of Paul that declares God’s sovereignty in determining who should be numbered in the elect (Romans 9:6-26) also pronounces His decree that the elect should come to faith by means of evangelism (Romans 10:13-17). In that sense, He indeed uses our obedience as the means of accomplishing His purposes.

But we make a grave mistake if we assume that a lack of cooperation on our part in any way hinders or prevents the Lord from carrying out His will. In truth, He has all power. Nothing any of us does, even at our highest points of rebellion, can possibly block Him from doing exactly what He wills.

From the time Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, men and women have tried to claim control over God. We cherish the notion that we somehow allow Him to have His way in saving us and then in working in our lives. Proudly, we believe He stands immobilized, waiting patiently until we grant Him permission to move.

Look again at Romans 9.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? ~~Romans 9:19:24 (ESV)

Who do we think we are? Do we seriously believe the sovereignty of God depends on our will or behavior? Does the King of kings and Lord of lords bow in subjection to us? Scripture certainly never portrays Him as such a dependent weakling, nor does it suggest that He gives us authority over His dealings in our lives.

We need to repent of our arrogant attitudes. Let’s stop flattering ourselves that anything God does hinges on our attitudes or actions. If sovereignty really belongs to Him (and it does), then He will do anything He wants to do with or without our permission.

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Where Do We Find Assurance Of Salvation?

Broken Heart CrossIf you’re like me, you’ve probably experienced serious doubts about your salvation. Such doubts generally arise in response to falling back into familiar patterns of sin. As you see yourself committing the same ugly sin, even decades after your conversion, you have to ask yourself whether or not you were ever  really saved in the first place.

In one respect, you and I definitely should ask ourselves this question when we find ourselves committing the same sin habitually. Children of God at some point start to resemble the Father’s holiness (1 Peter 1:14-21, 1 John 3:4-10). Sadly, many people who claim to be Christians do persist in unrepentant sin, often rationalizing their rebellion and sometimes even believing that God approves of what they do. I know: I’ve done it.

Seeker-sensitive churches compound the problem by producing false converts who embrace an idealized concept of Jesus without submitting to the true Christ’s authority. These false converts see no need to repent and have no concern for personal holiness.

So yes, sometimes our sin should cause us to wonder if the Lord has truly done a work of regeneration in us. If we live without regard to His holy standards, some honest self-examination is most likely necessary.

But others of us, despite genuinely loving the Lord and wanting to obey Him, manage to get sucked back into sin on occasion. From our perspective, it seems like a habitual pattern because we repeat the same old sins time after time. We grieve every time we do it, fully aware that we’ve dishonored Him. Even if nobody else ever finds out what we’ve done, we know that we’ve violated His commands.

Like the apostle Paul in Romans 7:13-21, we hate our sin. We yearn to please the Lord, knowing that our sin put Him on the cross. How can we be so ungrateful? Why did we act like children of the devil, dragging our glorious Lord through the mud while we selfishly gratified our flesh?

As we fixate on the horrors of our sin, we accept Satan’s accusations that we’re nothing more than hypocrites. Because those accusations carry an element of truth, we believe his lie that we never really had salvation. We despair.

Sisters, we forget that assurance of salvation can never come from us. Paul wrote Romans 7 precisely to demonstrate that we don’t have any righteousness in and of ourselves. Looking at ourselves can never give us assurance!

Ah, but look at Paul’s  concluding paragraph in Romans 7:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. ~~Romans 7:21-24 (ESV)

Paul doesn’t deny his wretched condition, but he ultimately clings to Jesus Christ as his deliverer. He remembers that Christ paid for all his sin (every ounce of it) by shedding His blood on the cross. Of course, Paul’s not excusing sin or implying that God’s grace gives Christians permission to indulge in sin. Rather, he’s encouraging us to rest in what the Lord has done for us.

Sin should trouble a Christian’s conscience. We should live lives of repentance, earnestly desiring to reflect our Heavenly Father’s holiness as we declare the Gospel to a dying world. But, when our sin breaks our hearts, let’s shift our gaze to Jesus, finding assurance in Him.

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