You’ll Never Find Assurance Apart From Christ

This week I had several severe episodes of anger. Usually, such behavior causes me to doubt that I was ever genuinely saved.

In one sense, our sins should lead us to examine ourselves. If we show absolutely no evidence that Christ is transforming us into His image, perhaps we really need to question our salvation.

But Satan often uses our occasional lapses into sin as an effort to discourage us. Once we attach salvation to our performance, we deny the very heart of the Gospel. Salvation comes exclusively from the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning work on the cross.

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I Couldn’t Have Paid Anything

Most of us have no idea of how extensive our sin is. Personally, I can understand it only by realizing that erasing it required nothing less than the innocent blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But I do know that I have absolutely no resources with which to atone for my sin. Any good that I might have done could never outweigh the ways that I have offended the thrice holy God. My debt towards Him is just too formidable.

Thankfully, Jesus is a merciful God Who took my debt upon Himself. He graciously paid the entire price of my sin, leaving me free to worship God with a clear conscience. Throughout eternity, I will praise Him for paying a debt that I never could have paid.

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Remembering Where I Come From

About 20 years ago, I developed an interest in genealogy. A cousin on Mom’s side of the family sent me some information going back to our grandmother’s grandfather, who came to America from Ireland in the mid 1800s.

As always when someone investigates their family history, there were things about my great-great-grandfather that disturbed me. Having settled in the South, for example, he fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War (Granny tried to get me to call it The War Between The States). I feel embarrassed that he fought for the side that wanted to preserve black slavery, but I can’t change my heritage.

There are things about my personal past that I can’t change my either. The 17 years of my life before Jesus brought me to salvation may have been characterized by socially acceptable sins like my fascination with the occult (which would have pleased my great-great-grandmother, by the way), but I still rebelled against the Lord. I was headed for hell.

Thankfully, Jesus circumvented my path of self-destruction, convincing me that He took my sin on Himself. As I look back on who I was before His Holy Spirit enabled me to trust in Him as my Savior, I feel even more embarrassed than I do about my great-great-grandfather. But remembering where I came from only increases my gratitude to the Lord. I love Him most when I remember how lost I was without Him.

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Keys To Discernment: Qualified By The Lord (Reboot)

Week after next, I will resume writing fresh installments for this Bible Study series on Colossians. As most of you know, I’d begun writing it in January, but at the end of February a compression fracture in my back forced me to take a furlough from it. For about a month now, I’ve been rolling the installments out again to provide continuity before we dive back in. Occasionally, I add comments to my original posts, so you might just want to read these reboots.

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Have you ever noticed the way your pastor uses the pastoral prayer at the beginning of your church’s Sunday service as an opportunity to share spiritual truths? He doesn’t do that by accident. He’s so committed to your spiritual development that he takes every possible opportunity to expose you to sound doctrine.

The apostle Paul uses prayer to begin his letter to the Colossian church, eager to steer them away from the false teachings of both the Judaizers and the pre-gnostics that threatened the churches in Asia Minor. We started examining his prayer last week, so let’s look at the passage again and pick up where we left off.

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. ~~Colossians 1:9-14 (NASB)

Verse 11 shows Paul praying that, as the Lord fills them with knowledge, wisdom and understanding, the Colossians, will be strengthened. But he hastens to explain that the strength must come according to His glorious might, not from the knowledge in and of itself. The pre-gnostics maintained that knowledge brought power, but Paul turns it around to teach that knowledge comes through God’s glorious might.

Remember that all false teachings point to human achievement instead of looking to God’s grace and providence. The Judaizers and the pre-gnostics each believed that their systems would bring them spiritual prestige. Paul corrects their error immediately by affirming that the strength isn’t originated in them. He puts the spotlight solely on God.

Moving on to verse 12, we learn that the Father qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints of light. Man, do I wish we had the time to unpack everything in this verse! For purposes of our particular study, however, it’s best to concentrate on how Paul uses his prayer to repudiate the wrong idea that salvation depends either on human effort or on the attainment of special knowledge.

The fact that the Father Himself qualifies us for salvation turns both heresies on their heads, doesn’t it? It increases the emphasis on God that we just saw in the previous verse. Paul makes sure that his original readers see that neither works nor mysticism gives them any claim on eternal life. Only the gracious love of God the Father makes us worthy to receive the inheritance of His kingdom.

Verse 13 describes how the Father accomplishes our qualification. He personally delivers us from the domain of darkness and transfers us into the kingdom of His Son. We make absolutely no contribution, either by religious rites or by obtaining secret knowledge. Paul again deliberately keeps the focus on God, beginning to demonstrate the contrast between the false teachers that inhabited Colossae and the purity of the Gospel.

In fact, verse 14 introduces the doctrine that God’s Son is our source of redemption, providing the forgiveness of sins. Paul adds this clause quite cleverly, attacking both the Judaizers and the pre-gnostics deftly.

Keep in mind that the Judaizers, although they acknowledged that Jesus died for their sins, still insisted on Jewish rituals (especially circumcision) to achieve right relationship with God. To them, Paul insists that forgiveness of sins can be found only — and completely — in Jesus Christ. It is in Him that we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. His New Covenant renders the demands of the Old Covenant unnecessary.

Remember also that the pre-gnostics believed in a complete separation between the physical and the spiritual. Thus, sins they committed physically weren’t actually sins as far as they were concerned. Redemption came through their secret knowledge and they had no need for forgiveness.

Do you see how succinctly Paul addresses both groups of heretics in one small statement? Forgiveness is necessary in dealing with sin, and it can only come through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Paul wants the Colossians to understand this fundamental point so that they can stand against both groups of false teachers.

Like the First Century Colossians, we are bombarded with teachings that take the emphasis off of Christ. Subtly, they suggest that we must add works or have deeper spiritual experiences before we can really know the fullness of the Christian life. We also must keep returning to the basic Gospel message that Jesus atoned for our sins. Clinging to that truth will protect us from a large amount of false teaching.

Today we have watched Paul call out false teaching simply by infusing his pastoral prayer with sound doctrine. Next week we should arrive at my favorite passage of Scripture, which describes the supremacy of Christ. We’ll see how Paul silences false teachers by exalting His deity. I look forward to studying this passage with you.

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Remember His Blessings

John and I watch far less news than we used to. You might say the same. It’s more depressing every day, particularly as we watch society’s determined rebellion against God’s Word and the Lord Himself. We feel hopeless, as well as righteously indignant.

We can’t live in denial of the growing lawlessness around us. Neither can we ignore the approaching persecution that will come against those of us who stand on God’s Word. Taking a Pollyanna attitude certainly won’t give the fortitude we’ll need in the coming days.

At the same time, we must resist turning into Debbie Downers. Amid all the negativity swelling around us, the Lord has blessed us with both temporal and eternal blessings, the latter of which not even the most corrupt government can take from us. Without denying the rising evil around us, we must focus on His goodness and remember reasons to praise Him.

Through Jesus, God has given us the precious gift of salvation! How can we refrain from rejoicing when we think of His goodness in covering the sin of all who believe in Him? How can we remain depressed when we contemplate spending eternity in His immediate presence? How can we not glorify Him for the great things He has done?

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Flashback Friday: Hope In A Sober Time

I originally posted this article on July 15, 2016. Aside from the particular events mentioned in the first few paragraphs, the thoughts seem all that much more relevant to the situation in 2020. See whether or not you agree.

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Still struggling to evaluate my thoughts on the black men who were killed in Minnesota and Louisiana, as well as the police officers who were killed in Dallas, I watched last night’s news of the terrorist attack in Nice and felt numb. How do we absorb all these horrific events?

I didn’t want to blog about Minnesota and Louisiana until more facts became clear. Too often, I’ve made comments on past blogs, Facebook and Twitter before I really understood all angles of whatever situation I happened to opine about. I’d therefore resolved to start holding my metaphorical tongue until I actually developed a decent idea of the matter at hand. Yes, I risk being misunderstood as indifferent to the world around me. But being misjudged beats making misjudgments, as I see it.

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If You’re Not Amazed, You Ought To Be

Would you say that many Christians lose their sense of wonder that God saved them? Would you say that sometimes you lose your sense of wonder that He saved you? I have, from time to time.

Yet as we study Scripture, it’s hard to miss His amazing love for sinful, writing creatures like us. How incredible that Jesus would bear the Father’s wrath for us, taking our sin and giving us His righteousness! Nothing in us could ever merit such love, grace and mercy.

To His praise, He faithfully reminds us that He indeed has bestowed this incomprehensible love, grace and mercy on those of us who believe. He fills the pages of Scripture with innumerable examples of His love despite our persistent rebellion against Him. And when we see how undeserving we are of His love, we can’t help but be completely and utterly astounded.

How can it be that God the Son should die for me? I ought to be amazed more often!

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Flashback Friday: A Right Proclamation Of The Gospel

Originally posted February 17, 2017:

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Yesterday I watched a YouTube video featuring people I personally know from my Charismatic days.  I managed to get past their “God told me” claims by remembering how often I used to phrase my own experiences in those words. In listening to Charismatics, I want to keep in mind that   many of them, though deceived, are genuinely my brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, I walked in those same deceptions for most of my Christian life.

Toward the end of the video, however, they invited unsaved members of their audience to begin their “adventure” with Christ. They assured people that Jesus Christ offers freedom from sin (which He does) and personal fulfillment. According to them, Jesus waited, hoping people would reach out to Him and receive all that He had for them. They read a prayer that made vague reference to being a sinner and committing their lives to Christ. Those who said that prayer were instructed to sign a copy, write the date and keep it in their Bibles in case Satan questioned their salvation.

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It’s Not An Avoidance Tactic To Focus On The Gospel

Monument splattered with blood

If you’re on social media (particularly Reformed social media), you’ve seen the pleas to redirect or focus from the mayhem around us and to preach the Gospel. You’ve heard respected pastors like John MacArthur insist that the Gospel is the only real answer to the various problems that have torn Western society apart in just a few short months.

Perhaps you smirk a little when someone says that the Gospel answers the issues that have crippled our nation. COVID-19, racism, police brutality, LBGTQ issues, abortion and the 2020 election are all extremely important. Regardless of your political beliefs, you may feel the urgency of these matters. So the cries to keep the spotlight on the Gospel may seem flimsy. Some may even consider it as an avoidance tactic.

To such a point, may I respectfully suggest that all these matters actually stem from a neglect — if not a rejection — of the Gospel? If anything, the craziness of 2020 clearly demonstrates our desperate need for the Lord Jesus Christ.

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What COVID-19 And George Floyd’s Murder Demand

Praise the Lord for the sensible Christians out there who encourage us to use these troubled times as opportunities to present the Gospel! Too often, we get so embroiled in controversies that we lose sight of our main responsibility to tell the world about Christ. Thankfully, a number of people ranging from John MacArthur to my own pastor have emphasized the vital necessity of evangelism as we face both COVID-19 and the fallout from the murder of George Floyd.

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