Archive for June, 2011

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The City, a Place Where Wondering Ceases…

June 26, 2011

The city, a place where wondering ceases.  Psalm 107 is a powerful recitation of God’s faithfulness displayed in the shepherding of His nation Israel through the dessert.  The wilderness throughout scripture is a place of testing, punishment and judgment.  Cain is cast into the wilderness east of Eden, punished for spilling his brothers blood.  Israel wanders through the wilderness until God’s righteous judgment is fulfilled, Jesus enters the wilderness led by the Spirit to face temptation and reckon with evil.  Rest for the weary wanderer lies in the cities.

In the Psalms, Israel sings of their land, promised and flowing with provision and blessing.  They were to till fields they had not planted, and to live in cities they had not built.  Psalm 107 tells us of such a story.  God is the great urban planner, who gathered people, “in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.” (vs. 3)  They wandered through deserts and wasted places, souls faint; bodies dried up and thristy for lack of a city.  But God in His enduring lovingkindness heard their cry and “led them by a straight way til they reached a city to dwell in.” (vs. 7)  The cities of man, built by foreign hands, represented for Israel the promised reward for faithfulness in their wandering.

How many in our cities are still wandering?  Led by God’s unseen hand, drawn to occupy apartments they did not build, resting in the security of the city, but filled with spiritual unrest.  They face an eternity lost to wonder apart from the satisfaction found in God.  May God allow me to preach in such a way that they cry to Him their satisfaction, and are led a straightway to an end of their wandering, through the wilderness of life to the eternal city.  Where the weary soul is satisfied and the hungry soul is filled with Good things.(9)

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What is Sin? The Unholy Trinity…

June 24, 2011

Sin, Transgression, and Iniquity In Psalm 51.

What is sin, really? 

From the very first verses in this psalm, David is upfront and honest about his actions and the punishment he deserves.  He has not only missed the mark, and failed to follow the law, he has actively engaged in criminal activity, adultery, murder, lying, theft, all of which leads up to a virtual rebellion against the God he now implores for forgiveness.  This is a pattern of evil easy to criticize, but also all too easy to mimic in our own lives.  Thankfully we serve a God or mercy, and compassion.  There is no reason that we should be accepted by a Holy God.  All of us from ‘small’ sins to great transgressions display hearts in rebellion to our maker.  Our only choice is to throw ourselves at His mercy and plead for grace.  David models both the confession and the call for mercy, for his sins, his life of iniquity and pattern of transgression.

 a.     Sin: The word used twice in this Psalm for ‘sin’ is the word חַטָּאָת or chatta’ath.  This word is rooted in the idea of mis-step, to stumble or falter.  To miss the mark, induce sin, or bring guilt and or condemnation.  It is from these sins that the Israelites sought absolution through sacrifice.  David rightly seeks to be ‘cleansed’ from this act and will feel confronted with his sin continually until he is forgiven.

 b.     Iniquity- The word here is עָוֹן or ‘av-own’. It occurs some 237 times in the Old Testament and describes a pattern or display of criminal activity.  This is not merely sin, or missing the mark but engaging in a crime, for which one would be prosecuted, tried and judged.  Sometimes it is the penalty for sin, in that sin brings about iniquity, a pattern or ‘life of crime’.  It is rooted in the idea, and comes from the word to bend or pervert, to twist or distort.  So one could see the natural transition here, from twisted and perverted to iniquity and crime.  To bend and twist the law to fit your own way is to commit a crime.  Certainly David is guilty of this, and rightly seeks to be absolved of his crime, ‘wash me thoroughly from my iniquity.’ Vs. 2.

 c.   Transgression- The word here is פֶּשַׁע or ‘pesha’.  It occurs some 99 times in the Old Testament.  It is rooted in the idea or rebellion or revolt.  Its root word means as much, to turn away from.  Israel was in rebellion against David’s kingdom (1 King 12:19) This is to commit sin against someone else, Joseph’s brothers transgressed against him by selling him into slavery.  Israel.  One can and does transgress against God, every time one sins.  God promises to punish those who transgress Ps. 89:32 but to those who he forgives, He not only forgives but places their transgressions far from them. Ps. 103:12.  But Christ was numbered among the transgressors bearing the sins of many and interceded for them. (Isa. 53:12)

John MacArthur writes:

“If I were to sum up what David was feeling, I might say it like this, “Sin had made him dirty and he wanted to be clean. Guilt had made him sick and he wanted to be well. Disobedience had made him lonely and he wanted to be reconciled. Rebellion had made him fearful and he wanted to be pardoned.”  That’s what comes out of Psalm 51, a man who feels dirty, sick, isolated and afraid…all consequence of his sin. And out of that, he pours forth this confession and it has all the right perspectives of a true confession would be threefold…see your sin for what it is, see God for who He is, and see yourself for who you are. Any true confession is going to have to interact with those components.”[1]


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Believer or Not, that is the Question…

June 22, 2011

I have struggled for several years with the meaning of Romans 7:15-25.  When Paul speaks of doing what he does not want to do, and not doing what he desires, what is he talking about?  Is he describing his own experience as a believer, desiring to do what is good but hindered by sin?  Or is he speaking of  an unbeliever, who is aware of the law but unable to fulfill it?

Below are my thoughts on the passage and one perspective that I agree with at this point in my life and ministry.  This view may change over time.  May God guard me from heresy.

There are of course two perspectives, one which argues that Paul could not be talking of Himself, or of a fellow believer, as numerous times throughout his writings he states that sin has been put to death in us, Gal 2:20 we have been crucified in Christ, that we no longer live but Christ lives in us.  How can that verse be reconciled with the notion that somehow a believer can be divided against himself, the flesh willing one course and the mind another.

The other perspective views this as a pastoral confession of Paul’s own weakness, that his spirit is willing but his flesh is weak, so to speak.  He knows what he should do, but because his flesh is fallen, and ‘of Adam’, then he often misses the mark and does what he hates.

Both perspectives miss the point of the passage, it would be really convenient, especially when talking to brothers and sisters in Christ, to use this passage to give comfort and say that ‘Paul too, often times struggled and fell short, doing what he hated, and not doing what he loved’.  But if we look at the passage in context it is clearly not about Paul, or a believer.  The passage is centered within the defense of God’s law against antinomianism and redeeming the law’s rightful function in the history of man.

So let’s look at the passage.  Both Martyn Lloyd-Jones and NT Wright advocate that the whole of Romans 7 serves as exposition on Romans 6:14 “for sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under the law but under grace.”

7:1-6 drawing an analogy between the binding nature of the torah and the binding nature of marriage.  Just like the marriage covenant is broken through the death of one party, so too the legal covenant binding us to Adam’s sin is broken by sins death through grace and we are free to ‘marry another.’  However, simply because the law is no longer binding does not make it irrelevant.

7:7-14 Paul describes the substance and function of the law.  It is not sin, as it comes from God and shed light on our iniquity (7); It has been corrupted by sin, and provides great opportunity for sin to occur (8); when the law came it brought with it standards which could not be met and death followed (9)

[NT Wright has a great illustration here, think of Moses arriving with the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai, when the commandments arrive and are given to Israel, the law finds Israel in a state of rebellion and Moses breaks the tablets on the ground symbolically indicating that the covenant the law represented has already been broken, death follows immediately after as those in rebellion were visited by a plague Exodus 32:35.  Israel was alive prior to the law, but when the law arrived, their sin was revealed, and death was their punishment]

7:10-13 So the law, while good, lacks the power to provide life, it only brings opportunity for sin, and death as a result of failure to keep it, nevertheless it is holy, righteous and good.

Now 7:15 and following.  Paul is writing as a believer, reflecting on the state of an unbeliever grappling with sin.  This unbeliever has received the law, and is aware of its demands.  Although it is an extremely attractive option to argue here that Paul is talking about his personal struggle as a believer with sinful flesh, it is really impossible to reconcile that with the scenario he is describing.

The unbeliever’s desire is to follow the law; but as he is in bondage to sin, as he is descended from Adam (5:14); he is unable to do what he desires (7:15).  He agrees that the law is good and should be desired, but sin reigns in him (16).  His talk is good, but his walk is inadequate. (17)  Sin is his master, and so as he is in bondage to sin.  He does what his master dictates and the law then convicts him and death is the result(18).

7:19-24 describe the horrid realization that there is no relief for this man whose mind is set on the law; no matter what his mind desires, sin reigns in his mortal body controlling his actions and imprisoning his being.  He is wretched and forever at war with himself.  He will ultimately meet the fate of all those under the law, striving but never hitting the mark, and paying the price of failure, in death.

The source of common misconception about this passage, in viewing it as a confession of a troubled believer, is rooted in our own misconception of the freedom we have in Christ.   This freedom is outlined in 8:1-13.  We as Christians must come to realize that we have been set free from the law, and its bondage to sin and consequences of condemnation (2).  Christ does what the law weakened by the flesh could not do, He enables us to fulfill the demands of the law, in that He satisfied those demands for us through His sufficient sacrifice (4).  The law no longer condemns us rather Christ, through His atonement, condemns sin in our flesh.

When we are converted, we receive the Spirit of life.  The Spirit reorients our mind, and we should cease to have a “fleshly” mindset (5).  For a mind of flesh, sees only the law and can not see passed it.  There is no room in the law for forgiveness or grace, so the fleshly mind denies these things and is bound up in legalism and condemnation.  Unbelievers are those who are ‘according to the flesh’ (8:5) and like the man in 7:15-25 they are unable to follow God’s Law and they cannot please God (8:8).

As believers, we have the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, so we are not ‘in the flesh’ we have a different mindset (8:9)  We set our mind on things of the Spirit; Christ’s work for us, God’s grace, our freedom from the law of sin and death.

We continue to sin and as a result we experience conviction.  But conviction brought by the Spirit is different than conviction brought by the law.  The law convicts to condemn, the Spirit convicts to correct.  So we struggle with sin putting to death the deeds of the body, helped in our weakness by the Spirit (8:13,26); knowing that we are not righteous because of that struggle.  Our righteousness comes from Christ who died, was raised, and who stands at the right hand of the Father interceding for us (8:34).

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All we have to fear is… the Lord Himself…

June 21, 2011

13The end of the matter; all has been heard.  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  14For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Imagine these verses as the dying words of “the Preacher” or Solomon.  For 12 chapters he has conveyed wisdom and instruction about life.  The thrust of that instruction has been that all life is vanity.  Here we have a king, a wise man, a lover, a ruler, fellow human being who has gone to the effort to communicate to us the meaning of life and instruct us as to how we should spend our time.  All life is vanity.  It is a vapor.  But should you think that Solomon is preaching nihilism you’re mistaken.  He is not saying, “he you might as well throw yourself off a cliff because nothing in life is worth pursuing.”  One thing matters: Your relationship with and your pursuit of God.

Some have described John 3:16 as an encapsulation of the whole Bible.  Within one verse lies the most important message anyone can ever hear; that God loves His creation, sacrificed His son to redeem it and if you believe in Him you shall not perish but live forever with Him in Glory.  Verses 13 and 14 of Ecclesiastes serve as an encapsulation of the rest of the book and serve as a good guide for life.  Time is precious.  The book is about to close and after all is cleared away; this is what you need to know.  In these last words He re-emphasizes what he has said previously three other times.  Just in case you haven’t gotten the message.  “Fear the Lord and keep His Commandments, because this applies to every person, God will bring every act into judgment, everything which is hidden, whether good or evil.”

This fear is a reverence which motivates rather than a revelation which paralyzes.  Solomon has spent the last 12 chapters speaking on the vanity of life, people’s opinions, oppositions, desires, and pursuits.  None of those should be feared.  None of those should motivate us to do anything.  The only thing we should allow to motivate us is a healthy fear and respect for the One who made us.  Jesus instructs His disciples of the very same thing; “do not fear the one who can destroy your body… but rather fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” (Matt. 10:28)  This is a recognition of who God is, He is our creator and our sustainer, we live because He formed us and we exist for Him, our lives are not our own, they are set apart for His glory.

If we think that we can merely pay lip service to this and say, “oh I fear God, but I still want to live the way I think is best.”  Or worse, if we give all appearances that we fear God, but hidden in our hearts is rebellion against Him then we will be in for a rude awakening.  God is not fooled and He is not mocked.  He will bring everything into the light (judgment) and expose every hidden thing.  He is concerned with your heart.  You can act holy, you can act righteous, but if hidden in your heart is sin, un-confessed and un-crucified you will likely hear on that Day of Judgment, “depart from me, for I never knew you.”

So how do we as Christians read this book and understand these verses?  We are besieged with books telling us how to live our lives and please God.  Walk into any bookstore, listen to any podcast, and you will find countless opinions about how to please God and find His favor.  Solomon even alludes to these opinions in verse 12, “be warned: the writing of many books is endless and devotion to books is wearying to the body.”  If we were to follow all the advice written in all the books or heard on all the podcasts we would soon become weary and overburdened.  There is no end to man’s effort to find favor with God.  But the gift of God and the glory of the gospel is that favor is not found in books, podcasts, websites or advice.  Favor is found in the One who takes the judgment we deserve upon Himself cleanses us from all sin.  Through Christ we can truly obey.  Through Christ obedience, rather than being a burden, becomes an act of love from a child to a Father.

If we are in Christ we approach God with reverence but also confidence; committed to obey His commandments, the greatest of which are these: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all you soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”  If these commandments are hidden in our hearts, and our lives are lived in their pursuit, when we are exposed on the Day of Judgment we will have no cause for fear.   Knowing that hidden in us is His glory rather than our condemnation.  And we will hear those comforting words, “well done, good and faithful servant.”

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Redemption Accomplished

June 18, 2011

I was so grateful for the opportunity to teach from God’s word last week for our Bible Fellowship class, Kingdom First at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.

Here is the link to my lesson from last Sunday on Christ’s Redemption Accomplished in 1 Peter 1:13-2:10

Click Here

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Our Abiding Help… Can we lose the Spirit?

June 17, 2011

Psalm 51 is David’s great penitential psalm.  A record of his words of remorse and repentance following his adultery with Bathsheba, murder of Uriah, and deception of Israel.  In it he pleads to God for mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation. (You can read my previous thoughts on his prayer here.)

Many of us have prayed this prayer.  Athanasius, the great church father suggested that it should be prayed by all believers when the lie awake at night.  Martin Luther said of the psalm that, “There is no other Psalm which is oftener sung or prayed in the church.”  For some of us Psalm 51 has become a well worn road of faithful repentance; relied upon frequently to reorient our minds toward our maker and renew our broken and contrite hearts.  But when we come to verse eleven, as Christians post-calvary, post-pentacost, having received the Spirit, how do we pray this prayer? In verse 11 though, he makes a request that is startling to consider; ‘take not your Spirit from me.’  All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for among other things training in righteousness; but concerning this verse, can it be prayed in light of the cross?

The answer is yes, we can pray this prayer, and recite this psalm to God, taking comfort from David’s prose and the God it addresses.  The task is not whether the words can be prayed but, what we mean by the words, and how we pray them.

Below are three treatments of the verse.  One, courtesy of Don Stewart, author and apologist and the other from C. John Collins and the ESV Study Bible both address the Old Testament context of the prayer.  And finally Charles Spurgeon from his Treasury of David, on how we should word this verse, consistent with our understanding to the abiding Holy Spirit and the desired favor of God.  I hope they are helpful.

 Can we Lose the Holy Spirit?[1] -Don Stewart

 Once the Holy Spirit enters a person, can He leave? In Psalm 51, David prayed:

Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me (Psalm 51:11).

 The Bible gives the example of the Holy Spirit leaving Samson:

 And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” So he awoke, from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him (Judges 16:20).

 In another instance, the Holy Spirit is said to have left Saul:

 But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him (1 Samuel 16:14).

 These passages seem to teach that one can lose the Holy Spirit. But this is not necessarily the case. There are other possible solutions to this question. Some believe that the situations of David, Samson, and Saul must be understood in their Old Testament context. It appears that during that period, the Holy Spirit did not indwell believers on a permanent basis; but rather His presence in the life of the believer was of a limited duration.

 Special Anointing

 A second view holds that it was not the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that left these people, but a particular anointing or empowering of the Spirit that departed. David and Saul were kings and had a special anointing from God to rule the people. Samson also had a special anointing from God to lead Israel. What left Samson and Saul and what David prayed to retain was not the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but rather the Holy Spirit’s anointing to rule. In the same way, the Holy Spirit always indwells a believer, but can anoint that New Testament believer for a specific and temporary purpose.

 Whatever the case may be, the New Testament makes it plain that the Holy Spirit will not leave the believer.

 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever (John 14:16).

 Having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession (Ephesians 1:13,14).

From C. John Collins and the ESV Study Bible: (Crossway, 2008)

Ps. 51:11 “take not your Holy Spirit from me.” Some have taken this to imply that the Holy Spirit can be taken from someone, at least in the OT; others have suggested that the Holy Spirit is viewed here in his role of empowering David for his kingly duties, and that this is a prayer that God not take the kingship and the divine anointing for kingship from David as he did from Saul (1 Sam. 16:14;1 Sam. 16:13).

To evaluate these views, one should observe that the OT rarely discusses the Holy Spirit’s role in cleansing the inner life (besides here, Ezek. 36:27 is the main OT text on the subject), and certainly does not enter into technical questions of the Spirit’s permanent indwelling. Further, the fact that this is a psalm for the whole congregation argues against the idea that this is David’s personal prayer about his kingship.

The whole tenor of this psalm is that, if strict justice were God’s only consideration, he would have the right to bring dire judgment on those who sin (which includes all of his own people), and that the only possible appeal is to his mercy. The function of the psalm, as a song sung by the entire congregation, is to shape their hearts so that they feel this at the deepest level, lest they ever presume upon God’s grace.

Charles Spurgeon on Verse 11:

“Cast me not away from thy presence. Throw me not away as worthless; banish me not, like Cain, from thy face and favour. Permit me to sit among those who share thy love, though I only be suffered to keep the door. I deserve to be forever denied admission to thy courts; but, O good Lord, permit me still the privilege which is dear as life itself to me. Take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Withdraw not his comforts, counsels, assistances, quickenings, else I am indeed as a dead man. Do not leave me as thou didst Saul, when neither by Urim, nor by prophet, nor by dream, thou wouldst answer him. Thy Spirit is my wisdom, leave me not to my folly; he is my strength, O desert me not to my own weakness. Drive me not away from thee, neither do thou go away from me. Keep up the union between us, which is my only hope of salvation. It will be a great wonder if so pure a spirit deigns to stay in so base a heart as mine; but then, Lord, it is all wonder together, therefore do this, for thy mercy’s sake, I earnestly entreat thee.”

[1] Don Stewart, http://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/stewart.cfm?id=489

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What is man? Our place in the mind of God…

June 6, 2011

Psalm 8 is a masterful meditation with a tapestry as rich and complex as the night’s sky. Here a king comes to grips with the significance of God and the minuteness of man. David might be seen strolling atop his palace at night glancing across God’s chosen land into His created heavens, and amid the trappings of royalty, the gold and the silks and the rooms of opulence, he gazes upon a splendor that surpasses all that man can manifest. The earth is wrapped each night in the majestic testimony of the creator God, whom David calls by name. “Oh Yahweh, our Lord.” How many nights he must have seen the heavenly drama unfold, tending sheep. The God he calls to, called him a child an infant, to rise up and still the enemies of Israel. As a small boy, ruddy in complexion, and ruff in demeanor, God used him to establish strength and build a nation, slaying giants and founding cities. Such favor prompts the response, who am I? What is man that You are mindful of him?

Throughout the immensity of earth and the inexhaustible vastness of space God focuses on us, on children in mangers and shepherds in wilderness fields. On single moms and struggling families, students and corporate tycoons, He sees us and is aware of our condition. As we pass by the hurting around us, mindful of only our own needs, God is mindful of them and all of us, and has set about a plan for our redemption and glory.

This psalm is not about our insignificance but rather our insurmountable role as those who would exercise dominion over this creation. God takes the small, the weak, the unwise, the poor and gives them the kingdom of Heaven as an inheritance. Despite being like children, weak and defenseless; despite being the most fragile of God’s creations, as generations of us will pass in the life of a single star, God has chosen to display His glory through us. All that He has created shall be planted beneath our feet and we shall reign.

How majestic is this God? The word majestic used twice in this psalm, is glorious, wondrous, illustrious, illustrating God’s preeminence above His creation. The term is just as good when used to describe the scene in Genesis when the stars are formed, as it is to describe their fall in Revelation. And like his majesty displayed at both ends of scripture, David closes this reflection with the echo of God’s renown. Who are we, but a vast tapestry of God’s grace, millions of minute points of light shining in the darkness bearing witness to His unlimited grace and infinite greatness.

That He is mindful of us in never in doubt, what remains to be seen is if we are mindful of Him.