September 20, 2014

Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

The more I read the gospel accounts of the life and service of Jesus, the more I learn about the Bible's unity and encouragement for everyday life.

One of my favorite stories from the gospels (and there are many!) is that of the storm on the sea of Galilee.

The Gospel According to Mark tells it this way:
"On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, 'Let us go across to the other side.' And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?' And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, 'Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?' And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, 'Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?'"
(Mark 4:35-41 ESV)
There are so many awesome things that can be taken from this story for encouragement. The following is just one of them. 

What the disciples experienced

First, consider how the disciples experienced this storm. They felt the rain and the waves pouring into the boat. They heard and felt the wind. They saw Jesus asleep in the stern in the middle of it all. They became agitated enough to wake him up and ask him if he even cared that they were all about to drown. They heard him rebuke the wind and tell the sea to be still. They saw the storm come to an immediate stop and all was calm. This made them feel even more fear pressing upon them, so that they asked, "Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?"

That question, "Who is this guy?" was inspired by their astonishment at his power to calm the storm with a word. It was a good question.

What they knew about Jesus

They already knew Jesus was the prophet that Moses predicted would lead God's people in Deuteronomy 18:15,18-19, because they acknowledged it in John 1:45. They also acknowledged that they knew Jesus was the true anointed king of Israel, the son of David called "Messiah" ("Christos" in Greek). This is acknowledged by them in John 1:41. Though they knew that, they were still shocked at how much power he displayed over the forces of nature. They had seen him heal the sick and cast out many demons with a word. But this event became another confounding moment for them.

How the account leaves us to wonder

What I love about this story is that the author Mark doesn't just answer their question. He left room for us the readers to wonder. He doesn't just write, "This, of course, happened because Jesus is the Son of God." Mark plainly revealed this fact about Jesus at the intro of his gospel, but he also gave room for readers to think about the things Jesus did and wonder about them. 

Something I like to do when I read this is think back to the Law and the Prophets, the writings of the Old Testament, and find bits of revelation about Jesus there that complement stories like this one. One of the places I go to is Psalm 65:7, where king David sings the Lord's praises by describing how God "stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples," and then adds in verse 8, "so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs." (ESV)

Then there is Psalm 88:9,
"You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them." (ESV)
Another great passage that describes God's power over the sea is this one,
"Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits' end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!"
(Psalms 107:23-31 ESV)
I love discovering these things in the Bible, because they help me understand Jesus the Messiah better, and in understanding Jesus better, I'm able to know God better, and in knowing God better, there is less to fear.

January 29, 2013

The Uncomfortable Conversation

Responses to friends or family, or even strangers, who talk to us about spiritual matters tend to result in knee-jerk reactions trying to avoid hearing or openly discussing what they have to say. But why is that?

Why do we feel so uncomfortable when someone close to us wants to talk to about the very things we all know matter most in life?

Doubtless, we all know what its like to be scolded by someone unnecessarily, or to be in the room with the person who is overly critical but will not listen to anyone else's opinion. I'm not referring to that particular kind of uncomfortable conversation. There are good strategies for dealing with people in such situations, but that's a topic for another time.

It would take quite some time to describe in detail all the answers that could be found in the Bible for why we tend to feel stressed in conversations regarding spiritual realities. Some natural reasons, of course, may be that we believe there is too much disagreement among various religious points of view. However, I believe the answer lies in questioning why we believe so strongly that agreement is unattainable.

The Bible teaches that we tend to avoid uncomfortable discussions about spiritual truth because we naturally do not like to be in the light. Just after telling Nicodemus about God's love for the world in John 3:16, Jesus also said that people hate the light and will not come into the light because they are afraid of having their sinful behavior exposed (John 3:19).

We usually react to statements like that by thinking it does not apply to us, but must be referring to other people out there somewhere. That kind of reasoning is called self-justification, which the Bible also points out as sinful. King David wrote that he wanted to be rebuked for his sin because it would help him avoid what was evil (Psalm 141:5; see also v. 4). David's son and heir to his royal throne, Solomon, wrote that people who hate correction are stupid (Proverbs 12:1) but that a wise man will love you if you rebuke him (Proverbs 9:8). Solomon also said that the prayer of the person who will not listen to God's Law is an abomination, and if they continually refuse to listen to correction, they will come to ruin suddenly without any hope (Proverbs 28:9; Proverbs 29:1). Jesus taught that unrighteous thoughts spring from a corrupt heart (Mark 7:20-22) and the apostle Paul, quoting from Psalm 14, explained that there is no one who is righteous and without sin. But when someone openly brings up similar things in a conversation, we may feel annoyed, or worse, angry.

We do not like to be judged, and so we often respond with the notion that "only God can judge our hearts...and he loves everybody anyway," so we tend to avoid talking about it. But what we forget is that God's Word is judging our hearts openly already, because that is its purpose (Hebrews 4:12). We do not need to run from that judgment like running from a fiery explosion, but we should step into it like stepping into the warm sunshine where all our blemishes can be seen for what they are, and can be healed as well.

So the next time anyone talks to you about the uncomfortable truths of the Bible, instead of shutting them down or turning away, engage with them openly and tell them how much you appreciate it, even though it may make you feel uncomfortable or you may disagree. Usually the best things in life make us feel uncomfortable at first, until we are trained by them. Exercise is never comfortable at the beginning, but we all know how much better we feel and look in the long run when we endure it. Endure the pain of those tough conversations for your own good and for the good of your loved ones. If they lead you to a deeper relationship with Christ, then you will be eternally blessed and happy for it.

December 27, 2012

Creator and Creation in Genesis 1:1

© 2011 Penn Tomassetti
Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

This verse sums up all things that exists as having been created in the beginning by God

The heavens and the earth did not always exist, they were created. God created them, but God was uncreated. God simply is what he is. 

In the beginning indicates a starting point. I take this to mean the beginning of everything, including all spiritual creations, as well as physical. God is the origin, the source of the existence of the heavens and the earth. Though they have a point of beginning, God has none. He simply is.

The heavens and the earth are dependent for their created and sustained existence, but God is independent. If we were to say that God is dependent on something, he would depend on himself. He is self-existent. That is to say, God's existence depends on God. Another way to put it is to say that he is ultimate. He is the bottom line, so to speak.

God acted in creation. He performed a work. Power, which is the ability to do something, was exercised by him, through him, and for him.

Creation was ex nihilo, or from nothing. God, who is, made something to be that was not until he caused it to be.

In speaking of reality, God is the ultimate reality, for only he simply is. All reality besides him is from him and depends on him for it to be real. All reality is therefore God's reality. In looking at this verse, it seems that all dependent reality is contained in two levels:
1) the heavens
2) the earth

Both levels exist as creaturely, that is, they are created. There is a distinction of essence between the Creator on the one hand, and the created on the other. The Creator exists apart from and independent of the created, and the created exists from and dependent on the Creator. Nothing exists apart from God, though God exists apart from everything besides himself. Therefore God is holy, separate, different, wholly other than his works of creation.

On account of this doctrine, God is to be regarded by us as sovereign, that is, he is supreme and authoritative. We look to him for all that we are and can be.

The subject of science often enters into discussions about creation from Genesis chapter one. But we must keep in mind that science, which comes from a latin word meaning knowledge, is the study of the natural world through human observation. When we speak of a natural world, we are speaking of the creation that depends on God for its existence. When we speak of human observation, we are speaking of created beings capable of knowing things by virtue of their created existence. So when we talk about science, we are talking about creation and what we can know about it. Such things are only possible because God has made them so. That is why the person who wants to separate his knowledge of God from what he can know about nature, studying it independently from him and calling that 'science', is badly mistaken. We depend on God in order to do even that. Therefore we must acknowledge our dependence on God as our Creator and Sustainer in order to know anything at all as it should be known, and by doing so, honor and glorify him.

Note, a fuller treatment of epistemology cannot be treated here, nor can a refutation of atheism, other religious traditions, or an in depth study of what other ancient cultures thought about creation be dealt with here. Those are topics for another occasion. However, I should mention that this verse comes down to us as part of God's revelation of himself and his works to us, his creatures. God communicated the knowledge of himself and his act in creation in order that we might know something about it, and therefore the message of verse one of Genesis chapter one is dependent on God's revealing it, which we believe and confess he has done.

September 23, 2012

My Thoughts on Genesis 1:1

As an exercise in faith seeking to understand all that God has provided for me in His written Word, I began writing some thoughts down as I read Genesis 1:1. There is a lot that could be written on this verse, but my aim was simply to look at what it says and what I can learn from it. I also included a note about the first book of the Bible, of which this verse is the opening one.



In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 
(Genesis 1:1 ESV)


Moses began this Genesis story with a statement of fact, the fact that Elohim (God) created the heavens and the earth. The heavens and the earth include everything. The only uncreated thing is God, who alone is Creator. The beginning was when and where it all started. Nothing created is without a beginning in space and time. This verse presents some of the qualities or characteristics of the God of Israel as eternal, powerful, creative, and beyond space and time. But creation is presented as temporal and dependent. There was a time when the heavens and earth did not exist, so we say they were made from nothing.

Some clear and logical observations from Genesis 1:1 are that:
1. God is the creator.
2. The heavens and the earth are his creation.
3. The beginning was the time of creation.
4. Which leads us to understand that our existence depends on God.
5. We belong to God as his workmanship.
6. We may naturally feel awed by God when we are in awe of his created works, and so direct our worship to Him.
7. As God's creatures, we are dependent on him for the right knowledge of him and for the right knowledge of ourselves and how we ought to live.

A little about the book of Genesis:
The first book of Moses, or Genesis, was written to people who naturally were descendants of Adam and Eve, God's first created human couple. That would include all of us.

It was also written more specifically to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, three of the most prominent characters in this story. They were the Hebrews, or Israelites. Here, Moses instructed the Hebrews about their God and their beginnings. This is why Genesis is called the book of beginnings. It tells of the beginning of creation, as well as the beginnings of nations, languages, kingdoms and culture. The beginning of creation is followed by the beginning of rebellion and death, which leads to the beginning of redemption and the promise of a new creation to come.

Additionally, it is important to note that the New Testament plainly teaches that Jesus Christ created all things. In fact, the Trinity - God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, each had a role to play in creation. This is a topic for another post, but nevertheless cannot go unstated.

September 4, 2012

Jonathan Edwards' Directions for Getting Christian Knowledge

Currently, I'm studying a sermon by Jonathan Edwards, titled: "Christian Knowledge", or, under its full title: "Christian Knowledge: The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth".

Hopefully you are already convinced that it is both your privilege and duty to read the Holy Scriptures and learn to understand their message, I offer you these wise directions from Jonathan on how to do so:

Directions for the acquisition of Christian knowledge

1. BE assiduous in reading the Holy Scriptures. This is the fountain whence all knowledge in divinity must be derived.

Therefore let not this treasure lie by you neglected. Every man of common understanding who can read, may, if he please, become well acquainted with the Scriptures. And what an excellent attainment would this be!

2. Content not yourselves with only a cursory reading, without regarding the sense. This is an ill way of reading, to which, however, many accustom themselves all their days. When you read, observe what you read. Observe how things come in. Take notice of the drift of the discourse, and compare one scripture with another. For the Scripture, by the harmony of its different; parts, casts great light upon itself.--We are expressly directed by Christ, to search the Scriptures, which evidently intends something more than a mere cursory reading. And use means to find out the meaning of the Scripture. When you have it explained in the preaching of the word, take notice of it; and if at any time a scripture that you did not understand be cleared up to your satisfaction, mark it, lay it up, and if possible remember it.

3. Procure, and diligently use, other books which may help you to grow in this knowledge. There are many excellent books extant, which might greatly forward you in this knowledge, and afford you a very profitable and pleasant entertainment in your leisure hours. There is doubtless a great defect in many, that through a lothness to be at a little expense, they furnish themselves with no more helps of this nature. They have a few books indeed, which now and then on sabbath-days they read; but they have had them so long, and read them so often, that they are weary of them, and it is now become a dull story, a mere task to read them.

4. Improve conversation with others to this end. How much might persons promote each other's knowledge in divine things, if they would improve conversation as they might; if men that are ignorant were not ashamed to show their ignorance, and were willing to learn of others; if those that have knowledge would communicate it, without pride and ostentation; and if all were more disposed to enter on such conversation as would be for their mutual edification and instruction.

5. Seek not to grow in knowledge chiefly for the sake of applause, and to enable you to dispute with others; but seek it for the benefit of your souls, and in order to practice.--If applause be your end, you will not be so likely to be led to the knowledge of the truth, but may justly, as often is the case of those who are proud of their knowledge, be led into error to your own perdition. This being your end, if you should obtain much rational knowledge, it would not be likely to be of any benefit to you, but would puff you up with pride: 1 Cor. viii. 1. " Knowledge puffeth up."

6. Seek to God, that he would direct you, and bless you, in this pursuit after knowledge. This is the apostle's direction, James i. 5. " If any man lack wisdom, let him ask it of God, who giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not." God is the fountain of all divine knowledge: Prov. ii. 6. "The Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding." Labour to be sensible of your own blindness and ignorance, and your need of the help of God, lest you be led into error, instead of true knowledge: 1 Cor. iii. 18. " If any man would be wise, let him become a fool, that he may be wise."

7. Practice according to what knowledge you have. This will be the way to know more. The psalmist warmly recommends this way of seeking knowledge in divine truth, from his own experience: Psal. cxix. 100. " I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts." Christ also recommends the same: John vii. 17. "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." 


Quoted from: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.knowledge.html

August 24, 2012

God's Word is full enough to occupy our minds forever

"The word of God, which is given for our instruction in divinity, contains enough in it to employ us to the end of our lives, and then we shall leave enough uninvestigated to employ the heads of the ablest divines to the end of the world. The psalmist found an end to the things that are human; but he could never find an end to what is contained in the word of God: Psal. cxix. 96. " I have seen an end to all perfection; but thy command is exceeding broad." There is enough in this divine science to employ the understandings of saints and angels to all eternity."

- Jonathan Edwards, from his sermon: Christian Knowledge

August 16, 2012

A Grace Quote from Calvin and the Law

As I read and study the Holy Scriptures, I'm struck at how much I find myself seeing in them exactly what John Calvin saw 500 years ago as he studied them. Here he describes the way the Law of God leads us to depend fully on mercy in Christ:

"But while the unrighteousness and condemnation of all are attested by the law, it does not follow (if we make the proper use of it) that we are immediately to give up all hope and rush headlong on despair. No doubt, it has some such effect upon the reprobate, but this is owing to their obstinacy. With the children of God the effect is different. The Apostle testifies that the law pronounces its sentence of condemnation in order “that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom 3:19). In another place, however, the same Apostle declares, that “God has concluded them all in unbelief;” not that he might destroy all, or allow all to perish, but that “he might have mercy upon all” (Rom 11:32:) in other words, that divesting themselves of an absurd opinion of their own virtue, they may perceive how they are wholly dependent on the hand of God; that feeling how naked and destitute they are, they may take refuge in his mercy, rely upon it, and cover themselves up entirely with it; renouncing all righteousness and merit, and clinging to mercy alone, as offered in Christ to all who long and look for it in true faith. In the precepts of the law, God is seen as the rewarder only of perfect righteousness (a righteousness of which all are destitute), and, on the other hand, as the stern avenger of wickedness. But in Christ his countenance beams forth full of grace and gentleness towards poor unworthy sinners."
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II.8

Note how one of the purposes of God's Law is to testify to our guilt and deserved condemnation before the absolutely Holy God. But this knowledge should not lead us to "give up all hope and rush headlong on despair." Instead, recognizing that the Law is just and true, and that we are guilty and helpless, we may find a reason to cling to Christ. Because now the cross and empty tomb make more sense to us, since it is there that Jesus paid the penalty of the Law for us, making us free.

The Law shuts mouths, so that nobody can justify themselves before God who knows all things. It forces us by its divine authority to accept a guilty verdict. But this is so that we may obtain mercy if we repent and confess our sins to God now. We may obtain mercy and find grace through faith, because Jesus Christ provides our righteousness, apart from works of the Law, as a gift which we depend fully on Him for, and not ourselves.

So next time you are tempted to despair from the high standard set by God's Law, look to Jesus. And if you do not have a high enough regard for God's Law yet, let it shut you up and show you just how much you really do need mercy.

Χάρις και ειρήνη
Grace and peace

May 19, 2012

The Sovereignty of God and Human Government

Why is it important to know what God's opinion is about governments and their rulers? Because God is sovereign. And this doesn’t just mean that God controls all beings and all things, but also that He possesses full rights over all things, including over the civil authorities.

This is why God presents Himself in the Holy Scriptures as King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Those who rule the nations are under His authority and derive their authority from Him, even when they do not recognize it.

That is what Paul teaches in Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (vv. 1-2). Earthly governors possess authority because God invested it in them. In John 19:11 the Lord Jesus says to Pilate: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” Pilate’s authority, ultimately, is not derived from Caesar, but from God Himself. This scriptural truth has far-reaching repercussions.

First, it implies that God alone has the right to define the function of rulers and to limit their authority.

What are human governments supposed to do? How far does their authority extend? What standard of justice should they cause to prevail? How are rulers supposed to to behave? The only one who can respond to these questions is God Himself, since it is He who instituted civil authority.

Second, this means that national rulers do not possess absolute power, since their authority is delegated, subordinate to the authority of God.

One of the most powerful rulers of antiquity was Nebuchadnezzar, the great Babylonian king; but when this king started to be overcome by his pride, Daniel had to remind him of this truth from the Scriptures: “You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory” (Daniel 2:37 NKJV). The authority that rulers possess is an authority which has been delegated to them.

But this also implies that national rulers are responsible before God for the exercise of their authority and one day will have to give an account before Him for the stewardship with which they were entrusted. In Romans 13 Paul refers to magistrates as “servants of God.” Even though they do not recognize themselves as such, that is what they are, servants of God Almighty, called to perform a specific task for the common good.

That is why the first duty of a ruler is to submit himself to the authority of God. In Psalm 2:10-11 David says: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise [the idea is to act with discretion, instead of opposing God, submit to Him]; be warned, O rulers of the earth [allow yourselves to be taught]. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (ESV).

The God of Scripture is sovereign; He possess full rights over everything created, including human governments. His sovereignty even extends to the kings of the earth. And as His ministers, we have the responsibility to proclaim what He has revealed in His Word concerning these things.

In our next post we will look at the common grace of God and human governments; in order to consider what a ruler should be like, according to the general principles of God’s Word.

 © by Sugel Michelén. Originally published on the author’s blog Todo Pensamiento Cautivo, as La soberanía de Dios y los gobernantes humanos. Translated into English with permission by Penn Tomassetti. You can reproduce and distribute this material, as long as it is without charge, without altering its content, and with recognition of its author and origin.

May 18, 2012

Facing the Next Election as a Christian

Considering all the talk about presidential candidates and future elections, this post is fitting for any concerned citizen to consider.

Facing the Next Election as a Christian 

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Russian writer who won the Nobel prize of literature in 1970, on one occasion announced these words: "More than 50 years ago, when I was a child, I remember having heard many older people offer the following explanation for the great disaster that had fallen upon Russia: 'Men have forgotten God; and that is why all these things have happened.' Since then I have dedicated a little less than 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and contributed up to eight of my own volumes in the effort to clear the ashes left from the catastrophe. But if you asked me today to give the most precise formulation possible for the main cause of this ruinous revolution which has devoured more than 60 million of our own people, I could not express it more precisely than to repeat: 'Men have forgotten God; and that is why all these things have happened.'" (J. S. Feinberg & P. D. Feinberg; Ethics for a Brave New World; chapt. 14)

Solzhenitsyn saw a direct relationship between the established politic of the Soviet Union as a root of the revolution's Bolshevik triumph, with all the consequences the revolution brought with it, and the atheism which sustained the ideology of those who promoted it.

Ideas have consequences. How you think will determine how you live, the decisions you take, the things you value; it will determine the course of your life. That’s why Solomon said in Proverbs 23:7 that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. We have all spent years acquiring, consciously and unconsciously, a collection of ideas that we assume are good and valid; and it is this collection of presuppositions which form our "worldview", the view we hold of the world and the point of reference we use to interpret data from the world surrounding us. Even though not everyone is crucially conscious of it, everyone has a point of reference formed by their most basic beliefs, and which influences every area of their lives, including their perspectives on politics.

That is why we insist on the fact that Christianity is much more than a message about the salvation of sinners through the person and redemptive work of Christ; Christianity provides an adequate point of reference for interpreting things as they are and for interacting with them consequently.

Christians behave in a distinct way from those who are not Christian because they have a different worldview, another perspective on things; and that distinct Christian perspective must govern us during the next election day when we go to exercise our right to vote.

It is lamentable that many Christians relate their Christianity only to that which fits within the “spiritual life” compartment. They behave like Christians when they go to church, when they meet with family for times of devotion, or when they read the Scriptures in private. But when they involve themselves in business activities, when they are having fun or when they go to the polls to vote for a candidate, they do so as any other unbeliever would do. These people suffer from a very common illness: lack of integrity.

The word “integrity” comes from the Latin “integritas” which means “quality of the whole, entire, soundness, to be complete”. A person with integrity does not divide their life into compartments: “I act like a saint, as a Christian, in this area over here and in that other area over there, but everywhere else I act like a pagan.” No. The man of integrity is the same wherever he goes, he is not double-minded. The very principle that guides his relationship with God and his spiritual life is the very same principle that guides him when it is time to choose a candidate.

In the next article, I would like to focus on the profile the Lord gives us in His Word for a good governor. However I do want to say beforehand that I do not intend to tell you which of the current presidential candidates you should vote for. If you begin to read between the lines you might seem to find indications here and there that reveal the “hidden message” that we supposedly would like to get across in this article; but there really is no hidden message to unveil. What we want to say is what we are going to say and no more.

We are expounding this theme because we have the scriptural conviction that we should teach the church the whole counsel of God, in such a way that Christians learn to act as Christians in every area of life. God has left us an abundance of information in His Word about governors and governments. Our duty as pastors is to pass on to you that information so that each one of you can exercise your right to vote in this next election with an informed conscience.

© by Sugel Michelén. Originally published in the author’s blog Todo Pensamiento Cautivo, as El Cristiano frente a las próximas elecciones. Translated into English with permission by Penn Tomassetti. You can reproduce and distribute this material, as long as it is without charge, without altering its content, and with recognition of its author and origin.

May 16, 2012

God's Children Don't Sin

4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
(1 John 3:4-10 ESV) 

Earlier in this letter, John explained that speaking the truth about knowing Jesus Christ means having the actions to back up such a claim. Nobody who merely says they are Christian should be regarded as one if they do not do what Jesus commands.

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
(1 John 2:1-6)

The reason Christians do not sin is that they are God's children, children of light and not of darkness. If they were still in the world of darkness, unbelief and sin, they would have no problem living a sinful, self-righteous, or licentious lifestyle. But now they belong to God and have His seed within them through the work of the Holy Spirit in them. They will not do as the apostates do, who turn from the truth to practice lawlessness. Even if they do sin, they confess it and continue to repent. They cannot sin in the sense of ultimately turning from Christ. He guards them as His own. He set them free from Satan and made them new after the image of God, who loves righteousness.

Obedience is the sign of true and saving faith, not the root of it. It is the fruit that grows out of the tree planted in the soil stained with the Lord's blood. Those who do not have the works to back up their faith, simply do not have faith. But take heart if this worries you, God gives faith as a gift to all whom He chose for salvation before the foundation of the world.

Jesus Christ is the advocate in the sense that He appeals to the Father on behalf of sinners who repent and trust in Him. He has been raised to everlasting life, so His appeals will always be accepted before our God and Father. He is also their propitiation in the sense that His life was given over to death in exchange for sinners who repent and trust in Him. All of their sins are propitiated by His blood, so that they are completely forgiven forever and ever. Whoever does not repent and trust in Him is not forgiven through His blood. Not yet...

But if you turn to Jesus and repent and submit to Him as your Lord and God, doing what He says and not hearing it only, then you have faith and your life will begin to change. And when you commit errors and do not live in perfect obedience to the Lord, your confession of those sins to Jesus, your sadness and willingness to change and obey, will show that you are not sinning in the sense that John described about those who are not genuine. Seek the Lord and do what He says, but remember that He saves by grace as a gift through faith alone. Your works of obedience are simply His power in you causing you to live out your salvation in real life.

God bless!

February 15, 2012

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer:

That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

~ Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1

February 1, 2012

Proclaiming the Triune God

The following is a little tract I'm working on as part of a series of very brief evangelistic messages that I've been producing. During the long period of time I have spent not blogging, I have not stopped writing. Much of my writing has been in the form of making little tracts or doing personal Bible study. Here is one of my newest tracts titled:

WHAT IS THE TRINITY?

GOD has not hidden Himself from people so that they cannot know Him, but has revealed Himself in history and in the Holy Scriptures. In the Bible, God speaks of Himself as three distinct Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We read God saying, “Let us make man in our image,” in Genesis chapter one. We also read the Shema, a Hebrew confession of faith, which says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This confession tells us that God is one. Yet God speaks of Himself as “us,” and also reveals Himself as Father, Word, and Spirit. In John 1:1 we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word refers to Jesus, the Son. In verse 14 it says, “And the Word became flesh.” That is, the Word, who is called God, became a real, physical man. Jesus is both fully God and fully human. Jesus also spoke of another Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit. At His baptism, the Father spoke of His beloved Son and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove. Jesus also sent His disciples into the world to teach and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). God is three, yet one, which is why we use the term Trinity. While we may not understand everything about God, we can and must understand what He has clearly revealed about Himself. God has told us what He is like in the Bible, and the Bible shows that He is three distinct Persons in unity and harmony as one God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. See the New Testament for more.