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Growing in Holiness

“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.
For them I sanctity myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

John 17:17-19

Spring is here. Flowers are blooming. Trees are budding. Grass is beginning to grow. I was surveying my lawn this past weekend and noticed that even though it is not totally green the grass has begun to grow. The growth was not near the surface but deep down near the soil. There the grass was greener than on the surface. Have you ever de-thatched a lawn? The thickly tangled dead and decaying grass is aggressively removed so the fresh, new, green grass might freely grow. It is really a tremendous amount of work!

The process of sanctification is something like this springtime ritual of “scalping” a lawn. God uses the trials and problems of our Christian life to strip away the worthless and self-defeating habits of our old nature to allow the glorious new nature of God’s holy character to appear in us and through us. It sounds like a “good” idea, but it sure is work!

Sanctification is a work of God’s free grace. We are renewed in the whole man after the image of God. We are enabled more and more to die to sin, and live to righteousness. Sanctification is something that is positional, but is also progressive. Christians are given a righteous standing before God. We are made “saints” by His doing. It is the progressive nature of sanctification we all struggle with this side of heaven. It does take much work.

The grass may be green deep below the surface, but the thick tangle of dead and decaying grass, must be systematically removed. Sanctification “is a subject of the utmost importance to our souls. If the Bible be true, it is certain that unless we are ‘sanctified’, we shall not be saved. There are three things which, according to the Bible, are absolutely necessary to the salvation of every man and woman in Christendom. These three are justification, regeneration and sanctification. All three meet in every child of God: he is both born again and justified and sanctified. He that lacks any one of these three things is not a true Christian in the sight of God and, dying in that condition, will not be found in heaven and glorified in that last day” (J.C. Ryle, Holiness).

It is true, we are made “saints” by God’s gracious call through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, but it mustn’t stop there. There must be visible evidence of sanctification in the life of one who is a believer. What are the visible marks of one who is sanctified? What ought we expect to see in him?

True sanctification does not consist simply in talk about religion. “People hear so much of gospel truth that they contract an unholy familiarity with its words and phrases and sometimes talk so fluently about its doctrines that you might think them true Christians. In fact it is sickening and disgusting to hear the cool and flippant language which many pour out about ‘conversion’, ‘the Savior’, ‘the gospel’, ‘finding peace’, ‘free grace’ while they are notoriously serving sin or living for the world” (Ryle, p. 23,24).

We must be sanctified, not only ‘in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth’ (1 John 3:18).

Sanctification does not consist in withdrawing from all social contact and denying our duties and responsibilities to the body of Christ. “Hundreds of hermits have buried themselves in some wilderness, and thousands of men and women have shut themselves up within the walls of monasteries and convents, under the vain idea that by so doing they would escape sin and become emminently holy. They have forgotten that no bolts and bars can keep out the devil and that, wherever we go, we carry that root of all evil, our own hearts…True holiness does not make a Christian evade difficulties, but face and overcome them. Christ would have His people show that His grace is not a mere hot-house plant, which can only thrive under shelter, but a strong hardy thing which can flourish in every relation of life…lt is not the man who hides himself in a cave, but the man who glorifies God as master or servant, parent or child, in the family and in the street, in business and in trade, who is the scriptural type of a sanctified man (Ryle, p. 25).

Jesus prayed, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). It is within the context of the body of Christ that we are sanctified.

Sanctification will show itself in habitual attention to the passive graces of Christianity. These ‘passive’ graces are especially evident in our submission to the will of God, in remaining patient toward one another. Peter puts it this way, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously… (1 Peter 2:21-23). Within the list of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23), nine are named, but three of these, patience, gentleness and self-control, are unquestionably ‘passive’ graces.

“The passive graces are no doubt harder to attain than the active ones, but they are precisely the graces which have the greatest influence on the world. Of one thing I feel very sure: it is nonsense to pretend to progress in our sanctification unless we follow after the meekness, gentleness, longsuffering and forgiveness of which the Bible makes so much. People who are habitually giving way to peevish and cross tempers in daily life, and are constantly sharp with their tongues and disagreeable to all around them, spiteful people, vindictive people, revengeful people, malicious people – of whom, alas, the world is only too full – all such know little as they should know about sanctification” (Ryle, p. 28).

Has God lately been “de-thatching” the lawn of your life . . . stripping away the worthless and self-defeating habits of your old nature so that the hidden green growth of His gloriously holy character might flourish in you and through you? If you have ever de-thatched a lawn, you know it is done with great fear and trembling, wondering if the grass will grow back. It will, but it requires much attention. Systematic watering and careful fertilization is necessary for the development of new growth.

So it is with our sanctification. As God exposes and removes those dead and decaying areas of our lives, we work out our salvation with fear and with trembling, constantly aware that we must remain attentive as God works in us. Never resting one moment, we must systematically water and carefully fertilize the remaining roots with the Living Word of God knowing with confidence that it is God working through His effective grace to develop new growth in us that we might be truly sanctified.

Most gracious heavenly Father,
author of our salvation from beginning to end,
enable us we pray, more and more each day,
to conform to the image and likeness of Christ Jesus,
who is our Lord. You only expose what we are able to endure.
You know our every weakness. Your grace is sufficient to meet every need.
In weakness your power is made perfect. We are weak.
May your Holy Spirit stir in us a desire to be patient, gentle, and self-controlled.
Subdued by the Power of your Word,
may we be sanctified and made holy through Him
who has sanctified us, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

May you have a wonderful week as you experience God at work in you and through you,

Pastor Mark

Sin Stinks!

“And in Him there is no sin.”
1 John 3:5

I remember visiting my grandmother one summer when I was young. More years ago than I would care to admit, my family drove to a quiet little town on the West Central side of Missouri to a place called, Nevada, not too far from Kansas City. Because it is my birthplace and the place where “Granny” lived,  it has always held a special place in my memories.  I remember one particular summer, my cousins also visited and brought with them several little furry, black and white creatures.  Cute and cuddly with a long white stripe running from their heads down to their tales, these baby skunks were the center of attention for a few days.

Now if you’ve ever had the bad fortune of smelling a skunk when it has raised its tail and defended itself, you know it is not the most pleasant of aromas.  Polo cologne it isn’t!  If you have had the misfortune of being sprayed by one of these cute little animals, you know the odor is not something you can easily rid yourself of. That ‘skunk’ smell permeates your clothing and your hair. It seems to embed itself in your skin.  It goes everywhere you go.  It’s there even before you get there! No one wants to be around you because of the offensive smell surrounding you. It seems to bother everyone – everyone but the skunk and others who smell the same. Isn’t it interesting that the very animal whose smell is most offensive to us has no idea that they are offensive and are not offensive to one another!

So it is with sin and the sinner.  The one who is covered with the stench of sin has no idea what a vile thing he is in the presence of God. Those around him who are covered with the same odoriforous smell of depravity are not bothered by the smell either. But,  oh, how offensive it is to the One who is totally without sin.  And none of us are totally without that odor.

“Mortal man can never realize the exceeding sinfulness of sin in the sight of that holy and perfect One with whom we have to do. On the one hand, God is that eternal Being…in whose sight the very ‘heavens are not clean’. He is One who reads thoughts and motives as well as actions and requires ‘truth in the inward parts’ (Job 4:18; 15:15; Ps. 51:6). We, on the other hand – poor blind creatures, here today and gone tomorrow, born in sin, surrounded by sinners, living in a constant atmosphere of weakness, infirmity and imperfection – can form none but the most inadequate conceptions of the hideousness of evil. We have no line to fathom it and no measure by which to gauge it. The blind man can see no difference between a masterpiece of Titian or Raphael and the queen’s head on a village signboard. The deaf man cannot distinguish between a penny whistle and a cathedral organ…And a man, fallen man, I believe, can have no just idea what a vile thing sin is in the sight of that God whose handiwork is absolutely perfect – perfect whether we look through telescope or microscope; perfect in the formation of a mighty planet like Jupiter, with his satellites, keeping time to a second as it rolls around the sun; perfect in the formation of the smallest insect that crawls over a foot of ground.”

(J. C. Ryle, Holiness)

Sin is detestable to God (Jeremiah 44:4). He cannot look upon that which is evil (Hab. 1:13). For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). The soul who continues in sin is the one who will die (Ezekiel 18:4). The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).  It is God who judges the secrets of men’s hearts (Rom. 2:16).  The wicked will be sent away to eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46). Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful (Rev. 21.27). The stench of sin will not be tolerated in the presence of God who is holy and spotless and pure. It cannot be.

There is no greater proof of the fullness of sin than at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The  entire  doctrine  of  His  substitution  and  atonement  is  evidence  of  the seriousness of sin and God’s hatred of it.

“Terribly black must that guilt be for which nothing but the blood of the Son of God could make satisfaction. Heavy must that weight of human sin be which made Jesus groan and sweat drops as of blood in agony at Gethsemane and cry at Golgotha, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ (Matt. 27:46).  Nothing, I am  convinced, will astonish us so much, when we awake in the resurrection day, as the view we shall have of sin and the retrospect we shall take of our own countless shortcomings and defects. Never till the hour when Christ comes the second time shall we fully realize the ‘sinfulness of sin’.” (Ryle)

Our sin separates us from God. It is a stench in His nostrils. Just as we can’t stand to be in the presence of those little creatures with odoriferous scents, God refuses to allow any who are covered with the scent of sin into His presence. Thanks be to God, that by His Grace, He has provided a way for us to fellowship with Him. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). God turned His face away from Jesus while he was on the cross. Our Holy God ‘forsook’ Him who knew no sin as He (Jesus) became sin for us. Our sin, and the stench of our depravity, Jesus presented to the Father, as a holy and living sacrifice. His righteousness is our righteousness as we come before the One God, Holy and Righteous, and Pure, through faith and repentance in the one who is our Righteousness, Jesus Christ.

No matter what you do to a skunk, it will always be a skunk. Even when its scent gland is removed, it still carries a distinct odor of ‘skunk’. We are still sinners, saved by God’s grace, allowed into His presence because Jesus Christ intercedes for us, but we are still sinners none the less.  May  we  with  an  ever increasing  awareness  understand  the seriousness of sin.  Individually it separates us from God.  Corporately if left unchecked, it will destroy His Church. We should rejoice that our sins are covered, but we should mourn over the remaining sin in our lives. That mourning should force us to our knees as we bow before Him asking for forgiveness, repenting of our sins and turning from our evil ways.

O My Saviour,
I thank thee from the depths of my being
for thy wondrous grace and love
in bearing my sin in thine own body on the tree.
May thy cross be to me
as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs,
as the rod that blossoms with life and  beauty.
as the brazen serpent that calls forth the look of faith.
By thy cross crucify my every sin;
Use it to increase my intimacy with thyself;
Make it the ground of all my comfort,
the liveliness of all my duties,
the sum of all thy gospel promises,
the comfort of all my afflictions,
the vigour of my love, thankfulness, graces,
the very essence of my religion;
And by it give me that rest without rest,
the rest of ceaseless praise.
(from the Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Arthur Bennett)

Blessings and Peace to you all,

Pastor Mark

Gracious Provision

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

No one can come to Me
unless the Father who sent Me draws him,
and I will raise him up at the last day
John 6:44

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound in sin and nature’s night
thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
Amazing Love! How can it be that thou,
 my God, shouldst die for me?

 

These words from the hymn by Charles Wesley (1738) remind us that our salvation coChains that Bind Usmes to us, not by works of our own hands, but by the gracious provision of a holy God through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). God effectually clothes those who would be saved with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, effectually calling them to freedom from the binding chains of sin.

 The Reformed or Augustinian doctrine of election is grounded in the fact that man is so sinful, so depraved in his fallenness, that apart from the irresistible grace of God no one could ever turn to Christ. Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”

Notice he didn’t say some people can come. He didn’t say only a few people can come. He said NO ONE is able to come to Him. Absolutely no one can come unless God does something first.

Notice that Jesus said “can.” Can means “is able,” while may means “has permission.” Jesus did not say that no one has permission to come to Him, or no one may come to Him. No, he said that no one is able to come to him. No one is able because man is totally depraved. Every faculty – mind, will, emotions – has been corrupted by sin. No one seeks after God because no one is good, holy, and righteous even in the least.

Jesus said no one can come to Him “unless.” An exception is introduced. Apart from this exception, no one could ever come to Christ. It is God the Father who “draws” men to a saving knowledge of Christ. This word “draw” doesn’t mean to “woo” or “entice.”

Some people think that God gives grace to everyone, but that grace has a limited effect. It does not force people to come but only woos them. The final decision rests with the sinner. This view says that God foresees who will accept the gospel. Then because God foresees that particular person will accept the gospel, he regenerates him when that time comes. This makes regeneration a reward conferred rather than a gift which enables.

God “draws” to himself those He effectual regenerates. In John 6:44 we read, “Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?” Acts 16:19 says, “They dragged them into the marketplace.” The same Greek word is used in all three verses. Obviously, mere enticement is not meant.

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament tells us that the word translated draw in John 6:44 means “to compel by irresistible authority.” It was used in classical Greek for drawing water from a well. When was the last time you enticed or persuaded water to come up from the well? Of course, this could never happen! We force the water to come to the top of the well, drawing it up in a bucket against the force of gravity. So it is with us. We are so depraved that God must “draw” us to Himself. While we were dead in transgression, He made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5).

G.I. Williamson in his study guide for The Westminster Confession of Faith writes: “Regeneration is something that man has no part in, so far as doing anything is concerned. He is wholly passive therein. He is not performing or operating in regeneration. Rather, he is operated upon, and the result of that operation is that he has another heart, mind, or soul. This regeneration is closely associated with the preaching of the gospel (in ordinary cases) but it is not the gospel which regenerates. It is the Holy Spirit. We may think of the Word of God as the instrument employed by God to effect his regeneration, but the regenerating is done, not by the gospel itself, but only by the Holy Spirit who is pleased to operate through it.

This regeneration effects an essential change in the whole soul – the reason, the emotions, and the will. Such a one who is regenerated begins, immediately upon regeneration, to think differently, to feel differently, and to will differently than before. And because this is so, he will thankfully accept the free offer of the gospel. So God’s call becomes effectual. It is effectual in every such case. Every such elect person repents and believes. And he does so because he begins to act out of a new nature created or implanted by generation.” p. 90

 

No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th’eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Every time you pray this week, thank God for His sovereignty in salvation. Thank Him for His unconditional love. Stand in amazement of His total provision. Know with certainty the reality of heaven. Express your gratitude and joy for God’s work of redemption in your life.

May God richly bless you this week as you rejoice in His eternal provision,

Pastor Mark

Regeneration, Faith and Repentance

October 1, 2010 1 comment

No one can come to Me
unless the Father who sent Me draws him,
and I will raise him up at the last day

John 6:44
 

 

Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night
thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
Amazing Love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
 

 

These words from the hymn by Charles Wesley (1738) remind us that our salvation comes to us, not by works of our own hands, but by the gracious provision of a holy God through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). God effectually clothes those who would be saved with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, effectually calling them to freedom from the binding chains of sin.

The Reformed or Augustinian doctrine of election is grounded in the fact that man is so sinful, so depraved in his fallenness, that apart from the irresistible grace of God no one could ever turn to Christ. Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” He didn’t say some people can come. He didn’t say only a few people can come. He said NO ONE is able to come to Him. Absolutely no one can come unless God does something first.

Notice that Jesus said “can.” Can means “is able,” while may means “has permission.” Jesus did not say that no one has permission to come to Him, or no one may come to Him. No, he said that no one is able to come to him. No one is able because man is totally depraved. Every faculty – mind, will, emotions – has been corrupted by sin. No one seeks after God because no one is good, holy, and righteous even in the least.

Jesus said no one can come to Him “unless.” An exception is introduced. Apart from this exception, no one could ever come to Christ. It is God the Father who “draws” men to a saving knowledge of Christ. This word “draw” doesn’t mean to “woo” or “entice.” Some people think that God gives grace to everyone, but that grace has a limited effect. It does not force people to come but only woos them. The final decision rests with the sinner. This view says that God foresees who will accept the gospel. Then because God foresees that particular person will accept the gospel, he regenerates him when that time comes. This makes regeneration a reward conferred rather than a gift which enables.

God “draws” to himself those He effectual regenerates. In John 6:44 we read, “Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?” Acts 16:19 says, “They dragged them into the marketplace.” The same Greek word is used in all three verses. Obviously, mere enticement is not meant.

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament tells us that the word translated draw in John 6:44 means “to compel by irresistible authority.” It was used in classical Greek for drawing water from a well. When was the last time you enticed or persuaded water to come up from the well? Of course, this could never happen! We force the water to come to the top of the well, drawing it up in a bucket against the force of gravity. So it is with us. We are so depraved that God must “draw” us to Himself. While we were dead in transgression, He made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5).

G.I. Williamson in his study guide for The Westminster Confession of Faith writes: “Regeneration is something that man has no part in, so far as doing anything is concerned. He is wholly passive therein. He is not performing or operating in regeneration. Rather, he is operated upon, and the result of that operation is that he has another heart, mind, or soul. This regeneration is closely associated with the preaching of the gospel (in ordinary cases) but it is not the gospel which regenerates. It is the Holy Spirit. We may think of the Word of God as the instrument employed by God to effect his regeneration, but the regenerating is done, not by the gospel itself, but only by the Holy Spirit who is pleased to operate through it. This regeneration effects an essential change in the whole soul – the reason, the emotions, and the will. Such a one who is regenerated begins, immediately upon regeneration, to think differently, to feel differently, and to will differently than before. And because this is so, he will thankfully accept the free offer of the gospel. So God’s call becomes effectual. It is effectual in every such case. Every such elect person repents and believes. And he does so because he begins to act out of a new nature created or implanted by generation.” p. 90

No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th’eternal throne, and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Every time you pray this week, thank God for His sovereignty in salvation. Thank Him for His unconditional love. Stand in amazement of His total provision. Know with certainty the reality of heaven. Express your gratitude and joy for God’s work of redemption in your life.

May God richly bless you this week as you rejoice in His eternal provision,

Pastor Mark