There are two ways to look at “God’s will” for things. One way is to think in terms of God’s decree, i.e. His sovereign will by which He has ordained all things that come to pass. All of the Bible’s passages about God’s sovereignty, e.g. Job 42:2, Daniel 4:35, Psalm 115:3, speak about this; but the repeated phrase in Ephesians
1:3-14 is most explicit: God does all things “according to the purpose of his will.”
However, we are not meant to live out of God’s decree. “The secret things”, i.e. what God has decreed, “belong to the Lord our God.” (Deuteronomy 29:29a). We don’t know what these decreed things are, but we trust that “the Lord our God does all things well”, as we sing in one of our hymns. “But the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy
Simply put: God’s will is God’s word! Like Jesus, we are meant to “live out of every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.“ (Matthew 4:4, cf. Deuteronomy 8:3). That’s one of the wonderful things about having God’s Word. It is our GPS to tell us where we are and how to get to where we need to go throughout our lives. (Of course, our ultimate destination is New Heavens and New Earth - and only the Bible as it focuses on Jesus can direct us there!). The whole Word of God is given that we might be “thoroughly equipped unto every good work” (II Timothy 3:17) and those good works are certainly God’s will for our lives.
But when most people ask your question, i.e. “How can I know God’s will for my life?” they want to know specifically what God wants them to do now and in the future. That begins by your entirely surrendering yourself to God with a commitment to serve him with your whole being because Jesus committed himself to you with His whole being. “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1) We’ll get into specifics of that next week but, for now, I simply ask you who want to know the will of God for your lives: Are you presenting yourselves moment by moment as living sacrifices for the glory of God? That IS God’s will for your life!
In the first part of the answer to your commonly-asked question, I emphasized that God’s revealed will, not his decreed will are what we are meant to live out of, Deuteronomy 29:29. That will is what we learn from the Bible, rightly interpreted and rightly applied. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, Matthew 4:4. The Bible is our GPS to direct us through life. I also emphasized that the most important way to know God’s will for our lives is to surrender ourselves to Him as He is made known in Jesus Christ. Romans 12:1 calls us to do that as our “reasonable service”, Romans 12:2 tells us that in that way, i.e. by not being conformed to this world, but by being transformed by the renewing of our minds, we will, by testing, know that God’s will is good, pleasing and perfect.
This testing comes as, moment by moment, you do what God would have you do according to His word. When Psalm 119:105 says that God’s word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path keep in mind that there were no LED lights in the ancient world (The Psalms - like the rest of the Old Testament - were written several hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ!). The lamp and light were candles that illuminated the next step of your walk in darkness. That gives a profound insight into part two of the answer to your question: God’s will is that you do right now what His word calls you to do.
Right now I am preparing the bulletin for our worship this Lord’s Day. We need a bulletin so that we can worship decently and in good order (I Cor. 14:40) and also so that we know the kinds of service the Lord would have us do as part of The Haven (e.g. Titus 2:14). The bulletin must get to the printer today because this is a short work week due to the Thanksgiving holiday. If I don’t do it now you will not have it for its intended purpose. God’s will for me right now is to finish this project. After that, because I have made a promise to my grandchildren who are with us (to get them bagels for breakfast), I will “let my “yes” be “yes, i.e I will do what I say, because Jesus told us to do that (Matt. 5:37). I will go get the bagels - bringing grandson Caleb with me because I also promised that. And I will drive safely because the 6th commandment tells me not to kill - which means that I am to do everything necessary to preserve my own life and the life of others. And, when we prepare the bagels to eat, we will do that work heartily unto the Lord (Col. 3:23), we will pray before we eat (I Tim. 4:5), and we will eat (and drink) to God’s glory (I Cor. 10:31)!
I think you get the point: The principles and the precepts of God’s Word are God’s will for you in everything and at every moment. And that is tremendously liberating because you know why you are doing what you are doing, and you know that God is pleased with that as you obey with childlike trust. But what about knowing God’s will for your future? We’ll consider that next week.
In many cases when people ask this question, they want to know long-term what God’s will is for their lives. This is especially true of young people who are trying to decide what career to pursue or as they face decisions (like marriage) that will impact their whole lives.
This is somewhat trickier than thinking about God’s will that begins with your personal surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ every day and as you make moment by moment decisions in each of those days (see parts 1 and 2 of my response to this question.). On the one hand, “the mind (or the heart) of a person plans his or her way” (Prov. 16:9). We do this naturally because we are made in the image of God who has planned all things according to the counsel of His will (see Ephesians 1:11 and other verses about God’s sovereignty). On the other hand, we are warned not to hold our plans with too heavy a hand. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ - you do not know what tomorrow will bring…Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (see James 4:13-16). So, it’s not wrong to plan, but do it living each day as if it is your last day. (That’s harder for young people than for those of us who are older, but we should all be living this way - every day!)
But how do you make these long term plans? Here are a few biblical principles:
1. Seek counsel from others who know you well and can help you discern your strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and lack of ability. The practical principles that “without counsel, plans fail, but with many advisers (wise ones, I would add) they succeed” (Prov. 15:22) and “plans are established by counsel” (Prov. 20:18) apply here.
2. Assess your own gifts, abilities, and interests carefully. In Romans 12:3 (immediately after the passage that calls you to the most basic aspect of knowing God’s will: Presenting your bodies as living sacrifices to God), the apostle Paul calls Christians not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think, but rather to assess oneself with “sober judgment.” God has made each of us different. Wisdom is to respect that, be thankful for that (even revel in that), and to ask how the unique “me” can be most useful to the Lord as a living sacrifice.
3. Delight yourself in your God and then think about what you really want to do for His glory and for the good of others (which is the essence of Christian life and Christian love). Remarkably, the Psalmist, after calling us to “Trust in the Lord, and do good” to “dwell in the land”, i.e. to live your life in fellowship with God’s people, and to feed on (God’s) faithfulness then adds “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:3,4.) St. Augustine had it right: “Delight yourself in your God, then do as you will!”
The word “angel” simply means “messenger”. In that sense, even pastors are called “angels” - which is probably the meaning of “the angels of the churches” in Revelation 2, 3. The Lord Jesus was giving messages which the pastors were to bring to the particular local churches.
But, in most cases, “angels” in the Bible refer to spiritual beings, i.e. they do not have bodies - although they can assume them when necessary. We do not know when they were created, but quite possibly they were part of God’s work referred to in Genesis 1:1 when we read simply that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The world of angels was (and, for many angels, still is) part of the world of heaven.
We also don’t know precisely what caused some of the angels to become fallen angels; but most assume that, under the leadership of the angelic being who would be called Satan, pride entered in and there was some form of a rebellion against God. (“The condemnation of the devil” mentioned in I Tim. 3:6, probably refers to pride as that which brought about the condemnation of the devil. It is very sobering to realize that pride puts us in the evil path of the one who was cast out of heaven because of his pride. It also heightens the wonder of Jesus as the humble Savior.) What we do know clearly from the Word of God is that there are un-fallen “holy angels”, or “elect angels” (I Tim. 5:21), and there are non-elect angels who sinned and, therefore, “left their first estate” (II Peter II:4, Jude 6). This latter group is part of what is referred to the New Testament passages that speak of “thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers”, e.g. Eph. 6:12. This indicates that, even there is a rank and order for un-fallen angels, there is also a rank and order for fallen angels. There is a realm invisible to us that is very much involved in this world. “The Lord of hosts”, e.g. Psalm 46:7,10, is the Lord who is sovereign over these, and who uses them to accomplish his holy and good purposes in history.
The Word of God gives a vast array of things that the holy, un-fallen angels do. They worship God (Matt. 18:10) - led by the Cherubim and Seraphim (plurals of cherub and seraph) who are close to the throne of God (Isaiah 6:1ff, Rev. 4). Holy angels rejoice in God’s works (Job 38:7). They are agents to carry out the will of God (Ps. 105:20), becoming our models as we pray, “Let your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven”, i.e. by the holy angels. As God’s servants they are involved in the affairs of nations (Dan. 10:12, 13, 21, 11:1, 12:1). They
watch over the activities of particular churches (I Tim. 5:21, I Cor. 11:10). They assist and protect the Lord’s people (I Kings 19:5, Dan. 6:22, Heb. 1:14). In glory we will be stunned to realize how much angels were involved in assisting and protecting us! Angels are also involved in punishing God’s enemies (Acts 12:25, and many places in the book of Revelation).
It’s interesting that angels appear on the pages of Scripture at times of the special works of God’s redemptive activity, e.g. At the giving of the Law (Acts 7:55, Gal. 3:19), and particularly at the times of the birth, temptation, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.
We’ve already learned that angels (which means “messengers”) were probably created at the time the Lord tells us that he created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) In the realm of “the heavens” God created a class of beings that - unlike humans - have no bodies (see Matt. 8:16, 12:45, Lk. 7:21. among others). They are creatures, so they are finite and limited, although they stand in a freer relation to time and space than human beings do. Michael (Dan. 10:13, 21, Jude 9, Rev. 12:7) and Gabriel (Dan. 8:16, 9:21, Lk. 1:19,26 are specifically named angels. Some of the orders of angels in the Bible are Cherubim (the plural of “Cherub”) , Gen. 3:24, Ex. 25:18, Ezek. 1, and many others Seraphim (the plural of “Seraph”), Js. 6:2,6, and what are referred to as “principalities, powers, thrones and dominions,”, Eph. 3:10, Col. 1:16, 2:10. It is important to keep in mind that some of the angels fell under the leadership of the fallen angel who is called Satan (or “Beelzebub”, or “the Destroyer). He is the head of what are commonly called “fallen angels” (II Pet. 2:4, Jude 6) The book of Revelation contains many references to both fallen and unfallen angels and to their work “behind the scenes.” Bottom line: There is an entire realm of angelic beings that we cannot see, but are nevertheless very real and very active.
In general, along with their work of praising God day and night, e.g. Job 38:7, Is. 6,, Ps. 103:20, etc., unfallen angels are called “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister, i.e. to serve, those who are heirs of salvation in Christ, Heb. 1:4. They rejoice at the conversion of a sinner, Lk. 15:10, watch over believers in Christ, Ps. 34:7, 91:11, protect the Lord’s little ones, Matt. 18:10, are present in gatherings of churches, I Cor. 11:10, I Tim. 5:21 as they hear and learn and rejoice in the manifold riches of the grace of God in Christ, Eph. 3:10, I Pet.1:12, and conveying the souls of believers into “Abraham’s bosom”, Lk. 16:22 - a reference to the gathering of the souls of those who die in Christ to the place of eternal fellowship with all of the Lord’s people. It is an absolutely mind-boggling fact that the Lord ministers to us in ways we will never understand by the multitude of the unfallen angels who serve Christ in the many details of the administration of his Kingdom.
However, the Bible does not teach that we each have “guardian angels”. Matthew 18:10 is sometimes cited as evidence that we all have “guardian angels”, i.e “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” However the text does not say that each person has his/her “guardian angel”, but that there is a group of angels particularly charged with the care of little ones - particularly covenant children. And when in Acts 12:15 the gathered group does not believe that Peter has been able to escape from prison (and that he is standing in the gateway waiting to be let into the house!), and says “(it is not Peter), it is his angel” - all the text is saying is that people in that day believed in guardian angels. However, there is no biblical passage in either the Old Testament or the New Testament that affirms this.
Far better than each one having “a guardian angel” is to know that all of the angelic armies of heaven are under the command of King Jesus to do His bidding to minister to us, Heb. 1:4. And what a comfort it is to know that the number of those angels who are helping us is far greater than one “guardian angel” and even more than all the forces that are against us. See II Kings 6:15-17. Praise the Lord!
Yes, we do put a lot of emphasis on “the Church”, because the Scriptures themselves do - and they are our final authority in faith and life. Jesus didn’t say that he will save God’s elect (although he does!), but I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Now, in his exalted state as he reigns with all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), he is head over all things to, i.e. for the sake of the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:22,23). All of human history is the scaffolding within which the Lord is building his Church. That makes the Church quite important - far more important than we usually make it.
Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, in his book THE HOLY SPIRIT, wisely writes:
“…THE EXHORTATIONS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, WHILE INTENDED TO BE TAKEN TO HEART INDIVIDUALLY, ARE GENERALLY EXPRESSED IN THE PLURAL TO THE WHOLE CHURCH. THE SPIRIT DOES NOT ISOLATE INDIVIDUALS, BUT CREATES A NEW COMMUNITY” (P. 192).
Keep in mind that most of the New Testament letters are sent to churches, eg. I Corinthians 1:2, II Corinthians 1:1, Galatians 1:1, etc.
Evangelical believers in our very individualistic American culture have tended to put their emphasis on “Jesus as my personal Savior.” He certainly is that to all who look to him in faith; but don’t stop there! He saves people in order that they might be part of the Church (and the local churches) that He is building. The Lord added to their number, i.e. the Christian church that began on the day of Pentecost, …those who were being saved. And baptism marks people out as being united both to Christ and to his body, the Church (I Corinthians 12:12,13).
Probably the best way to keep the biblical emphases is to speak like this:
But you asked about “authority” in the church. Too often that authority is abused by church leaders, rather than rightly used by them. We’ll start looking at that very important subject next week....
Sadly, too often church authority can be abused rather than used as the Lord intended it. The popularity of books like Churches That Abuse, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, and Recovering from Churches that Abuse show that you are not alone in the hurt you have experienced in some churches. The church is a place in which people are meant to find guidance for their lives. It is all too easy for church leaders to replace Christ’s authority with their authority. And it is just as easy to replace the gracious, long-suffering love of God in Jesus Christ with the harsh, impatient and lordly dictates of aggravated overseers. Truth becomes ugly, and people are turned away from the Lord rather than attracted to him. The fallout from that is disastrous.
The Bible teaches that there is to be submission to leadership in the church:
But the Bible also teaches that this authority is to represent the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only King and Head of the Church.
We say that authority in the church is “ministerial and declarative not magisterial and legislative.” Church authority is to declare the Word of God, ministering it in the name of and in the character of Christ. It is most emphatically NOT authority to govern by human decrees in an overbearing, pompous, and arrogant manner.
What does the right use of church authority look like? We’ll consider that next week...
Give some thought to the last section of Frederick S. Leahy’s excellent book: Satan Cast Out: A Study in Biblical Demonology published by The Banner of Truth Trust.
From Chapter 11: “The Challenge of the Demons to the Church of Christ” “The Challenge to the Church’s Spirituality”:
Without necessarily endorsing Pentecostal theology, we must recognize that our Pentecostalist brethren frequently show a fervor and earnestness which are lacking in the older Protestant communions; and in prayerfulness, responsible giving, and fellowship, some of them set an example to all…
We, today,…should be seeking to present doctrine of the (Holy) Spirit which is truly Biblical and which relates to the life and outreach of the Church.
One thing is clear: The fulness of the Spirit is the Church’s daily need. A powerless, languid Church is a sign of a fellowship unfilled by God’s Spirit. But it is not the teaching of Scripture that the Church was meant to eke out a bare survival in a hostile world, holding a fort in conditions of siege. The enemy will not retreat before the preaching of a listless Church. (Emphasis mine - Pastor Bill).
The essential connection between the ministry of the Spirit and the preaching of the Church is all-important in the confrontation of evil powers.
Paul asks, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 5:2).
The connection between the preaching of the Gospel and the working of the Holy Spirit is unmistakable.
The term “power of God” is applied both to Christ and to the preaching of the cross of Christ (Romans 1:16, I Corinthians 1:24).
How vital, then, for the Church in every age, to know the power and fulness of the Holy Spirit.
The very power and defiance of the forces of darkness are a rebuke to the powerlessness and complacency of the Church, a complacency which regards revival as exceptional and lukewarmness as the to- be-expected!
Until the church begins to think differently (and pray differently - Pastor Bill), it is unlikely that her experience will be different.
All authority in a church that would be governed by the Word of God (and all churches should have that commitment) is ultimately and actually the authority of God in Christ. The apostle Paul described his work (and the work of all who would follow him as what we now call “Ministers”) as being “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us: We implore you (literally, “we beg you”) on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (II Cor. 5:20). Later in that same book he entreated the church at Corinth “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” (II Cor. 10:1). And all of this is done in the character of Paul’s favorite designation of himself: Though he was an apostle, he also called himself a servant (Rom. 1:1, I Cor. 9:19, Gal. 1:10, Phil. 1:1, Titus 1:1) - a servant of God and to others., particularly to the churches and their members.
These verses, and many others, give us an absolutely awesome (and humbling) picture of what authority in the church should look like:
As an ambassador represents, in word and conduct, the national leader who commissioned him, those called thorough the church to serve as ministers are meant, in all their words and in all their conduct, to always (and everywhere) represent the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.
As official representatives of God, ministers and elders ought to represent that God (in all of what we call His “communicable attributes”): His holiness, His truth, His love, His mercy, His kindness, His grace, His long-suffering, His wisdom, His justice, and His goodness. When people see and hear church officers (particularly ministers) they should see reflections (admittedly very imperfect ones) of God himself.
That must come by ministers (and elders and deacons in their distinct offices) living in close communion with Jesus Christ. Only by close communion with the One who had “grace poured upon His lips” (Psalm 45:2) will church leaders become men of gracious speech and conduct. Only in daily coming to the One who said “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:28,29. will church officers (especially; ministers) be the types of people who make others want to come to Christ. Church authority flows from weary and heavy-laden men who find rest in Christ. Because they have found Christ to be gentle and humble, they are gentle and humble as well. No other church leadership befits the one who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death…” (Phil. 2:8)
And far from being lordly and domineering, those with authority in the church will always exercise that authority as servants, saying and demonstrating that they are, first and foremost, “your servants for Jesus’ sake’" (II Cor. 4:5).
If church authority was exercised more like this, there would be fewer hurts such as you have experienced. May the Lord grant us all church leaders with the heart and mind of Christ.
Give some thought to the last section of Frederick S. Leahy’s excellent book: Satan Cast Out: A Study in Biblical Demonology published by The Banner of Truth Trust.
From Chapter 11: “The Challenge of the Demons to the Church of Christ” “The Challenge to the Church’s Spirituality”: Is it not a fact that all too often, perhaps more often than not, the Church at large lacks the fervor and power experienced by believers at Pentecost?
The risen Lord said to his disciples,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” (Acts 1:8).
This power was to be wholly different from what the world terms power. Instead of the political power which once they had sought, they would receive heavenly power.
The command was “Stay in the city (of Jerusalem) until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49).
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to believers in a new fashion and inaugurated a new era in the life of the Church. We read that they were all “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). And we are commanded to be so filled (Ephesians 5:18) so that we may know the power of Pentecost.
It is true that Pentecost, as the commencement of a new era, was a once-for-all event. That glorious dawning does not need to be repeated, but we certainly need to walk in the light of that day. Too often believers “grieve the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30) and “quench the Spirit” (I Thessalonians 5:19) instead of “being filled with the Spirit” (See: Ephesians 5:18, cf. Colossians 3:16).
Too often in the present century the picture of the church is to be found in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, chapters two and three. The power of Pentecost is sadly lacking, because the Holy Spirit is not honored and loved.
If conservative theologians produce a reactionary theology in the face of modern Pentecostalism, there is a danger that this state of affairs might be perpetuated. It is possible rightly to stress the “once-for-allness” of Pentecost, but, at the same time, fail to grasp the divine program for the Church in every age.
We must not fail to emphasize that the power received by the Church at Pentecost may be received and known by the Church now, and that we cannot afford to be without it. (Emphasis mine, Pastor Bill)
This is a very important point!
Jesus speaks of Satan (or “the Devil”) as the “Ruler/Prince of this world” in John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:1.
The Apostle Paul calls him “The god of this world” in II Corinthians 4:4 (a very important verse to study in order to understand the usually irrational opposition to the Gospel and to Jesus Christ that we witness around us.)
“World” in the Bible can have a variety of meanings.
“God made the world” eg. Acts 17:24, and most other references to the world as created and formed by God in the first six days of the creation week (Genesis 1) (refer to the things we see around us that come from God’s hand and were declared to be “good.” These created things are good in themselves and we are meant to enjoy them and use them to God’s glory as good stewards of the world He has given us, I Corinthians 10:31.
However, Satan brought corruption into the world by his successful temptation of our first parents, Adam and Eve (Genesis 3).
That brought into the world the multiplied effects of sin.
That fallen world is referred to, particularly in the New Testament, as “this world” “the present world” or “this age.”
In Ephesians 2:2, for example, the Apostle Paul speaks of “the age of this world” the world in which we all once walked by nature.
Along with following the sinful thought patterns that flow out of evil hearts and that combine to form “worldviews” that suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18ff.), by nature - in “this (fallen) world” we are captive to “the spirit that is now at work in the (children) of disobedience”: Satan himself.
Here he is called “the prince of the power of the air” - another description of Satan as the ruler or prince of this world.
The great news is that Jesus Christ came to deliver us from this “present evil age” (Galatians 1:4).
By His sovereign power he transfers people from the kingdom/domain of darkeness (where Satan has blinded the spiritual eyes of people, II Cor. 4:4) “and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
That Son, Jesus Christ, is now given authority over all things (Matthew 28:18) - including the Devil and the demons - so that, by the Gospel, the kingdom of “this world” might more and more become the kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15).
That will never be perfect in “this age”; but we continue to bring the powers of “the age to come” to those around us as we tell them the Gospel.
In that way, we seek to see applied around us the victory that Jesus has gained over the “prince of this world.”
From Haven member, Arthur Tomlinson. God’s free man in the Eastern NY Correctional Facility
But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
II Corinthians 3:17
Free. Free to be me, the me God intended before time, the me whose works were ordained from eternity to be walked in. Free. Free where the Spirit is and that is on the inside me where no one and nothing can get at Him.
Free I am on the inside and even if they run me through with one of those mulch-making whole tree shredders, they still couldn't separate the Spirit from me.
Free to grow and prosper, to change in ways and far beyond the extent of all that I could think to ask for. Metamorphosis (transformed): Something no mere human can do, as it is impossible to gain a new heart or any of its fruit any other way.
Free to be a doulos (bondslave), free to be a son. Free to have no man to be my master, free to be a servant to any man and every man. Free to be about the business of God's glory - and what a freeing thing that is!
"The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want."
"Those to whom the Lord is Shepherd lack nothing needed in order to glorify God, their chief desire and satisfaction."
So said Charles Spurgeon, and I know it, too. I have all I need to freely fulfill my purpose in life, nothing hindering, all is tuned to conform to the counsel of his will, especially the hard and painful parts; the parts no one wants that come to all sooner or later, unless perhaps, they are numbered with the poor, unfortunate wicked allowed by providence to suffer no ills in this life, or very few, - nothing they can't handle.
Me, I'm free to be broken and dependant and independent of this world's goods that enslave so gently (at first). Free to have a measure of this world's goods and call it "enough," for my satisfaction is in Christ Jesus my Lord and he is enough and more than enough.
Free to enjoy little things, and see the big hand of God in them all.
Free to be constrained by the love of Christ but oops! Now I've slipped into II Corinthians chapter 5 and didn't even get out of chapter 3!
I am free. Grace being limitless there is more, but my imagination only has so much steam to work with and only 6000 characters to say it with.
I appreciate your honesty. You actually raise a number of issues here. Let’s consider them one by one:
1. You're not feeling comfortable with something (or some things) in a worship service: All churches have an order of worship and specific elements of worship, e.g. responsive readings, corporate prayers of confession, raising of hands, etc. You become “comfortable” with them as you do them week by week - like breaking in a new pair of shoes. Understand why these things are in the order of worship, i.e. the liturgy, appreciate their order (often a minister will remind people of that), and enter into them heartily as part of presenting your whole body as a “living sacrifice”, which is your “reasonable service“- literally your “logical liturgy” (Romans 12:1). That’s the heart and soul of all true worship.
2. Your specific discomfort with kneeling: As we note in the bulletin, kneel if you are able. The Lord still hears your prayers! But kneeling is a biblical posture, e.g. Psalm 95:6, Daniel 6:10. Luke 22:41, Acts 9:40, 20:36, 21:5, etc. It’s especially appropriate when we kneel before God to confess our sins (as we do in worship here at The Haven, OPC. Many Americans (in particular) don’t like kneeling before an authority, because it is humbling and it seems to put us in the position of a beggar. That’s what it meant to kneel before a “sovereign” in centuries past (and in many countries today). But that’s precisely why people bow before the sovereign Lord! We are to be humble before Him, and we are beggars for grace. It’s the right way to respect the Lord who is gracious to us despite our many sins.
3. Your reminders of a past church experience that was very formal and dead. All liturgies or orders of worship can become formalistic and lifeless. That’s a tragic (and ugly) contradiction of everything that is meant by a “living sacrifice” (see Romans 12:1 again.) A form does not have to be formal (the minister who leads worship can help prevent that by not being too “formal” himself!), and the form of worship should simply be the biblically warranted channel to express the various emotions of your whole body in the presence of God. In this case, kneeling before the Lord our Maker expresses our humility before HIm, and our total dependence upon Him for - well, for everything!
The New Testament specifically speaks of “lifting up holy hands” in prayer (see I Timothy 2:8) - although the emphasis in this passage is more on the holiness that should be the character of the one praying rather than on the actual practice of lifting hands. (In Presbyterian circles, we often think of that as done representatively by the minister or the elder leading that part of worship).
The Old Testament, though has several references to the posture of raised hands in connection with prayer (see Exodus 9:29, 17:11f., I Kings 8:22, 54; Ps.28:2, 63:4, 141:2, 143:6, etc.) Commentators generally point to the raised hands in prayer as a demonstration of the seriousness of the petition to God. But I’d add to that, that this is another example of how the body, the mind, and the voice are joined together in “whole person worship” in which we “present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1,2).
It’s a fitting expression for those who are, as it were, reaching out to God as children to a Father - urgently asking that he grant the petition being offered. Put this together with the Holy Spirit’s work in us by which we cry out “Abba, Father” (a very intimate expression, close to our title, “Daddy”), and you have a rather vivid picture of children lifting up their arms to their fathers and saying, “Pick me up, Daddy!” That’s a beautiful way to think of prayer.
When people raise their hands as they sing, that’s also a way of expressing our desire for God to hear what we are asking (remember that a lot of the words that we sing in worship are petitions asking God for things); but it’s also an outward expression of what’s inside. As John Piper puts it: “As a hand raiser, I would just say to those who don’t do it that, for me, it is both a natural expression of inner admiration for God, and an intensifier of inner exultation as it finds expression in the body.” I couldn’t put it better myself!
As to why, in our “pastoral prayer” and benediction, we lift our hands together, this is a reminder, again, that our worship service is corporate worship. We worship as one body - as one congregation, so it is fitting that, as one body, we follow the postures given to us in the Word of God.
I regarded the weeks of the covid-19 quarantine as a good time to implant the concept of “family worship” into those being ministered to by The Haven, OPC.
The concept of “family worship” rises from the truth that the household is the basic unit of the Christian Church. Abraham and the male members of his household were to be circumcised (the Old Testament equivalent of baptism), Gen. 17:1ff, indicating that the whole family was part of God’s covenant dealings with His people. Through Abraham’s line of families (which would include Christ Himself as the promised “seed/offspring” of Abraham, Gal. 3:16) all the families of the earth would be blessed, Gen. 12:3. But that blessing isn’t automatic. Abraham was to “command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to pass what he has promised him.” While this is a call to what we speak of as “Christian education” or “family nurture”, it should always be done in a context of worship, including praise, thanks, confession of sin, prayer, and reminders of the promises of God. That’s the essence of all worship.
Later in the history of God’s people there are hints that the primary worship unit of the people of God is the family:
• Exodus 12:3: The whole congregation of Israel was to take a lamb per household for sacrifice.
• In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the call to worship and to hear the word of God (as we are called to worship and to hear the word of God) begins with families in which the word of God is not only believed but also taught to the children - the same format we follow in corporate worship.
• Joshua’s affirmation in Josh. 24:15: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”, refers , in the first place, to worship as the heart of all service. (Which is why we speak of a “worship service.”)
• In Psalm 87:2 when the Lord says that “He loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob”, he affirms family worship even though his great delight is when all the families of His people are gathered for worship.
• In Acts 10:33, the God-fearing Cornelius instinctively gathers his whole family together to hear the word of God.
• The New Testament, in many places, speaks of household units as mini-churches, e.g. Rom. 16:3-5a, I Cor. 16:19, Col. 4:15, Philemon 2. And, of course, worship is the heart of church life.
So “family worship” in the household as the basic unit of the church is (or should be) the driving force of “corporate worship” in the church gathered corporately.
Our doctrinal standard, The Westminster Confession of Faith, has an entire chapter (chapter 21) “Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day”.
That chapter, with its proof texts, bears careful study in looking at various questions regarding worship.
Embedded in that chapter, in section 6, is this statement:
“…God is to be worshiped everywhere, in spirit and truth, as in private families daily, and in secret, each one by himself, so more solemnly in the public assemblies…”
This may read rather awkwardly to us, but what it teaches is very important: While there is the especially serious worship when we gather together as churches, there should be daily worship by those who profess to be followers of Christ.
That daily worship is both personal, i.e. “in secret” (what we often call “my daily devotions”), and “in private families”, i.e .in each individual family.
The biblical proof texts for this call to family worship are quite interesting:
• “Pour out your fury on the heathen who do not know you, and upon the families that do not call upon your name….” Jer. 10:25 ( “Calling upon the name of God” is a reference to worship. In worship we call upon God to bless us.)
• “Job sent and sanctified (his children), and rose up early in the morning and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all” Job 1:5
• “David blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts…Then (he) returned to bless his household.” (II Sam. 6:20).
If you live alone, your personal devotions are your family worship. However, if you have other family members living with you, you should seek to bring blessing to them by daily family worship.
Whether you do this in the morning before everyone goes to school or to work, or at the end of the day following your evening meal, set apart time for family worship.
As with your personal worship, read Scripture (or the Scriptural message in a devotional book like Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening), discuss the message if you have time, sing (again, if you have the time) and, most certainly pray.
Those are the basic elements of all worship; and family worship will prepare all of your family members for the worship of our extended family on the Lord’s Day.
“Calvinism” is the name attached to the system of doctrine that was taught very ably by the great Protestant Reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564). Frankly, John Calvin would be very upset if his teachings were called “Calvinism”. He simply opened up, by his preaching, teaching, and writings, the doctrines that are taught in the Word of God.
But it’s tragic (and very wrong) that you have been taught that “Calvinism” (I’ll use the term for convenience sake - despite what John Calvin would say!) is “dangerous” and heretical.
What is dangerous or heretical about doctrines that are clearly taught in the Word of God? The reason people become “Calvinists” is because, as they read the Word of God, they see the teachings commonly associated with “Calvinism” so obviously presented in the Scriptures.
• God’s Sovereignty (the doctrine that is the hallmark of Calvinism): For from him, and through him, and to him, are all things. To him be glory forever. Romans 11:36 (See also - among many other passages - Job 42:1,2; Daniel 4:34,35; Ephesians 1:11)
• Total Depravity (Not that human beings are as bad as they could be - thank the Lord for that! - but that every part of what we are is radically affected by sin): Read Romans 3:9-20 for just one biblical MRI of the human condition “in Adam”, i.e. by nature.
• Unconditional Election (We don’t first choose God, He chooses us!). Read Romans 9 and Ephesians 1:3-10 and ask yourselves, honestly, what they say about “election”.
• Limited Atonement (Better “Full Atonement”: The benefits of Christ’s perfect obedience and death are ONLY for the elect, but that work REALLY saves us from our sins) See Matthew 1:21, John 17:2, Acts 20:28, Ephesians 5:25
• Irresistible Grace (God is really able to change the hardest of human hearts!). See Ezekiel 11:19, John 5:21, Ephesians 1:19,20, Colossians 2:13.
• Perseverance of the Saints (Those whom God has chosen, for whom Christ died, and who are saved by the sovereign power of God WILL persevere to the end because they are kept by God). See John 6:37, 10:25-30, Romans 8:28-39, I Peter 1:3-5.
I hope you see that these doctrines commonly associated with “Calvinism” are obviously taught in the Bible. They are clearly not “heretical”.
But why were you told they are “dangerous”? We’ll look at that in the next Haven Heart to Heart.
I think there are two primary reasons:
1. People think (mistakenly) that an emphasis on the sovereignty of God will take away a person’s sense of personal responsibility and make that person passive rather than active. However, God’s sovereignty does not cancel out human responsibility. In what ultimately, is a great mystery to us, God has ordained that we be responsible creatures as those made in his image. We think, eat, work, talk, and do everything in life as responsible creatures. It’s helpful to think of two circles and divine mathematics: In one circle, God is 100% sovereign. In the other circle, human beings are 100% responsible. We believe and live in both circles. Only that view does justice to all of the biblical data - which teaches both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility (see Ephesians 2:8-10, and Philippians 2:12,13 for a couple of examples.)
2. People think (also mistakenly) that an emphasis on God’s sovereign election - from before the world was made - of those who will be saved, cf. Ephesians 1:3-6, will quench a zeal for earnest evangelism that genuinely seeks the salvation of the lost. Sadly, the doctrine of election could be used as an excuse not to do evangelism; but the problem, in that case, is not with the doctrine of election, but with a blameworthy misuse of the doctrine by people who are trying to make an excuse for not doing evangelism.
Keep point #1 above in mind: God is completely sovereign, e.g. in election, but human beings are completely responsible, e.g. to tell others the Gospel and to earnestly call them to repentance and faith in Christ, e.g. II Corinthians 5:20,21 - which especially applies to Christian ministers. In fact, the doctrine of election is meant to be an encouragement to evangelism. Because people are, by nature, dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), no one would be saved if God had not chosen a multitude that no person can number (Revelation 7:9) to that end. But God has chosen many to be delivered from sin and death. We don’t know who they are (and no person has a right to believe that he or she is not elect), so we present the Gospel and Christ’s invitation to come to himself (Matthew 11:28-30) to all people, praying that the Lord will save them by his sovereign grace. I love the way our son, Pastor Jon Shishko, puts it: “We need to see everyone as either a Christian or as a NYC - Not Yet Christian!” Prayerfully present the Gospel to everyone in the best way that you can, knowing that the Lord WILL save his elect ones, in his perfect time and in his perfect way.
I am a big believer in New Year’s resolutions - even though we never keep them the way we should. (But that’s true of everything in the Christian life! In this life, as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it so well, we have “but a small part of the new obedience.”)
One reason I like New Year’s resolutions is that it gives us things to aim at; and, if we aim at nothing, guess what we hit?! Another reason is that the Christian life is full of commitments to stop doing what is wrong and to do (or to do better) what is right. That’s part of what a worship service, i.e. “A Service of Covenant Renewal” is all about.
Here are my suggestions:
1. Read your Bible daily: Sadly (very sadly) this discipline has all but been lost in a culture that is so full of diversions - and diversions that are much more attractive to us than the discipline of reading the Word of God systematically, thoughtfully, and prayerfully. Ideally, resolve to read through the whole Bible in a year (or two years, or even three!). Google “Bible Reading Plan”, and pick a plan that appeals to you. Copy it, and check off what you read. Make time every day to read your Bible and to pray. You will be enriched in your mind and your heart, and you will find that rest of soul that people seek (but never truly find) in other ways. Enjoy your daily time with your Father in Heaven, your elder brother the Lord Jesus Christ, and with the Holy Spirit your Helper.
2. Gather with your church family: 2020 torpedoed this commitment. When churches were “locked down” people worshipped at home or watched their pastor lead a service with a few people via live streaming. Gradually people lost even those disciplines. As a result, commitment to local churches suffered a serious decline in 2020. Resolve that you WILL be with your church family on the Lord’s Day, and at other times in the week when you are able to join for fellowship, e.g. the Zoom prayer meeting on Wednesday evenings. We are told specifically “not (to neglect) to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day, i.e. the day of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, drawing near..” In the past months we have been lulled into thinking that this is satisfied by “virtual gatherings”, but it most certainly is not. How can we “meet together” if we are not really together? And can we “encourage one another” if we are not with one another? And our very gathering together - physically - is meant to be a statement to one another and to the world that on the last great Day we WILL be gathered together (not virtually, but really!) See II Thessalonians 2:1 where that concept is expressed. So I urge you to make this as one of your New Year resolutions: Be with your brothers and sisters in Christ when they are called to meet. And make the most of those opportunities by committing yourself to encourage others as you worship, fellowship, pray, and serve.
3. Open your home and show hospitality to others: Hospitality is your way of showing the hospitality of God who calls us to dwell in His house (Psalm 23:6). It’s also a way of ministering to your neighbors and friends, as well as a way of extending ministry to your brothers and sisters at The Haven (But don’t confine your hospitality to other Christians! We need to be showing the love of God to those who don’t know Christ.) To challenge and encourage you (and also to give you practical helps), I highly recommend the book The Gospel Comes With a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield.
4. Be reading material that will help to feed your soul: Frankly, most of what people watch on television is junk food. Reading has become something of a dying exercise in our culture. Resist that tendency by making time to read things that will be vitamins and minerals for your spiritual life. Doctrinally solid devotional books (like Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening), Christian biographies, and studies in biblical topics should be part of your spiritual diet. You will grow to love reading once you start - with good things. Ask Pastor Bill for advice on good reading for 2021. 5. Tell people about Jesus! Our worship each week is designed to repeat (and renew) the story of the Christian life: God calls us. God cleanses us. God consecrates us. God communes with us. God commissions us. That’s your story, and it contains all the things that you should want to tell others about. Think about how the Lord Jesus Christ has saved you, how he has blessed you (and is blessing you), and how he has helped you through the challenges of life. Then pray that you will be able to share that story with others. It’s also helpful to have Gospel literature available to give to people after you have spoken with them. Give it to them personally, or send it to them with a card of note; but, in every way that you can, do your part to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation.
Tithes are 10% of a person’s gross income. I’d rather address that separately - so we’ll do that next week. Let’s just discuss “giving” this week.
The whole of the Christian life is giving - not in order that we might “be saved” (that is, delivered from sin, guilt, and misery), but because we are saved by the gift of Jesus Christ freely offered to us in the Gospel, and freely given to us by grace through faith (see Ephesians 2:8,9). Our giving of our financial gifts is an expression of thanks to God for “His unspeakable gift” (II Corinthians 9:15 - Read both chapters 8 and 9 in II Corinthians for a very full statement of the importance of Christian giving).
That weekly giving as part of our corporate worship is also a regular reminder - by way of giving a portion of our livelihood - that the whole of our lives are devoted to God. That’s why it’s fitting that the giving of our financial offerings comes after the sermon - it’s a picture of our response to the message of Christ’s giving Himself for us.
Your financial gifts (given in response to God’s lavish gifts to you) are also used for the very holy purpose of paying the bills to maintain and develop this ministry - above all by paying a minister an adequate salary so that he can serve fully as your pastor!. Once the church becomes what we call a “particular church”, i.e a church with its own eldership and a formal membership roll, the congregation will approve a budget each year. (Our budget for this year is $70,000). Church members help to fulfill this commitment by their financial gifts. Others give as a way of showing appreciation for The Haven, OPC and for its ministry.
Another reason to give - and we shouldn’t be embarrassed about this - is that we want to be blessed ourselves! It is, indeed, more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). God loves to show His generosity to those who are generous in His Name. “Give, and it will be given to you: Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, it will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).
Whether speaking of your whole life in service as a gift to God, or whether speaking of your financial gifts as a specimen of that whole life, it is very true that “God will be a debtor to no man.” Give generously, and you’ll find out for yourself!
The tithe (and I believe it’s meant to be 10% of your gross income) is interesting because it just appears out of nowhere in the Old Testament. In Genesis 14, after Abram’s victory over several kings (and after bringing back the spoils of victory), Melchizedek, a King-Priest (and a type of Jesus Christ - see Hebrews 6:13-7:28), blesses Abram. In response, “Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:20). Apparently, this practice of giving 1/10 of one’s gain away was embedded in God’s people (and others - tithes are common standards of giving in other cultures, too) from the earliest days.
So, the concept of the tithe precedes the giving of the Law through Moses; but, in that law and in the rest of the Old Testament, tithes and tithing are referred to over three dozen times, e.g. Lev. 27:30-32, Num. 18:24-28, Deut. 12:6,11,17, etc. Probably the most well-known reference is the rather scary one in Malachi 3:6-15 in which the withholding of the tithe is regarding as robbing God (Mal. 3:8). Clearly, God regards faithfulness in giving 10% of one’s gain to Him as a serious matter!
In the New Testament, Jesus affirms the giving of the tithe as an abiding ordinance in Matthew 23:23 - although He makes clear that scrupulous tithing does not take the place of “the weightier matters of the law - justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” Tithing is an example of these three things, but no replacement for them as the bigger principles that tithing illustrates, i.e. following a right standard - righteousness, helping others - mercy, loyalty to the Lord in all things - faithfulness.
And many believe (as I do) that the reference to “putting something aside and storing it up” on the Lord’s Day, i.e. the first day of the week, is connected with bringing the full tithe into the storehouse in Malachi 3:10. (The “storehouse” today would be a local church, such as the church in Corinth - which Paul has in mind in I Corinthians 16:1-4.)
Of course, we give offerings and other gifts beyond the tithe; but the tithe of our gross income would seem to be God’s “basic claim”. By putting the tithe of our gross income aside each week we show our commitment that even government (“Caesar”) does not have a higher claim on us than God does, cf. Matthew 22:21. It also shows that we trust God to provide all of our needs. God will be a debtor to no one!
I HAVEN’T TITHED IN THE PAST. SHOULD I MAKE UP FOR TITHES I HAVEN’T GIVEN BUT SHOULD
No. I appreciate the sensitive conscience regarding the tithe, but it would be
impossible to figure out what the amount is. Here is an area in which we “forget what is
behind”, cf. Phil. 3:13, and move forward with this new area of Christian obedience.
I’M IN DEBT. SHOULD I GET OUT OF DEBT BEFORE I BEGIN TITHING?
No. Keep in mind that the tithe is the Lord’s (see Malachi 3:6-12 - an amazing and fascinating passage about God’s promises in connection with the tithe). Technically, “giving” is over and above the tithe (what we usually call an “offering”). “The tithe is the Lord’s”. Therefore, not to tithe is to rob God of what is rightfully His, cf. Malachi 3:8. (Remember that the tithe is the main means by which God furthers His work in the world). Start obeying the Lord now by giving the tithe of your gross income. That discipline has the practical effect of making you more careful with the other 90% of your income. (Discipline in one area of life usually leads to discipline in every other area of life.). Those who practice tithing will testify that the 90% of their income left after they have tithed goes further than 100% of their income when they didn’t tithe. In your new Christiaan discipline, begin to pay off your debts. You will also be more sensitive to not going into debt. Let’s face it, most of us spend money for many, many things that we don’t really need.
I’M AFRAID THAT I WON’T HAVE ENOUGH TO PAY MY OTHER EXPENSES.
Live out of faith rather than fear. “And…God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19 - which is in the context of the Philippians’ generous giving). The fact of the matter is, you really can’t out-give God. Begin obeying Him now with your giving habits and you will soon find that out for yourself - as every other person who has given tithes and offerings can testify!
This is an important question because the very first vow for membership in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is “Do you believe the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and its doctrine of salvation to be the perfect and only true doctrine of salvation?” This commitment was the primary reason the OPC came into existence in 1936, and it remains the hallmark of the OPC’s doctrinal commitments: The Bible IS the Word of God, and it - and it alone - is our final authority in all matters of faith and practice.
But how do we know the Bible is the Word of God? Ultimately, that conviction only comes as the Holy Spirit works that faith in our hearts (I Cor. 2:9,10). But that’s true of everything we believe that comes from God! The Holy Spirit must open our hearts and teach us because, by nature, we are dead in trespasses and sins, and we suppress the truth in our own unrighteousness, cf. Eph. 2:1, Rom. 1:18)
However, when the Holy Spirit opens our hearts by the power of God’s grace, we
see the Bible as we never saw it before:
• We’re struck with the fact that over 2000 times in the Old Testament alone, i.e. the 39 books written between about 1425 and 425 years before Christ was born and that point us forward to His coming, we read “Thus says the Lord…”
• The New Testament confirms what we call the “inspiration” of the Old Testament when the apostle Paul says, “All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God (literally, “God breathed out”) and is profitable…that the man of God might be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16,17). And the apostle Peter says that the Scriptures did not come by the will of man, “but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:21)
• Jesus Himself frequently described his life and ministry as “to fulfill what the Lord had spoken…”, eg. Matthew 1:22f, 2:15, 17, etc.
• Jesus clearly taught that the Old Testament words came from God himself, e.g. Matthew 19:4,5.
And the Bible (unlike other “holy books”) shows itself to be the Word of God.
We’ll look at that next week.
The Bible (with the Holy Spirit at work in you as you read - pray for that!) not only declares itself to be the Word of God (see last week’s Haven Heart to Heart), but it shows itself to be the Word of God:
• There is an amazing unity in all of the 66 books of the Bible (written over a period of more than 1500 years) that develops themes like God with us, atonement for sin, the need of a perfect righteousness that can only come from God, Sabbath rest, New Heavens and New Earth - all of which are fulfilled perfectly with the coming of the God-man Jesus Christ and his work to redeem us from our sins. No other “holy book”, e.g the Koran, the Book of Mormon, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures even comes close to the Bible, either in the way each is written or in displaying such marvelous unity. (And no other “holy book” offers full, free forgiveness of sins in a way that satisfies the justice of God so that we might be saved by grace alone,)
• The Bible accurately describes God, the world, and ourselves. We find satisfaction in the real God, even when it is difficult to understand so many things about Him. (Which isn’t surprising: He IS God!) The Bible describes the world as it really is (full of so many good things, but still under a curse). And the Bible is like an MRI as it describes us. The Bible is REAL: We see ourselves as sinners, but we also have hope because of God’s promises that He will fulfill in Christ. Read any other “holy book” and you will find the view of God very confusing, the view of the world as simply not in accord with reality, and the view of yourself as either unrealistically hopeful or utterly hopeless.
• The Bible (and the Bible alone) enables us to make sense of the great “elephant in the room of human history”: the coming of Christ into the world (which some “holy books”, e.g. in the Buddhist religion, never mention), his death on the cross to conquer Satan and to atone for human sin (which the Koran rejects), and the resurrection and reign of Jesus Christ (which most “holy books” other than the Bible completely neglect or misrepresent). Take away the Bible and you have no way to correctly understand the great person and work in whom there is hope for everlasting life.
• Its consistently specific (and unified) details are vastly different than the vague generalities and often absurd and blatantly contradictory of other “holy books”, e.g. much of the Apocrypha. The Bible invites you to “dig in”, get to know the people and events that are recorded in it, and, above all, to believe in, to love, and to obey the God who tells us of himself in the pages of the Bible, and who wonderfully shows himself in the God-man, Jesus Christ.
So dig in to your Bibles, and see for yourself that it is what it claims to be: The inspired, inerrant, and finally authoritative word of the living God!
I’m so glad that you want to begin reading the Bible. Both the Old Testament (the 39 books written between 1450 - 425 B.C., i.e. before the coming of Christ), and the New Testament (the 27 books written after Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension and through at least the middle part of the first century A.D.) are the inspired word of God, cf. II Timothy 3:16,17. While these books have human authors like Moses, David, Isaiah, Matthew,
Mark, Luke, John, etc. God so superintended their thinking and writing processes that what they composed is the very Word of God. That’s why reading the Bible is so important. It’s our GPS from God to help guide us through this world. I’m glad you’re beginning what will be a lifelong adventure!
Before we get to some specific answers to your questions, let’s think about the kind of Bible you should buy. There are so many available that it can be very confusing for the person who is new to Bible reading.
1. Some Bibles are paraphrases, e.g. The Message, The Living Bible, Good News for Modern Man/Today’s English Version. I don’t recommend them to new Bible readers because they are not “word for word translations”, but very loose interpretations of the biblical text. The New International Version is somewhat better, but a more literal translation is far better. The New King James Version is a translation that is very close to the historic King Janes Version (but without the outdated language). It reads beautifully and is good for memorization. We use the English Standard Version at The Haven because it is an excellent translation, is easy to read, and is the version used in Orthodox Presbyterian publications and by many other evangelical churches. The New American Standard version is also an excellent translation, but it’s better for study than for daily reading, in my opinion.
2. I’ve not been a fan of Study Bibles, because it’s too easy for people to confuse the notes that are included in the Study Bible with the Bible itself. But, in the case of those who have little or no familiarity with the Bible, a good Study Bible can be helpful. It will include information on the author, date, and main purpose of each book of the Bible, helpful notes on difficult passages or words, cross references so that you can look at verses that shed light on what you are reading, maps so that you can see the areas mentioned in the Scriptures, and various other helps. I highly recommend The Reformation Study Bible if you’re wanting to buy a Study Bible.
3. Font size and spaces on a page are very important. If the font size is too small and if there is little white space on a page, your eyes will get tired very quickly and you won’t want to read very much. Take a good look at the pages of the Bible you are considering - either in a book store or if you are purchasing on-line. I cannot overstate how important this is. You must enjoy reading your Bible and the font, spacing, and format will either contribute to your enjoyment or detract from it.
4. Consider getting a genuine leather Bible. In most cases these will have a better binding than hardbound Bibles; and they will last much longer. It’s better to pay a little more and get something that you will use with pleasure for many years.
Get your Bible this week, and next week we’ll start looking at hints for reading it.
So, by now you have decided on the good Bible translation you want and you’ve purchased a Bible that has a good font size and page format so that it’s easy to read (and mark with a pencil and/or marker if you want). What’s next?
1. Set a time and find a place that’s quiet and well lit. If you’ll be reading in the early morning (always preferable) or the late evening, sit in a place that isn’t so comfortable that you’ll fall asleep. (And it is perfectly permissible to read your Bible in the morning as you sip a good strong cup of coffee or tea!) I have a raised desk in my study, so I stand when I’m reading my Bible and doing my related studying. Standing keeps you awake, and it’s good weight-bearing exercise.
2. Always pray for the Holy Spirit to attend your reading of the Word of God. He’s the Author (and it’s wonderful when you can have the author of a book with you as you read!), and He knows how to show you Jesus Christ in all of the Scriptures. That’s his work (see John 15:26,27; 16:14,15). You also want his work to transform you more and more into the image of Jesus Christ (see II Corinthians 3:15-18). A simple prayer to use (which comes right from the Bible itself) is: “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” and out of the Gospel, too. (Psalm 119:18) And pray that you will be transformed by these wondrous things.
3. Have a reading plan and stick to it. Don’t open your Bible to any spot and just start reading. The Bible is not a ouija board! It’s a book composed of 66 books that have purposes, human authors with a mission, times and places in which and to which they were written, and particular recipients. Most Bible versions (but not all) include information like that as an introduction to each Bible book. Take time to learn a little about the book you are reading.
There are many different Bible reading schedules available. I can give you a Through the Bible in a Year schedule that I have used for years. Even if I want to take two years to read through both the Old and the New Testaments, I can still check off what I have read so that I have a record of my progress. (And, be honest, we all like records of our progress in reading through a book as large and as important as the Bible). Or, you can Google “Bible Reading Schedule” and you’ll have an array of suggestions. (The ones from Ligonier and The Gospel Coalition are particularly helpful). Bottom line: Follow your reading schedule….with this caveat:
4. If you’re new to Bible reading, I do NOT suggest that you begin at Genesis and work through to Revelation. You will get bogged down once you get to the book of Leviticus! And that will discourage you. Start with the New Testament. Read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and public ministry (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) Then read of how the Church grew following the day of Pentecost (Acts). Then read of how God the Holy Spirit addresses particular churches, bodies of believers, and individuals (Romans - Jude). Finally, be in awe as you read the vivid and richly symbolic book that tells you: “The Lamb, i.e. Jesus, wins!” (Revelation).
Next week we’ll look at how to read the specific genres of the Bible.
The Old Testament is a compilation of 39 books, all written between about 1450 - 425 BC.
i.e. Before the birth of Christ. The study of who wrote those books and how they were compiled
is fascinating - but that’s way beyond the purpose of this series in The Haven Heart to Heart.
These books are commonly divided into three “genres”, or types of literature: Historical,
Wisdom literature, Prophets. The Historical books are the first section of the Old Testament: From
Genesis through Esther. What should you keep in mind as you read these books?
1. They ‘re history! If you could go back in a time machine you could see the 6 day period
in which the Lord created the heavens and the earth and everything in them. You could see a
real worldwide flood. You could see the Israelites passing through the parted waters of the Red
Sea, etc. The New Testament constantly refers to the Old Testament books as accounts of real
history, eg. Matthew 19:4,5, Romans 5:12,13, James 5:17,18, etc. We should read the Old
Testament - and especially the historical books - in the same way. They’re real history!
2. They all point us forward to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. Jesus is the last Adam, I
Corinthians 15:45. He is the great Noah (which means “rest”) who brings an everlasting rest for
the people of God, Hebrews 4:1-13. He is the ultimate “seed” - offspring - promised to Abraham,
Galatians 3:16. He is the prophet who is greater than Moses, Hebrews 3:1-6. He is the great
Joshua (The Hebrew name for “Jesus”/Savior) who saves us from our sins, Matthew 1:21. He is
King David’s greater (and greatest!) son, Acts 2:34, 35, Hebrews 1:5, 13. He is the King who is
greater than Solomon, Matt. 12:42. He is the prophet who is greater than Jonah, whose ordeal in
the great fish’s belly was a picture of Christ’s ordeal in the grave, Matthew 12:40,41. As you read
the Old Testament - especially the historical books - always be thinking about how they point us
forward to Jesus Christ, Lord, Savior and King of his Kingdom.
3. They are not primarily books of moral lessons, but pictures of sin and grace, unbelief
and faith. We must be very careful about using the historical books for moral lessons. While it’s
true that Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is, in many ways, a model of holiness in submitting to her
husband, Abraham (I Peter 3:5,6), she also laughed in unbelief when the Lord said that she would
bear a son even when she was past the age to bear a child (Genesis 18:12ff.). Noah is a model of
faith as he built an ark according to the words and plan that God gave him (Hebrews 11,7); but
he also became drunk, giving an occasion for God’s judgment on his sons, Genesis 9:21ff. David
was “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), and a man whose heart for God became the
human source of many of the Psalms, but he also was guilty of adultery and murder (II Samuel
Instead of reading the historical books to get moral lessons, always keep the big picture
in mind: “The best of men are men at best” -and, add to that, they are sinners who must be
rescued from sin and death -and they continue to be very imperfect in this life. But God is faithful.
He is full of gracious love. He disciplines his people for their good (Hebrews 12:3ff.). He is
perfectly just. But he is also richly merciful because of his son who would cause both mercy and
justice to kiss one another on the cross, Psalm 85:10. Hallelujah - Praise the Lord!
The “Wisdom Literature” are, basically, the middle part of the Old Testament, i.e. the books that were written in about a 1000 year period before the birth of Jesus Christ.). That’s appropriate because even as they take up the heart of the Old Testament, they represent the heart of the life of a true believer in the true and living God. But, before that, they represent the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom the whole Old Testament leads, Lk 24:27, 44.
The books of the “Wisdom Literature” are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. How do they show you the heart and life of Christ?
• Job was a greatly afflicted man who, following his ordeal, was blessed beyond measure.
Jesus is the ultimate Job: A “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3), who was
humbled and glorified in fulfillment of what Job’s life was a type and pictures.
• The book of 150 Psalms displays every facet of individual and corporate life in relationship to
God, particularly suffering, glory, and the “ups and downs” (humanly speaking) of the
Kingdom of God.
• Proverbs is a goldmine of pictures and lessons about walking wisely, i.e. walking and making
decisions in the fear of God, which is the “beginning” or the principal part of all wisdom, cf.
Proverbs 9:10. What a window they give us on Jesus who is the very wisdom of God in flesh,
I Cor. 1:30; and who grew in “wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man” (Lk. 2:52)
• Ecclesiastes depicts “life under the sun”, which is full of blessings, but is only “vanity” if that’s
all a person lives for, cf. Eccles. 1:2, etc. (“Vanity” means a puff of air). In union with Jesus’
life by true faith, that curse is taken away. Your labors are NOT in vain in him, cf. I Cor. 15:58.
• Song of Solomon is a rich picture of the love of a husband and wife. But remember that all
marital love has its great original in Christ and the Church, Eph. 5:32. To learn about the love
of Christ for HIs church and the love of the Church for Christ, read the Song of Solomon!
Here are some practical suggestions for reading the Wisdom Literature:
• Try to read Job all in one sitting. (A great project for your Lord’s Day morning). Be struck with
how God’s self-description in chapters 38-41 is the answer to “the problem of evil.” That, and
also the cross of Jesus Christ!
• Pray through the Psalms. Memorize them. Sing them (as we do at The Haven). The Psalms
are the heartbeat of Christ’s life. Make them your heartbeat as well.
• Note that there are 31 chapters in Proverbs. Read the chapters according to the days of the
month. (On a 30 day month read chapters 30 and 31). Remember that Jesus is the only
perfect “Proverbs Person”.
• Read Ecclesiastes to get a “reality check” on the things of this world. Praise the Lord that that
all vanity is taken away in Christ’s perfect life and death.
• Get your picture of true passionate love in the Song of Solomon. Christ’s passionate love first.
Ours in passionate response.
The last section of the Old Testament (Isaiah - Malachi) is called “The Prophets”. Next week we’ll look at how to read and understand them.
The Old Testament Prophets are the books from Isaiah through Malachi (the last book of the Old Testament.) They were written between approximately 750 years before Christ (B.C.) and 450 B.C. This was a tumultuous time in the history of Old Testament Israel. In 722 B.C. , the Northern Kingdom (Israel) fell to the Assyrians. (Isaiah is one of the prophets who writes about this). In 586 B.C. the Southern Kingdom (Judah) fell to the Babylonians, and Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. (Jeremiah is one of the prophets who writes about this.)
Beginning in 605 B.C. the Babylonian empire began to take people from Judah into captivity (Daniel is one of them. You can read about that and the entire period until 539 B.C. known as The Exile in both Daniel and Ezekiel) In 539 B.C. the Israelites began to return to their land and re-build it and the temple. (You can read about that in the so-called ‘post-exilic books”, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). For the Old Testament prophets, it really is very helpful to have a Bible that gives you at least a little information on the historical background of each book.
As you read the Old Testament prophets, keep these things in mind:
1. They are both history and accurate prophecies of what would come to pass. Jonah really was swallowed by a “big fish”, cf. Matt. 12:40. And Isaiah and Ezekiel really did have extraordinary visions of God, cf. Is. 6:1ff. Ez. 1:1ff. (And what Ezekiel saw was NOT a flying saucer!). Amos really was a herdsman from Tekoa, cf. Am. 1:1. And, likewise, the painful descriptions of God’s judgments given in most these books, e.g. Lamentations, Joel, Obadiah, are accounts of things that really happened to the nation of Israel and to the nations around them. God is very serious about justice as well as about mercy. Both come together in the cross.
2. The failure of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and of their kings and, accordingly, the judgments those kings and kingdoms experienced, are designed to make us look ahead to one who would be a “corporate Israel”, eg. Matt. 2:15, representing all of his people in himself; and also a perfectly obedient son and King. From that Messiah, Jesus Christ, all of the blessings that the nation of Israel forfeited - and much more - would be attained both for Christ and for all who are united to him by grace in true faith. This is why the Old Testament prophets are full of prophecies of the Savior who would come into the world, e.g. Is. 7:16, 9:1-7, Micah 5:2,, etc.
3. You must read the prophecies of judgments to come as well as the prophecies of the Kingdom that Jesus the King would bring in as if you are looking at two mountain ranges separated by a couple of hundred miles. The first mountain range would refer to either the judgments that would come in human history, or to the first coming (the Advent) of Jesus Christ. The second mountain range (which looks as if it’s a part of the first one as you are looking at it while you move toward it) refers to the judgment of the last day when Jesus Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, or to the New Heavens and the New Earth which Jesus will usher in after that great judgment day. The “couple of hundred miles” separating them is our age - the Gospel age - which is “the day of salvation.” , cf. II Cor. 6:2.
Next week we’ll consider a few specific examples of this “two mountain range” perspective in the Old Testament prophets.
Reading the New Testament Epistles. A first century AD “epistle” was a letter. The 2 New Testament epistles (Romans - Jude) were letters written to churches, areas, or individuals. Most of these epistles were written by the apostle Paul (Romans - Philemon). Others were written by the Apostles Peter (I & II Peter). and John (I, II, III John), James, the brother of the Lord Jesus (James), and by James’ brother, Jude (Jude). We’re not sure who wrote the book of Hebrews (although many make the case that it was written by the Apostle Paul.)
These books compose “the foundation” of which Jesus Christ is the “cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20). Even as the apostles (which means “ones sent with a commission”) were sent out by Jesus both to represent Him and to explain the meaning of His person and work, so the epistles (plus the books of Acts and Revelation) represent Jesus to us in many ways and also develop the meaning of the work of Christ in saving His people and building His church.
As you read the epistles, keep in mind the theme(s) of each. (Some Bibles, especially Study Bibles, will give introductory material that includes this information).
Here are some examples:
• Romans: An overview of the whole Gospel plan, including justification sanctification, and the grand purpose of God for Jews and Gentiles.
• I Corinthians: How the Gospel applies to a church riddled with problems from divisions to chaos at the worship services, including at the Lord’s Supper.
• II Corinthians: A second letter to this church in southern Greece developing how the Gospel is illustrated as the Lord makes his strength perfect in our weakness.
• Galatians: A powerful rebuke of adding anything to the Gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
• Ephesians: Lessons about the wonder of the Church that Jesus is building, and how its members are to live as a body and in their families.
• Philippians: The theme of “joy” is developed in this opening up of the meaning of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation, and in the life of God’s people in the Church.
• Colossians: Similar to Ephesians (they were probably written at about the same time - when Paul was in prison) It develops how the Gospel is different from all forms of legalism.
• I & II Thessalonians: Correcting misunderstandings about the return of Christ.
• I & II Timothy & Titus: Called “The Pastoral Epistles”, these are letters written to ministers who were laboring in local churches of the first century. They give windows on Christian ministry, the Church, and Christian church life.
• Philemon: A wonderful story of the conversion of a slave and how he was to be received by his Christian master.
Rich with lessons about what God’s grace does.
And that will whet your appetite to find out about the other New Testament Epistles, Hebrews, James, I & II Peter, I, II, II John, and Jude. Start reading them!
This is one of my favorite things to think about. The contrast between the world into which Jesus Christ came (BC: Before Christ) and the world because He came (AD: Anno Domini: Year of our Lord) are given in Isaiah 8:21 - 9:7: Darkness vs. Light. Distress vs. Peace. The gloom of anguish vs. Joy.
Here are just a few specifics:
1. Ignorance of God vs. Knowledge of God: Prior to the coming into the world of Jesus Christ - the God-man, people “worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator”, bringing all kinds of miseries into human existence (Read Romans 1:18-32) People were enslaved to superstition, the very crude imaginations of humankind, and hopelessness, especially with respect to what happens after death. Jesus shows us God. He is The Way, The Truth, and The Life (John 14:6) and, through him, the whole world now has a GPS for this life and for the life to come!
2. Suffering vs. Help: Paganism that preceded Christ had no concept of assistance for the needy and the helpless. It was an evolutionary view: Survival of the fittest. The unfit were usually left to die. Christ’s very life and ministry (as well as his teachings, such as The Parable of the Good Samaritan) challenged all of that and brought the concept of hospitality (our of which hospitals grew), help for the poor, and kindness to the needy into the world.
3. Fear vs. Comfort: Before Christ people were beset with all kinds of fear. The weather, the change of seasons, eclipses, sickness, aging, and death were forces beyond human control and only to be seen as threatening. Jesus showed himself to be Lord of the winds and the waves, and He has power over all things - including the miseries of this life and death itself. This gives unspeakable comfort to those who know the Lord who told them over and over again to “Fear not!”
4. Inequality vs. Equality: The pre-Christian world was composed of the rigid castes of rich and poor, indigenous people and foreigners, laborers and property owners. And women were generally regarded as inferior to men and as objects for a man’s basest desires. Jesus changed all of that as he ministered to all groups of people and broke the social conventions regarding women. In Jesus Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek…slave or free, male or female.” The believer’s standing in Him makes us “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
5. Bondage vs. Freedom: In the world before Christ, people were in bondage to sin, guilt, the world, the devil, and human ordinances. Christ Jesus conquered all of these by his own death on the cross (Colossians 2:8-22) and his resurrection. To live for Christ as Lord and Savior is to be free from punishment and shame and to be free to “glorify and enjoy God’ now and forever. Praise the Lord!
(For further reading, I recommend the book Unimaginable: What Our World Would be Like Without Christianity, by Jeremiah J. Johnston)
One of our inmate Haven members is Arthur Tomlinson. Shortly after he was incarcerated in 2012 the Lord reached Arthur’s heart and wondrously converted him to true faith in Christ. Our communications from him reveal depths of understanding of the grace of God in Jesus Christ that are remarkable for their insight and for their sensitivity. We resume our Haven Heart to Heart series with excerpts from these communications. You will find them to be stirring statements of the freedom the Gospel gives to all who truly look to Christ as Savior and Lord - even to those who are behind prison walls.
Arthur’s reflections on Paul’s declaration in II Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ…” How should people forgiven in Christ receive these seemingly fearful words?
What if the replay of my life at the judgment seat of Christ, rather than a horror show, will be cast in terms of God’s grace, unfolded in such a way as to demonstrate the manifold, myriad ways in which his grace overcame all my weaknesses and finally proves to be all for a good I can see but dimly now; a tapestry beautiful beyond anything I could imagine or think to ask for - a good promised and secured? Yes and AMEN to the glory of God in and through me?
“Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” “…to the praise of his glorious grace, by which he has made me to be accepted in the beloved.”
“God is in all things working for the good of all those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” His purpose is to be glorified in all things. He will be glorified in all things!
…What fruit is growing from this root of judgment to come? My fear is gone! If what I say is the way it will be, then what is there to fear?
If God is going to show me how his lovingkindness, his steadfast, unconquerable love threw all that was bad into reverse, undid it, made it come clean bright and good - why wouldn’t I be eager to see it so I can marvel at his wisdom and power, mercy and kindness with all the saints and angels gathered there to see it, too?
The terrible things remain what they were: terrible; but even more terrible in its majesty, more terrible than evil could be is the Majesty On High who has worked such wonders for his undeserving creatures….
If our God is to be glorified in all things as he has said, then this telling of each redeemed life will have to be the story of his redeeming grace and love at work; and what could be more joyful to behold than when it comes to ourselves?
We will, if I am right, see how the story of our lives is really His story and was from the very beginning. Our crowns will be tossed at His feet as we exclaim and prostrate ourselves before the Lord of glory… I can’t imagine now just how it is that God-glorifying beauty will have come from the ugliness of my sin, but that’s a matter of details to be illuminated – for the ugliest sin of all time, that ever was or ever could be was the death of my Savior; and who can reckon the good that resulted?
It is the cross itself that assumes me that the review of my life will not be dreadful but praiseworthy. Not praise for me – perish the thought – but praise redounding to God who ran the cross like a sword through my entire life.
This will be the climax of losing my life for Christ’s sake as he shows me how all my decisions, vows, intentions, thoughts, words, desires, and actions all came into a line that points to Him alone, the Lord of glory indeed.
answers to all your music questions
As you go through the liturgy (i.e. the order of worship) you should always keep in mind that each section and each part of each section (usually divided into “the part from God to the people” and “the part from the people to God)”) has its purpose. (I usually explain some of that each week).
Because congregational singing is one of the elements of “the part from the people to God” it’s especially important that you know the answer to the question asked above. We are to “sing with the mind/understanding (I Cor. 14:15). Our worship will be more edifying (I Cor. 14:26) if we all know why we’re singing what we’re singing.
All singing in corporate worship must have three marks:
And, I’d add to this, that in my selection of hymns that we use at The Haven, OPC, I try to bring together “things old and things new”, cf. Matt. 13:52.
We sing the Old Testament Psalms, we sing hymns that have been used (in one form or another) in the Christian church since its early centuries, we use hymns that grew out of the Protestant Reformation and evangelical Christianity, and we use contemporary hymns that have the three marks given above.
As we sing gathered together in corporate worship we are then reminded by the very songs that we use that we are joined with the saints of all ages in giving praise to God.
Few things make us feel more awkward in a worship service than when we ‘re supposed to be singing a hymn, and we don’t know the tune. Hymn tunes simply aren’t hard-wired into us from birth! Like anything that’s new, we need to learn how to use it! While the one who organizes the worship service should work to keep the tunes relatively simple, we all need to work to learn the tunes so that we can sing them heartily joyfully, and believingly (our three most common adverbs to describe our worship). The Scriptures even tell us to “make his praise glorious” (NKJV) - which means we need to work at it!
Here are a few suggestions as we all work together to make our praise better reflect the glory of the God we’re worshipping:
Yes, you’re right, we do put a lot of emphasis on singing the Psalms (especially now that we have digital access to all of the Psalms - and hymns - from the Trinity Psalter Hymnal that was published by Great Commission Publications last year). There are some denominations in the Presbyterian and Reformed community of churches that only sing Psalms (and at least in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America they do that magnificently - singing in all four parts!). But, in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, most of our congregations (like The Haven) sing both Psalms and hymns. I like to say that we’re not “exclusive Psalm singers”, but we are “intensive Psalm singers”.
But, “Why?” - as you ask in part one of your good question.
The first reason is that we always want to sing those things that are most faithful to the Word of God. And it’s hard to beat singing the Word of God itself! (There’s actually a revival of chanting the Word of God in worship - but that’s not on our radar screen at The Haven).
When the apostle Paul speaks about “singing in the Spirit”, cf. I Cor. 14:15, he is speaking about what was true for that time before the New Testament was completed: The Holy Spirit gave inspired songs that were to be sung in worship. These are not recorded in Scripture, but, now that the Scriptures are complete, II Timothy 3:16f., we want to always sing songs that are conformed to the Word of God. And that’s certainly true of the 150 inspired Psalms (which were the songbook - the hymnal, if you will - of the Old Testament).
And the New Testament specifically commands us to sing the Psalms. We are to “address one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…” (Ephesians 5:19f., cf. Colossians 3:16). You can make the case that these three terms, i.e Psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, are actually specific references to the types of the 150 Old Testament Psalms. Whether or not that’s the case, this is a mandate for us to sing the Psalms.
Another reason (although there are many others) is that singing the Psalms makes us sing things that many hymns avoid. In the Psalms we sing about God’s mercy and grace; but we also sing about God’s justice and judgments. We sing about forgiveness; but we also sing about how serious sin is and what it does to us, to those around us, and to our world Rightly understood (and the one who leads you in worship should help you with this as you prepare to sing), the Psalms bring out dimensions of the person and work of Jesus Christ that hymns - especially more modern ones - frequently miss. And that impoverishes both our worship and our piety.
More on that next week. But keep in mind, as you sing the Psalms, that they are first of all about Jesus and His Kingdom, cf. Luke 24:44ff.
That fascinating theme will be part three in this Haven Heart to Heart series.
Last week I addressed the first part of your good question, i.e. why we put so much emphasis on singing the Psalms (not exclusively, but frequently). Let’s consider the second part of your question this week, i.e. “Aren’t some of the Psalms out of place in this New Testament period?”
What most people are referring to when they ask this question is the so-called “Imprecatory Psalms”, i.e. Psalms that call down judgments on the enemies of God and His people, e.g. Psalms 35, 58, 79, 82, 83, 109, 140.
We must admit that language like this sounds almost contrary to the great Gospel statement that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn it, but to save it, cf. Jn. 3:17
How can we sing things like this in the glorious age of the good news of the Gospel?
First, let’s keep in mind that there are also “imprecations”, i.e calls for God’s judgment, in the New Testament as well as the Old. See, for example the “woes” (calls for divine judgment) in places like Matthew 23:13, 15, 16, 23, 24, 27 (where Jesus Himself is pronouncing the judgment of God), I Cor. 16:21, 22, Gal. 5:12, and lengthy portions of the book of Revelation. In places like Matthew 26:23,24, the New Testament directly refers to the imprecations of the Psalms, cf. Psalm 41:8-10. So let’s not be too quick to say that the calls for judgment in the Psalms are our of place in this Gospel age.
Second, remember that God is a God of justice as well as mercy. The Gospel is a call to all nations (and people on every level of society in every nation) to throw down the weapons of the warfare of their hearts and surrender in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. In Him there is a refuge from the wrath of God against the sin of humankind. BUT: Outside of Christ there is the very real promise of the kinds of just judgments we read of in both the Psalms and the New Testament. On account of these things the wrath of God comes on the sons of disobedience, Colossians 3:6. The Psalms help us to preserve this all-important (and rightly very sobering) biblical teaching).
And, finally, remember that there will be a judgment of all wickedness at the last day, e.g. II Thessalonians 1:5-10. That is far too little emphasized in modern evangelical preaching (unlike the preaching of previous ages). The Psalms will not let us forget that our God is perfectly just, and a God of judgment as well as salvation.
Next week we’ll look at the key to bringing these things together.
Some time back I read with great fascination the chapter “Christ’s Reading” in the rich volume by Mark Jones Knowing Christ. It made a powerful impact on me that Jesus Christ’s “textbook” by which he grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man, cf. Lk. 2:40,52 was what we know as “the Old Testament”. And because the Old Testament is about Jesus Christ and His Kingdom to come, cf. Lk. 24:27, Jesus was learning about himself - especially His sufferings and the glory that would follow, cf. I Pet. 1:10f. - as He read from Genesis to Malachi (although the books had a different order than in our Bibles) in the original languages of Hebrew and Aramaic.
But it would have been the Psalms in particular that Jesus would have read, meditated on, and sung for his years of preparation for his public ministry, and for the 3 1/2 years of that ministry - culminating in the cross, the resurrection, and his ascension to glory to reign with all authority in heaven and on earth. While the Psalms were written by various writers, e.g. David, Moses, Asaph, they are all ultimately about Jesus Christ and His Kingdom, cf. Lk. 24:44. Those in union with Jesus Christ by grace through faith can (and should) read the Psalms drawing out applications for themselves; but they should never forget that the Psalms (like every other part of the Old Testament) point us to Jesus.
It will transform your view of both reading and singing the Psalms if you think, first of all, of how the Psalm is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Some examples:
• In Psalm 1, Jesus is the One (and the only one!) who perfectly delighted in the law of the Lord and who perfectly avoided walking in the counsel of the wicked. He is the perfectly blessed man, vss. 1-3.
• In Psalm 2, Jesus is the One about whom the Father says, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” (speaking of Christ’s resurrection), vs. 7, cf. Heb. 1:5. Jesus now reigns from Zion., i.e. heaven, as the King who is being given the nations as His inheritance, vss. 6-8.
• In Psalm 110 (the most frequently quoted Psalm in the New Testament), it is the Lord Jesus who sits at the right hand of His father, and who will reign until all of his enemies are made a footstool for his feet”, vs. 1, cf. Heb. 1:13.
• In Psalm 119 (which uses all seven of the Old Testament terms for the Word of God), Jesus, “The Word made flesh” is the only One who was truly blameless, vs. 1 and who perfectly kept His way pure by guarding it according to (God’s) word, vs. 9. In that Psalm, and in all the others that speak of the sufferings of God’s people think first of those sufferings as part and parcel of Christ, the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, eg. Psalm. 119:23, 70, 161, etc.
So always think of Christ first as you read, meditate on, and sing the Psalms. They are first of all about Him and His Kingdom. That will transform your view of singing the Psalms!
BUT: What about the Psalms that include confession of sin? Jesus never sinned! And what about the Psalms of God’s painful judgments? We’ll consider those things next week.
One of the most difficult questions when we sing about Christ in the Psalms, cf. Luke 24:44, is “What about the confessions of sin in the Psalms? Jesus never sinned!”
For some examples, how do verses like these apply to Jesus?
• I acknowledged by sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:5)
• Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. (Psalm 51:2,3)
• I have gone away like a lost sheep… (Psalm 119:176)
Never forget that Jesus never sinned. He had no personal iniquity or transgressions to confess. He never went astray like a lost sheep. Jesus was obedient - and completely obedient - even to the death of the cross, cf. Philippians. 2:9. If Jesus had sinned we would not have a Savior; and because Jesus was perfectly obedient in Him we have a perfect righteousness. Without this we wouldn’t have the good news of the Gospel.
The first thing to keep in mind is that the Psalms were written by human authors who did sin, who needed to confess their sin, and who had to receive forgiveness of sins. This reminds us that while the Psalms show us the sinless Jesus, they were written by people who were not sinless. We can (and should) relate to that as we - who also are not sinless - use the Psalms for our own devotions and as a pattern for godliness.
At the same time, we need to take with the deepest seriousness the profound truth that Jesus, who knew no sin by personal commission, nevertheless became sin (but NOT “a sinner”) for His people: For our sake, he, i.e. God the Father, made him, i.e. Jesus, to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (II Corinthians 5:21).
That means that Jesus:
• Felt in his inmost being what it meant to be a sinner who was under the wrath of God. He was, in the fullest sense of the word, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).
• Experienced to the greatest depths possible the power of sin that makes our bones waste away through our groaning all the day and that dries up our strength as in the heat of summer, because God’s hand is heavy on us, cf. Psalm 32:3.4.
• Knew in ways no mere mortal could ever even begin to grasp what it meant that sin causes us to be forsaken of everything but the eternal justice of an offended God. What awesome sorrow there is in Jesus’ cry, My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1)
So, as you sing what are often called “The Penitential Psalms”, e.g. Psalms 32, 51, 130, 143, remember that Christ experienced the depths of sin’s curse when he became a curse for us, cf. Galatians 3:13 - all so that the curse of sin might be taken away from those who trust in Jesus Christ as their sin-bearer. And he went to those depths because of the depths of his love for you! May that cause you to confess your own sins and receive from Jesus the forgiveness that comes at such a great price - the price of the sinless one becoming sin for us.
When people ask if “some of the Psalms are out of place for the New Testament period”, in most cases I think they are wondering about the “Imprecatory Psalms” - the Psalms that call for judgment on God’s enemies.
• Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a
trap…Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them. (Psalm
• He loved to curse, let curses come upon him. He did not delight in blessing. May it be far
from him. (Psalm 109:17)
• O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with
what you have done to us. Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them
against the rock. (Psalm 137:8,9).
Are these, in fact, suitable for the New Testament period? Didn’t Jesus himself say that he did not come into the world to condemn it, but to save it (John 3:17)? Isn’t this Gospel age a time of the grace of God rather than the wrath of God?
The first thing to keep in mind is that God is a God of justice as well as mercy. So many New Testament texts speak of God’s wrath that comes on those who disobey the Gospel, e.g. Romans 1:18-32; Colossians 3:6, II Thessalonians 1:5-12, 2:8-12, much of the book of Revelation. And Jesus himself pronounced serious woes, i.e God’s judgments, on religious hypocrites, e.g. Matthew 23. One of the reasons people take the Gospel so lightly in our day is because God’s holiness and justice are barely spoken of. The Psalms (and singing them) helps correct that.
Second, note carefully that most of the Imprecatory Psalms include specific references to Christ, to his ministry, and to his Kingdom. For example, Psalm 69:1-21 are specific references to Christ’s sufferings. Psalm 69:21 is quoted in all four of the Gospels. Psalm 109:8 is a reference to Judas (Acts 1:20). Psalm 137:8 is developed in Revelation 18. And the very hard words of Psalm 137:9 are in view in Luke 19:44 and 20:18. It is arbitrary to say that some of these things apply to Christ, His Kingdom, and the Gospel age, and that others do not.
Third, there is something that I call “the dark side of the cross.” While it is very true that in running to Christ and his cross we find mercy because Jesus satisfied the justice of God as a substitute for all of his people (that’s the very meaning of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross), it is likewise very true that those who do NOT run to Christ (or actually run AWAY from Him) are exposing themselves moment by moment to the wrath of God because of their sins. Colossians 3:6, for example, says that “the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience”, and Jesus himself says that those who do not believe in him are “condemned already” (John 3:18).
If we do not run to the bomb shelter of Christ we are exposing ourselves then and there and moment by moment to the radioactive destruction of God’s just wrath against sin and sinners. Jonathan Edwards had it right when he spoke of “sinners in the hands of an angry God. “ That is not a popular message; but the fact that it is unpopular does not make it untrue.
I suggest that we don’t feel this as we should in no small measure because we sing the Psalms of God’s justice so little. We are called to “sing of justice and of mercy.” (Psalm 101:1), and the Psalms help us to do both - using the very words God has given us.
Churches in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition (like most Christian churches) practice what is commonly called “infant baptism” - or what I much prefer to call “household baptism.” While there are certainly instances of the baptism of older individuals who come to faith in Christ in the New Testament, e.g. Acts 8:12,13, 38; 9:18; I Cor. 1:14, there are almost as many instances of baptisms of whole households, e.g. Acts 16:15, 34, I Cor. 1:16 (in this text, the Apostle Paul even seems to say that the baptism of households was the norm in apostolic practice, i.e. I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that I do not know if whether I baptized any other [the literal translation of the Greek word]. “Any other” seems most likely to mean “any other household”.
And it is most significant that, in each of these household baptism texts, there’s no mention of each individual in the household believing prior to baptism. In fact, in the account of the baptism of the household of the Philippian jailer, the original text speaks only of the faith of the jailer - the head of his home: And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God. (Acts 16:34).
The reason for this that all of the covenants that God has made with man since the fall are covenants made with households:
• God’s covenant with Noah was a covenant made with him and his whole household - as representatives of the families that would soon inhabit the earth, cf. Gen. 9:8ff.
• God’s covenant with Abraham was a covenant with him and with his entire family, as “firstfruits” of God’s promises that “in Abraham’s seed all of the families of the earth will be blessed”, cf. Gen. 12:3ff, 17:1ff.
• God’s covenant with Moses as the leader of Israel was a covenant in which whole families composed “the house of Israel” and “the holy nation”, cf. Ex.19:5ff
• The New Covenant prophesied in the Old Testament, i.e. the New Covenant inaugurated by the coming of Christ in the world, his life, his death, and his resurrection, specifically says that it will include whole households, eg. Jer. 31:31ff, 32:38-40.
So, the biblical pattern in both the Old and the New Testaments is that whole households are part of God’s covenant dealings as he delivers his people from sin and death and leads them in paths of righteousness. In the Old Testament the “covenant sign” was the bloody ordinance of circumcision. In the New Testament (with the coming of Christ who fulfills the meaning of circumcision by his bloody death on the cross) that sign is replaced by the cleansing sign of water baptism, cf. Col. 2:11,12. And that sign is to be given to members of the household when there is at least one parent who is a believer in Christ, cf. I Cor. 7:14.
But you’re asking if that means that all of the children who are baptized are saved. We’ll consider that in next week’s Haven Heart to Heart.
In last week’s Haven Heart to Heart, I presented the case for the baptism of whole households in which there is at least one believing parent. Certainly if a family member e.g. a spouse or an older child, rejects the Christian faith it would be inconsistent (and it would send a very wrong message) to baptize that person. (Although when there is at least one believing parent, faithful pastors and elders will do everything possible to minister to the entire family with a goal of seeing each member profess faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord). Baptism is a sign of identification with God; and if one has no desire to be identified with God baptism becomes a mockery.
But Jesus took little children and infants to himself and said “Of such is the Kingdom of God.” (Matt. 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17). He even uses child-likeness as a pattern for a Christian’s faith (probably referring to a child’s total dependence on a parent for everything). Because baptism is associated with the Kingdom that has come with the coming of Jesus the King, cf. Matt. 3:1-16, Mark 1:1-11, Luke 3:1-22, it is certainly fitting that little children of at least one believing parent be baptized. Now does that mean that each child who is baptized is or will be saved? Of course not! Water baptism itself doesn’t give a person a new heart. We learn that from the example of Simon the Magician (you can read the story in Acts 8:9-24). He was baptized, but., in no uncertain terms, the Apostle Peter makes clear that Simon was hardly a saved man (see Acts 8:2-23 - what an example of a bold preacher!).
And water baptism doesn’t guarantee that a person (of whatever age) is a saved person. Water baptism marks out a person as a saint. i.e. one separated unto God, but these saints are still called to “examine themselves as to whether (they:) are in the faith”, cf. II Cor. 1:1, 13:5.
And people who are regarded as followers of Christ are still told to “beware lest there be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:12) This does not mean that a truly saved person can lose his or her salvation, cf. John 10:28,29, Rom. 8:29,30; but it means that water baptism (or church membership) is no indicator of the state of a person’s heart. (This is why communicant church membership in a Presbyterian church - membership that permits a person to come to the Lord’s Supper - is not based on whether or not a person is regenerated or “saved”, but whether a person has a credible profession of faith, i.e. an informed confession of faith in Christ and a life that, at least outwardly, does not contradict that profession).
Water baptism is a mark identifying the person baptized with the true and living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. cf. Matt. 28:18-20. It is part of the external administration of the Kingdom of God - an administration that brings warnings as well as promises. You cannot read the New Testament in any other way.
But the questioner asks, “What’s the purpose of baptizing infants and little children”, and anyone else, for that matter? What purpose does water baptism serve if it’s not an indicator that a person is “truly saved?”
That’s a good question! We’ll look into it next week...
We made clear last week that water baptism doesn’t save anyone - child or adult. Baptism with water is a God-ordained sign and seal that marks people out in the name of the Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and specifically marks them out to be followers of Jesus Christ - in whom, alone, there is forgiveness of sins. Baptism is a mark, not magic!
The next part of your very full question is something we all ask: “If water baptism doesn’t save a child, then what purpose does it serve?”
It’s important to keep in mind that baptism is a sign of God’s covenant with believers and their children, cf. Gen. 17:1-7. It’s a sign of His promise to be - in the fullest sense of the word - God to us and to our families.
But God’s covenants with us always have two parts:
1. God’s promises of grace to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
2. Our promises to live out of that covenant by doing what God has told us to do.
You see this in Genesis 17:9ff. After God made his promise to Abraham and his offspring, God calls Abraham to “keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you.” God makes promises and warnings on His side. We promise to live out of those promises and warnings. And God brings the blessings of His covenant grace to us in that way.
So what does that mean for parents who have baptized their children - and for their children?
1. Identification: Baptized children (we often call them “covenant children”) are part of the Kingdom of God, cf. Matt. 19:44, Mk. 10:14, Lk. 18:16f. God’s word identifies children of believers as part of the church, e.g. Eph. 1:1. 6:1-3; Col. 1:1:2, 3:20. We don’t raise our children as pagans, we raise them as Christians and make their lives fully a part of the church. In short, we teach our children to sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.” And we show that love to our children as part of their covenant heritage.
2. Transformation: God gives means of grace, especially the preaching and teaching of the Word of God to show us Jesus Christ, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, prayer, and fellowship. We make these a part of our lives and the lives of our children (who begin to partake of the Lord’s Supper after they have publicly professed their faith in Christ.) We don’t presume upon God’s grace; we assume our responsibilities for discipline and nurture in the home; and the church does the same in its corporate life.
3. Expectation. God gives promises to us an to our children - especially the promise of the Holy Spirit who makes us new creatures in Christ, cf. Is. 44:3-5, Acts 2:38,39. We don’t know when or how the Lord does and will do that work in our children, but we always pray to that end and believe God’s promises “to us and to our children.”
But what about covenant children who turn away from the Lord? We’ll consider that painful question next week.
Short answer: No! But I can tell you what we mean by “The Trinity”. I can’t state the Bible’s teaching about God better than our Shorter Catechism does:
Q 5: ARE THERE MORE GODS THAN ONE?
A: THERE IS BUT ONE ONLY, THE LIVING AND TRUE GOD.
Q.6: HOW MANY PERSONS ARE THERE IN THE GODHEAD?
A. THERE ARE THREE PERSONS IN THE GODHEAD: THE FATHER, THE SON, AND THE HOLY
SPIRIT. AND THESE THREE ARE ONE GOD, THE SAME IN SUBSTANCE, EQUAL IN POWER AND
The Trinity is a great mystery, but we cannot understand the Bible either accurately or
honestly if we don’t believe and confess this glorious truth: The Father is God. The Son (who
took flesh and whom we know now as the Lord Jesus Christ) is God. And the Holy Spirit is God.
This is taught in various ways in the Bible:
• In Matthew 28:19, the baptismal formula (by which those baptized have the name of God put
upon them - they are marked out as His) is “baptize them into the Name (note the singular) of
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” This clearly teaches the doctrine of the Trinity.
• When we pray to God, we begin by saying, “Our Father in heaven….” (Matt. 6:9), indicating
that the Father is God.
• Jesus says “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9) While the Son is NOT the
Father, because they are “the same in substance, equal in power and glory”, Jesus, the Son
of God, can make this very true statement.
• In Acts 5:3,4, lying to God is the same as lying to the Holy Spirit - because the Holy Spirit is
God. (And it’s important not to speak of the Holy Spirit as an impersonal force, e.g. “The force
be with you.” Especially in John 14:15-31, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as a person, e.g. a
Helper, the Spirit of truth.
• The benediction with which we go forth at the end of worship is a blessing from God - God
who is Trinity. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the
communion/fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.” (II Cor. 13:14, etc.)
These three Persons aren’t three sides of a triangle (the way “Onenenss Pentecostals”
and others teach). And they aren’t three gods (as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims and others
claim of Christian teaching). The Trinity means that God is three distinct persons but still one
How can that be? Isn’t that a contradiction? We’ll address those questions next week.
Meanwhile: Delight in the true and living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
Remember how important this subject is. When we speak about “God”, we must speak about God as He has revealed Himself in Holy Scripture or we will be speaking about a “god” of our own imagination - and that’s both a false view of God and idolatry.* The Old and the New Testaments gradually make clear that the one true and living God is also triune, i.e. three distinct persons, but one God. You see this most clearly in the formula for Christian baptism in which a person is baptized into the Name (not: Names) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Spirit (Matthew 28:19)
Nature can’t teach us that “there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, #6).** However, only creation by the Trinity can explain the “One and the Many:” problem in philosophy. Why are there collective and universal things, i.e. the One, e.g. the State, animals of a particular species (dogs, cats, birds, etc.), concepts (love, grace, truth) and, at the same time, specific and local things, i.e. the Many, eg. citizens, poodles, Siamese cats, bluebirds, the cross of Jesus Christ? There are universals and particulars in the entire created order because all was made by the God who is “One and Many”.
The first indicator of this in Scripture is in Genesis 1:26, when God said, “Let us make man in our image…male and female he created them.” Here’s the “one and the many” again. Humankind, i.e Man, is one - a universal. But there are two particular humans, i.e. man and woman. They are made for fellowship. They mirror the God who is eternally in fellowship with himself by the Holy Spirit. In fact, when we read that “God is love” (I John 4:16) we must assume that God is more than one person. “Love” is meaningless if there is not someone to love! “God is love” because the Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, both love the Holy Spirit, and, by the Holy Spirit, there is an eternal communion in love of these three divine persons, cf. II Corinthians 13:14, “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” (which probably refers to the fellowship He gives within the Trinity that is now reflected in the people of God as they are being re-made into the image of the Triune God, cf. Ephesians 4:24.)
But how are we to relate to each individual Person in the Godhead?
We’ll begin to look at that in next week’s Haven Heart to Heart - we’ll begin learning how to delight in the Trinity!
* John Calvin, the great theologian of the Protestant Reformation, rightly wrote that if we try to think about God without thinking of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, then “only the bare and empty name of God flits about in our brains - to the exclusion of the true God.”
** Which is why we should not try to understand what God is by seeking to work from the natural realm up to God himself. When we speak of God as “The Great Architect of the Universe” or as “the Intelligent Designer” we are not speaking of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we also miss the profound implications of God doing all of his work with a Trinitarian impress. Whenever we speak of God we should always presuppose the way He has revealed Himself in Scripture and work out the implications of that from this starting point.
I so appreciate these questions about who (and what) God is because people can speak of
“God” but mean something totally different than the way God defines and explains himself. If I
want to speak of a tree, but define and explain it as an animal that walks on four legs, has a tail,
and barks you would quickly let me know that I’m not talking about a tree, but about a dog. It’s
the same (with very serious consequences) when people speak about “God” but do not
understand or do not accept what God tells us about himself. To make up our own definition of
“God” is both to disrespect God’s own self-description and to create an idol with our
imaginations. Be sure your view of God is not an idol of your own or someone else’s making.
The Bible is our sourcebook to tell us who and what God is precisely because it is God’s
Word. In last week’s Haven Heart to Heart we showed how the Word of God teaches that God
is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - as you rightly state in your question.
But isn’t God one? “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy
6:4). Cults that deny the Trinity, e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses, emphasize this text, as do Muslims.
The Qur’an, the holy book for Muslims and for the religion of Islam uses this text to condemn the
Christian belief in the Trinity:
“Say not “Trinity”. Desist. It will be better for you: for God is one God. Glory be to Him:
(far exalted is he) above having a son.” Qur’an, Surah 4.171
So how do we fit the Trinity into God’s own statement that He is one?
1. Deuteronomy 6, where this affirmation is made, is about the uniqueness of God as
the One to whom alone we are to be devoted. So, Deuteronomy 6:5 goes on to tell us that we
are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our strength, all our soul, and all our mind.
This can only be done by knowing that there is one true and living God and by devoting
ourselves solely to him.
2. The Hebrew word for “one” in Deuteronomy 6:4 is not a word used for mathematical
singularity. Interestingly, it’s used Genesis 2:24 to speak of Adam and Eve - two distinct
persons - as one flesh. This background to the use of the term (remember that the Bible is to
interpret the Bible) shows that there can be a plurality that is still a unity. This great mystery
demonstrated in our first parents is also displayed in Jesus Christ and His Church, which is the
great reality of which the marriage of two persons is to be a reflections (Ephesians 5:30-32).
The fact of the matter is that everything in creation is, in one way or another, unity and
plurality. You can’t correctly understand the universe unless you realize that it was the Triune
God that created it. But we’ll need to open that up (and other practical implications of the
doctrine of the Trinty) next week.
What a great question! You will find the book Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves
to be a great help to you for this subject. It’s rightly called “An Introduction to the Christian
Faith.” I’m drawing from that book for these editions of The Haven Heart to Heart.
Remember that the true and living God - our God - is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our
faith is built on the foundation of this Triune God. Think about, and honor, and revel in each
The Nicene Creed ascribes creation especially to God the Father: “We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” You read this in (among other places) Revelation 4:11 in which the Father is to be worshipped, i.e. He is worthy to receive glory and honor and power, “for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” The Father did this because He is Love (I John 4:16) - and love always desires to communicate with and be shared by others. The Father did not need to create the universe
(he’s not lonely!), but, as the One who eternally loves His Son by the Holy Spirit, he created all things especially as a gift for His Son: The Son is the “firstborn over all creation” (NOT the first created being!), Colossians 1:13, and He is the heir of all of these things “ (Hebrews 1:2). One of the glories of the Gospel is that, in Christ, believers also become heirs to all of these things - we are “joint heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:17). Wow! That’s something to ponder!
But this is not to say that the Father, alone, created all things. Hebrews 1:2 continues by saying of Christ “through whom He, i.e. the Father, also created the world.” “By (the Son) all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” - speaking of the realm of angels - “all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16). “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3).
The eternal Word, the self-expression of God - was the Father’s executive in making the world. He was the Master Workman who was beside the Father “rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man..” (You can read this thrilling picture in Proverbs 8:22-31 where the Son of God is called the very wisdom of God.) The Father and the Son exulted that what they created was “good”. (Genesis 1:4,10,12,18,21,25,31 - catch the excitement as you read!)
He “hovered over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2) . “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath (or Spirit) of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6). Job says that “By his breath, i.e Spirit, the skies became fair (or beautiful)”. The Holy Spirit presides over the specific works of creation (even as he presides over the specific works of new creation) making them all alive with beauty.
C. S. Lewis likens this work of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to a majestic song in perfect harmony. In The Magician’s Nephew, Aslan - the figure of Christ in these remarkable seven volumes - sings the world into existence. Likewise, Lewis’ friend J. R. R. Tolkien (author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy imagined the creation of the universe as a musical event in The Simarillion.
If the Lord rejoices over His people with singing - and he does (Zephaniah 3:17) - we can imagine that the Triune God who is the source of all harmony would have been singing with delight as the love of the Father to the Son in the Spirit overflowed into the creation of heavens and the earth. You can begin your delight in the Trinity by singing, too. “God, all nature sings Thy glory, and thy works proclaim thy might!” Amen! Hallelujah!
Last week we looked at how we should think about and honor the Father.
This week let’s think together about how we are to honor the Son - Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God who took flesh, lived among us - and lived a life of perfect obedience - died on the cross for the sins of HIs people, rose from the dead on the Sunday after that “Good Friday”, ascended into Heaven forty days later, and now reigns with all authority in Heaven and on Earth (Matthew 28:18).
There are so many ways that we honor the Son. Looking at the big picture: He is the one who fulfills everything in the Scriptures so that He might become our Savior.
• He is the fulfillment of the meaning of a Prophet: He not only spoke the Word of God, but He IS the Word of God (John 1:1-3). Jesus could say “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 1:18. 14:9). He is the “express image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3). We honor the Son because He shows us God!
• He is the fulfillment of the meaning of a Priest: When John 3:16 says the “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” He was speaking of giving Jesus as the great High Priest who would be both the great offering for our sins, i.e. the Lamb of God, but also the one who would represent us as He lived and died, and who represents us now having entered the ultimate Holy of Holies - heaven itself - with His own sacrifice and with His prayers. We honor the Son because He is the Priest that we need! You can read an extended treatment of this in Hebrews 7:1 - 10:18.
• He is the fulfillment of the meaning of a King: He reigns over us as King David’s greater son (Acts 2:34-36). And He so reigns that all things serve the purpose of building His Church (Ephesians 1:20-23). That means that, for you who are part of His Church by grace through faith, all things work together for your good as well as for His glory (Romans 8:28-39). We honor the Son because He is the King of Kings - and our King and Savior!
PAUSE TO HONOR JESUS THE SON AS YOUR PROPHET, YOUR PRIEST, AND YOUR KING! HALLELUJAH!
But, as if that weren’t enough, you honor the Son because the love the Father had eternally for the Son is the same love with which the Father loves you when you are in the Son, i.e. by grace through faith, and that love is in you so that you might love and enjoy the Son as the Father always has. That’s what Jesus means when he says in John 17:25,26: “Righteous Father, though the world does not know You, I know You, and they, i.e. Christ’s disciples, know that You sent Me. I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love you have for me may be in them, and that I Myself may be in them.” Wow!
In Christ, God the Father is not just the Creator and Judge. He is your inexpressibly loving and supremely fatherly Father who loves you with the same love with which He loves His Son. He can say of you: “You are my beloved son (or daughter) in whom I am well pleased.”
What a reason to honor Jesus Christ the Son of God! Outside of Him we are, by nature, children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). “But God, being rich in mercy” (with the treasury of those riches being Christ Himself) “because of the great love with which He loved us made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved…” What marvelous reasons to honor the Son - the second Person of the Trinity!
For this series I have drawn from the outstanding book Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves. I cannot commend the book to you too highly.
His chapter 4 on the Holy Spirit (Entitled “The Christian Life: The Spirit Beautifies”) is so rich, that, for this Haven Heart to Heart on honoring the Holy Spirit as the third Person of the Godhead, I have selected several sections to quote. I hope that these whet your appetite to get and read this book that will truly help you to delight in the Trinity!
• “The first thing the Nicene Creed says about the Spirit is that he is “the Lord, the giver of life.” In the beginning, it was the Spirit who, like a mother dove, first vitalized creation and breathed life into it; likewise it is the Spirit who gives new life - first to Jesus in the tomb (Rom. 8:11), and then to us.” p. 85.
• “Since our problem is with our hearts, the Spirit gives us new birth into a new life precisely by giving us new hearts (Ezek. 36:26, Jn. 3:3-8). The tool he uses is Scripture (I Pet. 1:23, Jas. 1:18), but through Scripture he opens our blinded eyes to see who the Lord truly and beautifully is and so he wins our hearts back to him. And that is life - to know him (Jn. 17:3). p. 86
• “The life that the Spirit gives is not some abstract thing. In fact, it is not primarily some thing that he gives us at all. The Spirit gives us his very self, that we might know and enjoy him and so enjoy his fellowship with the Father and the Son.” p. 87.
• Quoting R. A. Torrey: “(The Holy Spirit) dwells in our hearts, if we are really Christians, and He sees every act we do by day or under cover of night; He hears every word we utter in public or in private; He sees every thought we entertain; He beholds every fancy and imagination that is permitted even a momentary lodging in our mind, and if there is anything impure, selfish, mean, petty, unkind, harsh, unjust, or any evil act or word or thought or fancy, He is grieved by it.” p. 90.
• “‘God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us’ (Rom. 5:5). It is how the Spirit breathes out his life on us: he enlightens us to know the love of God, and that light warms us, drawing us to love him and to overflow with love for others….(How does he do this?): Quite simply by opening our eyes to see the glory of Christ.” p. 91.
• My new life began when the Spirit first opened my eyes (there’s the light) and won my heart (there’s the heat) to Christ. Then, for the first time, I began to enjoy and love Christ as the Father has always done. And, through Christ, for the first time, I began to enjoy and love the Father as the Son has always done. That was how it started, and that is how the new life goes on: by revealing the beauty, love, glory, and kindness of Christ to me, the Spirit kindles in me an even deeper and more sincere love for God. And as he stirs me to think ever more on Christ, he makes me more and more Godlike: less self-obsessed and more Christ- obsessed.” p. 93
May the experience of Michael Reeves, the author of Delighting in the Trinity, be ours as well - by the Holy Spirit who gives us new life in union with Jesus Christ. Amen! Hallelujah
The most masterful statement of assurance of salvation is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 18, “Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation”. I urge you to study that with the Scripture proof texts. You will find that study richly rewarding.
That’s the easy way to answer your question - or at least to direct you to a very full answer!
But a simple answer to your question isn’t easy!
Frankly, more professed Christians should struggle with this issue as you do. Whether or not our sins are truly forgiven and whether or not we are truly Christians are the most important issues we face in this life. One of the scariest truths in the whole Bible is given in Matthew 7:21-23:
NOT EVERYONE WHO SAYS TO ME, ‘LORD, LORD,’ WILL ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, BUT THE ONE WHO DOES THE WILL OF MY FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN. ON THAT DAY MANY WILL SAY TO ME, ‘LORD, LORD, DID WE NOT PROPHESY IN YOUR NAME, AND CAST OUT DEMONS IN YOUR NAME, AND DO MANY MIGHTY WORKS IN YOUR NAME?’ AND THEN WILL I DECLARE TO THEM, ‘I NEVER KNEW YOU; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WORKERS OF LAWLESSNESS.’
“That day” is the day Judgment after Christ returns. All of us will stand before Jesus as the Judge on that day (see Acts 17:31). That includes professed Christians (those who called Jesus ‘Lord’). Many of these will be those who did “many mighty works” in Jesus Name. But (and this is what is very scary), Jesus will say to many of those, “I never knew you. Depart from me.”
We could say that the most important issue is not “Do you know Jesus?”, but “Does Jesus know you?” - Has Jesus given you specific evidences of His love for YOU?
The big evidence that we are loved and saved by God through Jesus Christ (according to this passage) is that we not only call Jesus Lord, but we obey Him. “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15, 21; 15:10, cf. I John 3:24). When the Lord saves us, He gives us a “new heart” (Ezekiel 36:26), and that “new heart” makes us want to obey God.
So, the answer to your question begins here: A true Christian wants to obey the Lord fully and from the heart. Do you?
It’s important to keep in mind that some people struggle with assurance of salvation more than others do. One of the reasons is that, because some have come to faith in Christ from backgrounds of particularly sin-dominated lives, that baggage from the past will sometimes come back, influencing them to give in to remaining, indwelling sin, and then making them fearful that they are not in a state of grace, i.e. saved people. Satan is very active in these cases, too. He is not only a tempter, but an accuser, a slanderer, a liar, and a destroyer.
That’s why we must resist him, always going back to the forgiveness and acceptance we have in Jesus Christ, and reminding ourselves that he is true and a life-giver. Keep coming to him as one who “did not come to call the righteous (that is, people who think they are righteous in themselves), but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32). Keep repenting and believing, reminding yourself constantly that those who come to him he will never cast out’ (John 6:37). We all need to keep reminding ourselves of the free offer of the Gospel!
Other people have unusually sensitive consciences. That’s a good thing, but it can make the person (and, here again, Satan is very active in the ways I mentioned in the previous paragraph) dwell too much on his or her failings. And not infrequently those with unusually sensitive consciences can become anxious over false guilt - that is, feeling guilty over things that are not wrong in themselves. The antidote for these things is making sure that our thoughts (including our thoughts about our own remaining, indwelling sin) are governed by the Word of God, and not by our feelings. Its’ also important for those with particularly sensitive consciences to work on thinking more about Christ and his amazing grace than on their own failings. Humility, as many have observed, is not so much about “thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.” For every look at yourself, take at least ten looks at Christ!
Yet others are more constitutionally “melancholy”. Their lives are sung more in minor keys than in major ones. These are usually very thoughtful, pensive people. And when thoughtful, pensive people put the microscope of their thoughts on their own remaining fallenness and the fallenness of our world - well, that will certainly make anyone glum (Think of the character “Puddleglum” in C. S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair). Asaph - who wrote Psalms 73 - 83 was that kind of person. Read those Psalms, and let your heart rest as Asaph’s did - on the faithfulness and goodness of God.
In part 1 of this series answering your question, I urged you to read Chapter 18 of the Westminster Confession of Faith (which is one of the doctrinal standards for The Haven, OPC). Section 4 of this chapter is one of the richest statements about assurance of salvation that you will read anywhere.
Here’s a paraphrase of it: True believers in Jesus Christ may have the assurance of their salvation shaken in various ways, diminished, and interrupted. This can come when they
Doubts of a true believer’s assurance of salvation may also come when God withdraws a felt sense of his gracious presence, and permits even those who truly fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light (Isaiah 50:10. See also Psalms 31:22, 51:8,12,14; 77:1-10).
Yet true believers in Jesus Christ are never completely without
To which we say: Thanks be to God!