Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Hope in the Beatitudes - mourners will be comforted

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4)

The beatitudes seem to be a progressive description of those who are blessed by God. They begin with the awful realisation discussed earlier that we sinners can only come empty-handed before a holy God and plead for mercy because of the blood of Christ which was shed for our sins. Having recognised this fact, and approached God in repentance and faith in Christ, the kingdom of heaven is indeed ours, a wonderful gift of grace.

The recognition that we are sinners who have broken God’s holy law will then lead us to mourning over our sins. Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthian church in which he confronted them with their sinful behaviour. In his follow-up letter he writes “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it...because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended...Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Cor 7:8,9,10).

I am an expert at worldly sorrow. When I have let myself down by my thoughts, actions or lack of action, my pride has been wounded, and I have beaten myself up over my inability to live the way God wants me to live. And that is as far as I have got. Damaged pride has led to self-condemnation and self-absorption and self-centredness.

Godly sorrow is the recognition that as a sinner with a sinful nature, when I sin I need to bring it before a holy God and repent and ask forgiveness from Him. It is also the recognition that I am not saved by my own righteousness, but instead I am saved by the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. It is the recognition that in Christ I have one who speaks to the Father in my defence, “Jesus Christ the Righteous One.” (1 John 2:1). It is the looking away from myself towards the author and perfecter of my faith. Godly sorrow leads to repentance, salvation, Christ-absorption and Christ-centredness.

The blessing contained in this beatitude is another great promise, that those who mourn over their sin will indeed be “comforted”. Confession and repentance of our sins leads to forgiveness and peace with God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). This is the awesome good news of the gospel, that the blood of Christ is able to “cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14). Praise God!

And yet, one of the great paradoxes of Christianity is that the more we grow in our faith, the more aware we become of our sin. Charles Spurgeon said “I believe the holier a man becomes, the more he mourns over the unholiness which remains in him” (C.H. Spurgeon, Sermons Vol 16 p.221). The more light we receive, the more we see the darkness which remains. This is why it is so important that we never lose sight of the gospel message – we have to walk in repentance on a daily basis, never thinking that we have “arrived”. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor 10:12). The apostle Peter placed much confidence in his flesh, proudly claiming before Christ “even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you”, (Matthew 26:35), yet only a few hours later he denied Christ three times. I believe we are in a much stronger position when we recognise the weakness of our flesh and our inability to live the Christian life, and instead rely upon Christ and the provision of his strength – as the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). The moment we begin to rely upon ourselves and our own righteousness, good works, strength in the faith, whatever it may be, we are moving away from grace. The more closely we follow after grace, the stronger we will become in Him.

Let us mourn over our sin, let us recognise the awfulness of sin and its abomination before a holy God, and let us determine to wage a daily war with our sinful nature, putting to death the misdeeds of the body by the Spirit. Let us recognise that “without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14) and let us seek with all our hearts the holiness of Christ, recognising the truth that if we are found in Him, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all...because by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy” (Heb 10:10,14). We have been made holy (justified) and He is making us holy (sanctification). It is all of Him, it is all of His grace.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Hope in the Beatitudes - poor in spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. (Matthew 5:3)

The beatitudes are the name given to a series of 8 statements which Jesus makes to his disciples at the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount. 8 times Jesus declares God’s blessing on people. 8 times he outlines the characteristics of those who will indeed be blessed.

What does it mean to be blessed by God? I believe it is summed up in the blessing which the Lord instructed Aaron to say to the Israelites: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). If we are blessed by God, He keeps us, His face is shining upon us and turned towards us, He is gracious towards us, He gives us peace. This is some blessing! This is surely what all people on earth need to have, God’s blessing.

So which people does Jesus say are blessed? He starts off by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. This isn’t referring to material poverty, but rather spiritual poverty, the poor in spirit. Spiritual poverty is that recognition that before a Holy God we are guilty, sinful, that our good works are but filthy rags before Him, and that we can come to Him on no other terms than pleading for His mercy. The Bible is clear that we are all guilty – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). We may think we are not that bad really, after all we haven’t committed too many sins – yet we read elsewhere that “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). So even if we have kept 9 out of the 10 commandments, and just slip up on coveting our neighbour’s possessions, we are guilty. The teaching of Jesus makes it clear that even if we haven’t committed sins with our actions, it is our hearts which condemn us – “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19). As the Apostle Paul says, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18).

I believe that being poor in spirit is summed up in a parable which Jesus told.
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’. I tell you that this man, rather than the other one, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted’.” (Luke 18:9-14).

The tax collector, recognising his sin and need of mercy, prays a simple prayer to God: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. He wouldn’t even look up to heaven, because he recognised the weight of his sin, and how that sin was offensive to a Holy God.

But praise God, this is where the blessing comes: Jesus tells us that this man went home justified before God. God declared him not guilty, declared that the ungodly tax collector was in fact a godly man, simply because he recognised his need for mercy, and cried out to God for that mercy. This is the very heart of the gospel message, the good news that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). Whilst we were dead in our sins, powerless to help ourselves, God the Father sent His Son to be a sacrifice for sin on our behalf, to suffer the punishment that rightfully should have been ours, so that we could be reconciled to God. In order to receive this great blessing of peace and reconciliation with God, we simply need to come to Him and say “I am a sinner, have mercy on me” – repenting of our sin, turning away from it, and trusting in Christ and what He has done for us.

Praise God, this is the blessing promised by Jesus – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. The very kingdom of heaven itself is given to those who will acknowledge their need of Him. A certain hope is now given to that person who is reconciled to God through the blood of Christ – a hope of eternal life, a hope stored up for us in heaven, a hope of resurrection, a hope for the return of Christ. And all this starts from the very moment someone places their trust in Christ – Jesus says “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

Let me conclude with the words of Paul: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Fear of the Lord - Part 2

For Part 1 see here: http://waitingforourblessedhope.blogspot.com/2009/09/fear-of-lord-part-1.html


“Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:11-12).

“You alone are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry?
From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet –
When you, O God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land.
Surely your wrath against men brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.
Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfil them;
Let all the neighbouring lands bring gifts to the One to be feared.
He breaks the spirit of rulers; he is feared by the kings of the earth”
(Ps 76:7-12).

The above psalms certainly seem to be linking fear of the Lord with the wrath of God. It does seem that in their contexts, they are arguing that the fact that God can become angry with us should lead us to fear him and thus walk in obedience to his ways. In order to avoid being subject to this wrath, we should fear him and seek wisdom. This is made even clearer in Psalm 2, a great gospel Psalm - which incidentally comes right at the beginning of the book of Psalms, straight after Psalm 1 which introduces the law of God – so we have law (to convict of sin), followed by gospel (the good news about Christ) in the opening 2 psalms – isn’t it amazing how the gospel message is to be found throughout the Old Testament?

“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together
against the Lord and against his Anointed One.
‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath,
Saying ‘I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill’.
I will proclaim the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, ‘You are my Son, today I have become your Father.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.’
Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
(Ps 2).

The world refuses to accept the gospel message, the Messiah as their king, so God reminds them that Jesus, His Son, is his choice as Messiah, and will rule over the whole earth. Therefore the people are exhorted to “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry” – submit to Jesus as Lord, believe in him, otherwise God’s wrath will remain on him (John 3:36). Those who do repent and trust in Jesus will indeed be blessed with all the blessings promised in the gospel (see eg Eph 1:3-14).

It seems that it is necessary for us to remember the holy God with whom we are dealing – we serve a holy God who will one day bring everyone to account for what they have done, and we will suffer the consequences of the fact that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God – unless we are found in Christ on that day, with our names in the book of life because we have trusted in the sacrifice of the Son of God which has brought us reconciliation and peace with God.

This is reinforced beyond all doubt by the use of a Hebrew word, “Pachad”, which means terror, dread, or an object of dread, in Psalm 119. This Psalm is written by someone who obviously has a great love of God, and deep respect for His word, law, and statutes. Read the following few verses, and pay particular attention to the last line:

“I hate double-minded men, but I love your law.
You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.
Away from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commands of my God!
Sustain me according to your promise, and I shall live; do not let my hopes be dashed.
Uphold me and I shall be delivered; I shall always have regard for your decrees.
You reject all who stray from your decrees, for their deceitfulness is in vain.
All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross; therefore I love your statutes.
My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws”
(Ps 119:113-120).

The word translated as “fear” here is the word “Pachad”. This is the same word which is used in Isaiah chapter 2 in the following verses referring to the Day of the Lord: “Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from dread of the Lord and the splendour of his majesty!...Men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from the dread of the Lord and the splendour of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth...They will flee to caverns in the rocks and to the overhanging crags from dread of the Lord and the splendour of his majesty when he rises to shake the earth” (Isa 2:10,19,21) “Dread” here in the NIV is translated as “fear” in the KJV. A similar message is repeated in Revelation 6: “Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” (Rev 6:15-17). This dread is something that certainly all unbelievers will feel on the Day of the Lord when they are on the receiving end of His wrath, with nowhere to escape, no defence to offer, nothing to plead. Yet is this something that believers also identify with?

Given that this word is used in Psalm 119:120 then the answer has to be yes. It is important that we recognise the full character of the God we serve, and not simply revel in His love, abundant and lavish though that is. We must remind ourselves that this God we serve is Holy and sin cannot abide in His presence and must be dealt with. It is in this context that “pachad” is used again of the people of God in Chronicles : “Now let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.” (2 Chr 19:7). ie let a terrifying sense of God’s presence restrain you from any injustice.


However, the New Testament is equally clear that once we have taken hold of eternal life through Jesus Christ, we do not need to fear the wrath of God:

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry ‘Abba, Father’.” (Ro 8:15).

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:16-18).

We do not live in fear of what God will do to us now that we are in Christ, because by His sacrifice we have been adopted as sons into the family of God. The law resulted in fear because it was powerless to save. The gospel results in adoption because the sacrifice of Christ is more than sufficient to save, to forgive us completely of all our sins. We need not fear the day of judgment, as long as we are found in Christ. On that day we will stand, because we will be clothed, not in our own filthy garments, but in the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Yet we do need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), remembering that it is only because of our trust in Christ that we are saved, and that we need to continue to trust in order to escape the wrath to come. When we contemplate the fact that our sin could only be dealt with by the sacrifice of the Father’s Only Beloved Son, and what the Son had to endure on our behalf, surely this will leave us in fear of our God. When we contemplate the fate that awaits those who are not covered by the righteousness of Christ, surely this will leave us in fear of our God – and keep us clinging to the cross as our only hope. It will also lead to more heartfelt evangelism: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” (2 Cor 5:10-11).

Jesus Himself reminds us of the wrath we could face if we are not to be found in him:
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Lk 12:4-7). Jesus sums up the New Testament teaching on the fear of God – we must fear Him because of who He is, yet we need not be afraid for in the Father’s protection we have nothing to fear.


Having completed this study, I continue to believe, with added conviction now, that it cannot be right, even in a children’s song, to sing of this Holy God as being “my mate”. I need to ensure that my flesh trembles in fear of my God, and stand in awe of Him, thanking Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength that in His mercy He Has reached out and provided peace and reconciliation with Him to a wicked heart such as mine through the blood of His precious Son. God forbid that I ever take that for granted! Yes, I can approach Him with confidence through the blood of His Son, and thank God for that! Thank God for His mercy, His willingness to save all men who will come to Him through Christ, His longing that none should perish, His patience with us even now that He delays the return of Christ that more souls may be saved. Thank God for His love, that whilst we were dead in our sins, enemies of God, He sent His Son that we may be reconciled to Him, and that we shall be saved from God’s wrath through Him! Amazing love! How great is the love that has been lavished on us that we should be called children of God! All this is truly amazing, and truly wonderful, and such great news. Yet let us never forget either that this God is Holy and Awesome and will judge the earth in perfect righteousness on the Day of the Lord.

Let the final word go to the author of Ecclesiastes:

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil”
(Ecc 12:13-14).

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Fear of the Lord - Part 1

When I have spoken with Christian friends about my concern that we do not fear God enough, the reply has often been that fear in the scriptures does not refer to a literal fear and trembling, but rather a respect and loving reverence. There is a children’s song which contains the words “God’s love is big, God’s love is great, God’s love is fab and he’s my mate”. Does referring to God as ‘mate’ demonstrate a fear of a holy God? Or is it true that God doesn’t want us to shake and tremble before him, but rather draw near to him in love?

I have decided to study what the Bible has to say about the Fear of the Lord.

There are different Hebrew words which are translated as fear in our English Bibles, which do carry different meanings. The English word fear holds different meanings too: i) to be afraid of; ii) be anxious about; iii) regard with reverence and awe (Compact Oxford English Dictionary). One common Hebrew word translated as fear is Yare’ or Yir’ah which means fearing, reverent or afraid.


i) Wisdom:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” states Psalm 111:10 (repeated in Proverbs 9:10). A fear of God results in a worldview which holds that a holy God created the world, and that man is a fallen creature in need of redemption and salvation. Worldly wisdom, on the other hand, starts from the premise of humanism and a belief that man is essentially good and is capable of saving himself. These worldviews are diametrically opposed to one another, with one leading to life, and one leading to death. “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death” (Pr 14:27); “The fear of the Lord leads to life: then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (Pr 19:23).

ii) We need to search and cry out to God for a fear of the Lord:

“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding,
And if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding,
And if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure,
Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
” (Pr 2:1-5)

Having a fear of the Lord does not come naturally to us in our fallen state. We believe we can exist independently of God, and don’t need Him. How wrong we are! Yet the Bible does promise that for those who battle against this natural wiring, who seek and search, a fear of the Lord will be given to them, which leads to so many blessings. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Mt 7:7-8).

iii) Blessings for those who fear the Lord:

It is clear from scripture that there is great blessing for those who do fear the Lord: “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways.” (Ps 128:1). “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Ps 147:11). “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfils the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them” (Ps 145:18-19).

A wonderful promise is revealed in Malachi concerning the future of those who fear the Lord: “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honoured his name. ‘They will be mine’, says the Lord Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not’” (Mal 3:16-18). How amazing! Those who fear the Lord will be “His treasured possession”, making up the very Bride of Christ (Rev 19:7).

iv) Humility:

A fear of the Lord will lead to humility: “The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honour” (Pr 15:33); “Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honour and life” (Pr 22:4). Recognising that before a holy God we are guilty sinners results in humility, which is the opposite of pride. We can have absolutely no pride in ourselves before God when even our own consciences condemn us. Taking this truth to heart will lead to an attitude of humility.

v) Obedience:

When Moses is recounting the law of God a second time to the Israelites, just prior to them entering the promised land, he encourages them to fear God and walk in his ways:

“And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Dt 10:12-22).

It does seem that in this context, by revering God, and remembering how abundantly good he has been to them, it will encourage them to walk with him, love him, serve him, and obey him. By reading the law every seven years during the Feast of Tabernacles, the children of Israel will learn to fear God (Dt 31:10-13), and so future generation will walk in his ways too.

The link between fear and reverence is clear in Psalm 33:8 which states “Let all the earth fear the Lord, let all the people of the world revere him”. Psalm 86:11 links fear with a knowledge of the ways of God and asks “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”

vi) Fear and the Messiah:

The scriptures show us that the Messiah will rule in the fear of God:

“The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.
The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me:
‘When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God,
He is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning,
Like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth’”
(2 Sam 23:2-4).

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him –
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and of power,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord –
And he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”
(Isa 11:1-3).

“The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
He will fill Zion with justice and righteousness.
He will be the sure foundation for your times,
A rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
The fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure”
(Isa 33:5-6).

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, exemplifies living in the fear of the Lord, for he demonstrated a complete, perfect submission to his heavenly Father whilst living on earth. Hebrews 5:7 states that “during the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission”. We can learn much of living in the fear of the Lord by studying the life of Christ and his relationship with His heavenly Father - his reverence for, his complete obedience to, and dependence upon Him.

vii) Avoidance of evil:

A fear of the Lord will lead to an avoidance of evil - “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behaviour and perverse speech.” (Pr 8:13). “A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless” (Pr 14:16). “Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil” (Pr 16:6).

Why is this? Is it simply a consequence of the love and respect we have for God? Because we love him, we grow to love what he loves and hate what he hates? This is certainly true. However, scripture shows there is a deeper meaning behind a fear of the Lord.

To be continued in Part 2...

Monday, 14 September 2009

Keith Green

I have just finished reading "No Compromise", the autobiography of Keith Green, written by his widow, Melody Green. I have been challenged by the impact this man had on his generation, who became a Christian at age 21, but was killed in a plane crash at age 28. In those short 7 years, he seemed to learn so much about his God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He was a deeply intense man, and struggled for years in his quest for truth before becoming convicted of the gospel message by the Holy Spirit. Having struggled so hard to find the truth, having gone down so many blind alleys, he was absolutely committed to the gospel message. As a singer/songwriter his faith poured out through his songs, and in this way he impacted the Christian world in America in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

His life seems to reflect the same struggle which I have been going through regarding law/grace. Let me quote from his website:

"After striving for years to measure up to God's holiness, at times even questioning his own salvation, Keith came into a deeper understanding of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross -- both to forgive his sins, and to clothe him in His righteousness. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off of his chest.

It wasn't that Keith became less concerned with purity and holiness. But now he was more motivated by love and less by fear in His pursuit of Jesus. He learned so much more about God’s grace and the importance of pausing simply to behold His glory and enjoy His presence. That is perhaps, what Keith loved most."


One of his songs seems to sum up this struggle:

The lyrics are here:


Lord, the feelings are not the same,
I guess I'm older, I guess I've changed.
And how I wish it had been explained,
that as you're growing you must remember,
That nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand, in Jesus.
I know that I would surely fall away, except for grace, by which I'm saved.

Lord, I remember that special way,
I vowed to serve you, when it was brand new.
But like Peter, I can't even watch and pray, one hour with you,
And I bet, I could deny you too.
But nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand, in Jesus.
I'm sure that my whole life would waste away, except for grace, by which I'm saved.
But nothing lasts, except the grace of God, by which I stand, in Jesus.
I know that I would surely fall away, except for grace, by which I'm saved.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Sorrows and Hope

A.W. Tozer has said “the people of God ought to be the happiest people in all the wide world!” (A.W. Tozer, ‘Who Put Jesus On the Cross’, p.117). Having looked at the hope of the Christian, I absolutely affirm this. I would also add, however, that the people of God are probably those who have the most sorrows too.


In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus makes the statement that this generation are like children sitting in the market-place and calling out to others “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn”. (Matthew 11:17). He is comparing the ministry of John the Baptist with his own. John’s ministry was a call to repentance, which should lead to mourning over sin. The ministry of Jesus was to give us hope through the gospel, and thus lead to joy and dancing. The mass of people however neither responded to the call to repentance, or the proclamation of the gospel. I believe this statement shows that unless we truly mourn over our sin, we cannot truly understand or appreciate the good news of the gospel that we can be saved from our sins.

The second beatitude that Jesus taught his disciples was “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Our reaction to coming into the presence of God must surely always be a realisation of our sinfulness, when we are confronted by the awesome holiness of Almighty God. We will follow the example of Simon Peter, who reacted to the miraculous catch of fish by falling at Jesus’ knees and saying “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Whilst we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, because we do have a great high priest in Jesus (Heb 4:16, 14), yet we will mourn over the continuing presence of sin in our lives. This is not something that vanishes the moment we believe. Sanctification is a progressive work. Charles Spurgeon said “I believe the holier a man becomes, the more he mourns over the unholiness which remains in him” (C.H. Spurgeon, Sermons Vol 16 p.221). In his letter to the Romans, I believe Paul is talking about this fact when he says “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). Despite the fact that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, “who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Eph 1:14), we still have to wage a daily war with our sinful nature, putting to death the misdeeds of the body (Romans 8:13). This presence of our sinful nature, alongside our new nature created by God, causes us to groan, and to wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies when finally our sinful nature will be destroyed. At the resurrection of the dead, “the body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). This is when we will truly be comforted, as promised by Jesus.


Not only does the Christian feel sorrow over the continuing presence of our sinful nature, but the Christian will feel a heightened sensitivity to the evil in the world in which we live. Having moved from death to life, and from being an enemy of God to being reconciled to a Heavenly Father, the fact that we continue to live in a world which neither acknowledges Him or glorifies Him makes us “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11). After recounting the famous list of heroes of the faith, the author of Hebrews goes on to say “They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one.” (Hebrews 11:13-16). And again, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Philippians makes the definitive statement that “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Jesus confirms our alien status when he prayed for his disciples “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:14-15). Whilst we do not belong here, we have a work to do here which God prepared in advance for us to do, which is to proclaim the message of the gospel with which we have been entrusted, for the sake of His glory.

So being aliens and strangers in the world, we will find it difficult when godliness gives way to immorality, when God gives people over to sexual impurity, shameful lusts, and a depraved mind. (Romans 1:24,26,28). We are in a similar position to Lot, living in Sodom and Gomorrah, “a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)” (2 Peter 2:7-8). Maybe it is a mark of how hardened we have become by the world that we can often watch the news and be unmoved by terrible stories of sinfulness.


Faith in Jesus Christ will often result in persecution, as our faith leads to us becoming aliens and strangers in the world. The message of the gospel is offensive to the world. As Jesus Himself says to His disciples, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master’. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:19-20). This persecution is probably the most difficult to endure when it comes from the family of the believer who reject Jesus Christ. Again, the words of Jesus demonstrate the nature of this conflict: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’” (Matthew 10:34-36). Jesus is not saying here that he hasn’t come to bring peace, for He is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), but rather that when someone becomes a believer, it will create conflict within the household where there are non-believers. This conflict is at its most intense in the muslim world, where many believers have been disowned by their families, or worse, killed, for their faith in Christ. Let us remember to uphold our brothers and sisters in prayer who suffer persecution from their families for the sake of Christ. Let us especially remember the comfort provided by Christ, that “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).


The world in which we live has been corrupted by sin. Whilst the world which God created was “very good” (Genesis 1:31), no-one looking at the world today can make the same comment. Death and decay exist everywhere. All of us will one day die – unless Christ returns before then. All this is the consequence of the sin of Adam, when the serpent’s words “You will not surely die” when speaking to Eve about the results of eating from the fruit of the tree of life were shown to be a lie. Death is so contrary to God’s original plan for the world, that it is no wonder it horrifies all of us. Jesus Himself was moved with compassion when he learnt of the death of his friend, Lazarus – and the Bible tells us “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

Yet, thank God, we can have hope, for Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). We have been promised an eternity with our Lord, and because of the promise of the resurrection, we can say “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Jesus has won the victory over death, and because His resurrection is the firstfruits of our future resurrection, we can have hope for the future.

Yet, the death of family and friends who are unbelievers must surely cause us sorrow upon sorrow. What hope then? After my mother-in-law recently passed away, we continue to hope that in her last hours, as we prayed for her, that she turned her heart to the Lord, for the alternative is too painful to contemplate. Let us never cease to pray for our loved ones who are yet to believe and trust in Christ. I always remember the testimony of a friend – a Christian friend of hers was talking to her about her faith in Christ, and then in tears practically begged my friend to believe in Christ, as she did not want her to suffer the consequences of unbelief. This show of compassion and love by her friend was used by the Holy Spirit to bring her to repentance and belief. Maybe we can all learn from the honesty of the Christian witness here.


I believe that as we grow in Christlike character, our sorrows will grow. Jesus Himself was a “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). Matthew Henry reflects that not only was it His last scene that was tragic, being made sin for us and enduring the sentence sin had subjected us to, but His whole life: “He had nowhere to lay His head, lived upon alms, was opposed and menaced, and endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself. His spirit was tender...We never read that He laughed, but often that He wept...so worn and macerated was He with continual grief that when He was but a little above thirty years of age He was taken to be nearly fifty (John 8:37). Grief was His intimate acquaintance; for He acquainted Himself with the grievances of others, and sympathized with them, and He never set His own at a distance; for in His transfiguration He talked of His own decease, and in His triumph He wept over Jerusalem. Let us look unto Him and mourn”.


As my Christian walk continues, I grow more and more convinced it is necessary to hold 2 seemingly contradictory viewpoints in tension. If one of these is overemphasized at the expense of the other, this is where I have fallen. For example, being saved by faith and not works, and yet demonstrating our faith by our works. Needing to continue in our faith, yet being reassured that no-one can snatch us out of His hand. The call to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and Paul’s exclamation that “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Phil 3:8-9).

So with sorrows. Whilst we feel the sorrows of the world, the flesh and the devil, yet we are a people of hope (see earlier study). And this hope is greater than any sorrows. Paul summarises this in his letter to the Corinthians: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”. (2 Cor 4:16-18). And later when recounting his troubles, hardships and distresses he says he is “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor 6:10).

Let this be our prayer, that no matter what sorrows may come our way, we will continue to rejoice in our Lord, for His mercies far outweigh anything and everything. And as Tozer said, let us be the happiest people in the world!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

A Journey Towards Hope – a Personal Testimony (Pt 2)

God then blessed me and my husband with a baby. I recognised how good He had been to me, so felt it right to start going back to church as an expression of thankfulness. I continued to keep Him at arms length however, and wouldn’t get close to Him because of the fear I continued to feel.

I joined a small Bible study group, with other women in the church, but found it hard to participate for fear of being found to be a fraud. When I shared with them that when I draw close to God I become more aware of my sin, there were blank faces, no-one else seemed to understand this. They seemed to be filled with more joy as they drew near to God. What was wrong with me?

Things came to a head in the summer of 2007. We were asked in the small group to prepare our testimonies, of what God had done in our lives, and how things had improved in our lives since becoming Christians. We were given suggested examples – eg before I became a Christian I was unable to forgive, now I can forgive people. As I thought about this I realised what my testimony was: Before I became a Christian, I was fine, I was a sinner but unaware of my sin, so it didn’t bother me. Since becoming a Christian I have become more aware of my sin, and now feel guilty because of it, my life seems no better than it was before I became a Christian, and I am stuck between a rock and a hard place – I need Christ but I’m afraid of depression. But this I continue to believe – that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He is true, that He is exalted and will one day return as King of kings and Lord of lords.

This didn’t seem like a great testimony to me. However, I believe it did break something deep inside me. It was a declaration of faith in God, and yet also a declaration of my complete inability to live the life He wants. It was a recognition of my weakness and helplessness. I then read a book by A & J McGrath called The Dilemma of Self-Esteem. It talked about how we do need esteem, but not self-esteem, instead we need Christ-Esteem. Our esteem is based not on ourselves but on the fact that by faith we are found in Him, and as a result we become adopted as sons into the family of God and enjoy all the privileges, blessings and inheritance that comes from being in God’s family. It also said that “the Christian sees failure as something of potential value, bringing home to us our weakness and frailty and encouraging us to rely more upon the grace of God, rather than upon our own resources and ability”. As the Bible says, “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). This really struck a chord in me, and I found myself able to pray to God that I wanted to come back to Him and trust fully in Him. I found myself trusting Him with my fear of depression.

I found that by admitting my failure to live the Christian life and by admitting my weakness, God worked strongly in me. My faith in Him grew, and my understanding of the Christian hope grew. The burden was lifted. No longer was it down to me to prove myself to God – I couldn’t. I simply had to accept that by grace all had been done for me, by Christ, and that I simply needed to trust in Him, be found in Him, cling to Him, and the blessings of being a child of God would flow over me. As I studied more about Christ and who He is, what He has done, and what He is going to do in the future, I realised that it was not about me at all, but all about Him. My focus had been so wrong all those years. I had been focusing on me and my response to God, which led to self-hatred. Instead, I needed to focus on Him and His work.

I have realised that I need to preach the gospel to myself every day. I used to believe that the gospel is what saves you, then you move on to living out your life and grow more like Him, so the gospel is for beginners. How wrong could I have been! Our natural tendency is towards law, to think we have to do things to get to God. We need to kill this natural impulse daily by reminding ourselves that God has done everything for us. Michael Horton writes: “Even as a Christian, my faith will actually be weakened when it is assumed that I already know the gospel and now I just need a steady diet of instructions. I will naturally revert to my moralistic impulse and conclude either that I am fully surrendered, or that I cannot pull this off and might as well stop trying. When my conscience leads me to despair, the exhortation to try harder will only deepen either my self-righteousness or my spiritual depression. In other words, it will draw me away from my location in Christ and gradually bring me back to that place where I am turned in on myself...If you are subjected week after week to a diet of “do more”, “be more authentic”, “live more transparently”, and “feel more”, you will eventually become like a prisoner who is forced into hard labour without adequate food. If you are regularly treated to the feast of God’s works and the zeal that consumed our Saviour in the service of our redemption, the exhortations will no longer be an unreasonable burden but a guide to expressions of thanksgiving in which our gracious God delights.” (From Christless Christianity).

Let me conclude with some words of Jesus: “Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent”. (John 6:28-29).

Monday, 7 September 2009

A Journey Towards Hope – a Personal Testimony (Pt 1)

I became a Christian 17 years ago, completely blown away by the fact that my sins were all forgiven through the suffering of Christ on the cross on my behalf, and that now I had been made right with God because of Jesus, and would spend an eternity with Him. It was an awesome truth, and I was so filled with gratitude and love of God as a result. Those first 6 months were great.

However, as time passed, I discovered an awful reality. Despite my love of God, and my gratitude to Him for what He had done for me, and my determination to live a life of obedience in response, I didn’t seem able to do it. I realised that sin continued to dwell in me. I continued to have bad thoughts about people, say bad things, do bad things. Even worse, I knew I didn’t always love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. I knew that God had forgiven me of all my sins before I became a Christian. But what person, after God has revealed Himself to them in such grace, would not love God with all of their heart, mind, soul and strength in response, and not love their neighbour as themselves? Surely only a wicked person could do such a thing. I had to face up to the fact that I was a failure as a Christian.

I began a slide into depression, frustrated that in those times that I drew closer to God I became more aware of the sin that dwelt in me. Listening to sermons at church, with an emphasis on how our lives should be transformed by God, and how we should be serving Him in obedience, I looked at my own life and saw the hypocrisy of it all. Maybe I didn’t really love God after all, maybe I wasn’t really saved after all. I also became aware that deep within myself, I didn’t want God to love me simply because of Jesus. I wanted Him to love me because I was loveable, and that I deserved His love. I would deserve His love as I did more of the things He wanted of me.

As time progressed, my depression progressed into an eating disorder. I had started to hate myself, as I did not seem to be able to love God in the way I thought I should, so I must be wicked. It seemed right that a wicked person should be punished by not being fed. So I stopped eating. Thankfully, this only lasted a few weeks, before I collapsed and became frightened by the thought of dying and not being right with God. I was referred to a counsellor who specialised in eating disorders.

During the course of these sessions, I remember telling him that I hated myself. His response to this seemed to lift a burden from me – “ Rather than aiming for perfection, I always tell myself that I am good enough”. Good enough. I liked the sound of those words. I recognised that I was aiming for perfection in my Christian life, and that I couldn’t get there, and so good enough seemed a great way to lift the pressure.

The eating disorder and depression lifted. But I couldn’t return to church. I knew deep down that the lie of believing myself to be good enough did not stack up with God. According to God I was not good enough. I recognised the truth that God’s standards are perfect, yet in order for man to make something of himself, he has to lower the standards and accept a “good enough” instead of a “perfect”. This is not biblical. The Bible teaches that God’s standards continue to be perfect, for He is perfect. It also teaches us that all men are sinners and unable to attain this perfection. It then shows the light – that Christ Himself has attained this perfection for us, on our behalf. We are not good enough – yet Christ is. Faith in Him means His perfection is imputed to us – yet I didn’t seem able to grasp this truth. If I started going back to church, I would realise that I wasn’t good enough after all, and was afraid of the depression returning. So I stayed away.

Part 2:http://waitingforourblessedhope.blogspot.com/2009/09/journey-towards-hope-personal-testimony_08.html

Friday, 4 September 2009

It is Well With My Soul

I wanted to end this series on hope with a hymn which summed up the Christian hope. Whilst reading various lyrics, I came across a hymn by Horatio Spafford entitled 'It is Well with my Soul'. Reading through the lyrics it was apparent that this was a man who knew that whatever may happen in this life on earth, the peace we can enjoy because of who Christ is and what He has done and what He will yet do, provides a heavenly hope which far outweighs the present.

I then found a video on YouTube which explained the circumstances in which this hymn was written. I was in tears as I read about the tragic events which unfolded in this man's life - but not simply for the tragedy, but for the fact that in spite of this, or maybe because of it, his response was to set his eyes more clearly on his Lord and Saviour.

My prayer is that you will be blessed by this hymn as I have been (full lyrics of the song are below).

It Is Well With My Soul – Horatio G. Spafford, 1873

1. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain:It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

2. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

3. My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

4. For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

5. But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

6. And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Final thoughts on hope

2 final points regarding the Christian hope in the New Testament:

a) We should pray that our hope continues to grow:
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for those who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Eph 1:17-23).

Paul, writing here to Christians, prays that they will know the hope to which they have been called. Any Christian will have some knowledge of that hope, but Paul demonstrates here that this is something that needs to grow in us, through the Spirit. As we meditate on the power exerted in Christ when he was raised from the dead, the ascended glory of Christ, and the headship of Christ, our hope will grow. The more we study Christ, the more our hope will grow.

b) Faith, hope and love are linked:

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13). (and the most neglected of these is hope, says David Pawson!).
“But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” (1 Th 5:8).
“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.” (Heb 10:22-24)
“Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Pe 1:21-22).

Faith is a living hope in God’s love. Because God has granted us faith in Him, we have hope in Him, which should result in acts of love towards others.

There are some influential Christian leaders today who are trying to move the hope of the Christian away from the future and back into today’s world. Roger Oakland summarises that rather than being concerned about spending eternity with Jesus, the Emerging Church promotes the Kingdom of God in the here and now.

This is not a message that will provide our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world with much encouragement, or hope in a God who allows such persecution without setting out the promise of eternity, the promises to those who overcome. It is also difficult to see how Stephen, the first Christian martyr, would have had the courage to die for the glory of God without having his heart set in heaven: “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look’, he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:55-56), before he was stoned to death. I would counteract the emerging church view with Paul’s statement that “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor 15:19).

This attack on the Christian’s hope for the future is surely unbiblical given the study we have undertaken. We must surely study and understand more of what our hope is, through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, for when difficult times come, it is our hope which will enable us to endure.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Heb 6:19).