Confess Your Sins II

We’ve covered this topic before on July 2, 2015. This time we’ll explore it from the point of view of community. Google’s second definition for ‘community’ is:

A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

“the sense of community that organized religion can provide”

A church has common interests and goals built-in. And we should have one attitude. However, a church is also made up of a diverse collection of people. As with any group of flawed human beings, they will offend one another. For the cohesiveness of our church communities, we need to do the following more often:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16 English Standard Version (ESV)

The pastor to several church bodies during his tenure, Calvin comments on this verse:

Confess your faults one to another. …[James] had [just] said, that sins were remitted to the sick over whom the elders prayed: he now reminds them how useful it is to [disclose] our sins to our brethren, even that we may obtain the pardon of them by [our brethren’s] intercession.

…Many…think that James [is indicating] …the way of brotherly reconciliation, that is, by mutual acknowledgment of sins. But…his object was different; for he connects mutual prayer with mutual confession; by which he [implies] that confession [benefits us] for this end, that we may be helped as to God by the prayers of our brethren; for they who know our necessities, are stimulated to pray that they may assist us; but they to whom our diseases are unknown are [less likely] to bring us help.

…For the words clearly mean, that confession is required for no other end, but that those who know our evils may be more solicitous to bring us help.

Here, Calvin calls us to vulnerable community. He goes on to elaborate on the nature and quality of our prayer for one another. First, he says:

Avails much. …When others pray for us, [James] expressly mentions the benefit and the effect of prayer. But he names expressly the prayer of a righteous or just man; because God does not hear the ungodly; nor is access to God open, except through a good conscience: not that our prayers are founded on our own worthiness, but because the heart must be cleansed by faith before we can present ourselves before God. Then James testifies that the righteous or the faithful pray for us beneficially and not without fruit.

Then, finally, Calvin says:

But what does he mean by adding effectual or efficacious? For this seems superfluous; for if the prayer avails much, it is doubtless effectual.

…Our prayers may properly be said to be ἐνεργούμεναι (i.e., working) when some necessity meets us which excites in us earnest prayer. We pray daily for the whole Church, that God may pardon its sins; but then only is our prayer really in earnest, when we go forth to [help] those who are in trouble.

But such efficacy cannot be in the prayers of our brethren, except they know that we are in difficulties. Hence the reason given is not general, but must be specially referred to the former sentence.

Puritan Pastor Thomas Manton also commented on James 5:16:

[We should privately confess our sins] to a godly minister or wise Christian [when we are] under deep wounds of conscience. It is but folly to hide our sores till they be incurable. When we have unburdened ourselves [to] a godly friend, [our] conscience finds a great deal of ease. Certainly, they are then more capable to give us advice, and can the better apply the help of their counsel and prayers to our particular case, and are thereby moved to the more pity and commiseration…

[Truly,] it is a fault in Christians not to disclose themselves and be more open with their spiritual friends, when they are not able to extricate themselves out of their doubts and troubles. You may do [so with] any godly Christians, but especially to ministers, who are solemnly entrusted with the power of the keys, and may help you to apply the comforts of the word when you cannot yourselves.

…The weak must pray for the strong, and the strong for the weak. There is none but should improve his interest. When there is much work to do, you give your children their parts… So in the family of Christ. None can be exempted: `The head cannot say to the feet, I have no need of you, 1 Cor. 12:21-22 .

God delights to oblige us to each other in the body of Christ, and therefore will not bless you without the mutual mediation and intercession of one an other’s prayers; for this is the true intercession of saints. And so, in a sense, the living saints may be called mediators of intercession. But chiefly the strong, and those that stand, are to pray for them that are fallen; for that is the intent of this place.

Oh! then, that we would regard this neglected duty. Not to pray for others is uncharitable; not to expect it from others is pride. Do not stand alone; two, yea, many, are better than one. Joint striving mutually for the good of each other makes the work prosper.

Let us, therefore, increase our sense of community in the churches by confessing to and praying for one another.

“Mercy Will Prevail” – Nashville Floods 2010, YouTube, thechoirvideos

Not of Us

Last week we discussed disunity in the churches. We discovered that God providentially uses church disunity for our good, to refine us and to prove our salvation. The subject we consider today is often the result of disunity:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19 English Standard Version (ESV)

This is a solemn verse that should cause us to revere the Lord Jesus Christ. The preacher John Calvin doesn’t mince words when discussing this verse’s import:

They went out from us …The Church is always exposed to this evil; so that it is constrained to bear with many hypocrites who, [in reality], know not Christ, however much they may [verbally] profess his name.

By saying, they went out from us, [the Apostle John] means that they had previously occupied a place in the Church, and were counted among the number of the godly. [John], however, denies that they were of them, though they had assumed the name of believers, [in the same way] as chaff…mixed with wheat on the same floor cannot yet be deemed wheat.

Calvin analyzes those who profess the gospel:

For if they had been of us …Here [is] a difficulty, for it happens that many who seemed to have embraced Christ, often fall away.

To this I answer, that there are three sorts of those who profess the Gospel; there are those who feign piety, while a bad conscience reproves them within; the hypocrisy of others is more deceptive, who not only seek to disguise themselves before men, but also dazzle their own eyes, so that they seem to themselves to worship God aright; the third are those who have the living root of faith, and carry a testimony of their own adoption firmly fixed in their hearts.

The two first have no stability; of the last John speaks, when he says, that it is impossible that they should be separated from the Church, for the seal which God’s Spirit engraves on their hearts cannot be obliterated; the incorruptible seed, which has struck roots, cannot be pulled up or destroyed (2 Timothy 2:19.)

[The Apostle John], in short, means that they who fall away had never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ, but had only a light and a transient taste of it.

Finally, Calvin states the blunt truth of the verse:

That they might be made manifest [John] shows that trials [are] useful and necessary for the Church. It hence follows, on the other hand, that there is no just cause for [upset]. Since the Church is like a threshing-floor, the chaff must be blown away [so] that the pure wheat may remain. This is what God does, when he casts out hypocrites from the Church, for he then cleanses it from refuse and filth.

Again, this makes me want to cling to God all-the-more. Each of us should make every effort to obey Him and He will bring it to pass.

Keith Green – “The Sheep And The Goats” (live), YouTube, Lyrics, Key Verse

Against You Only

The great King of Israel, David, committed adultery with another man’s wife. To hide his sin, he had her husband killed. Problem solved? Not in the least. After the prophet Nathan confronts him with the severity of his deed, David admits to his sin. His full confession is recorded in Psalm 51. The verse that concerns us in this post is:

Against you, you only, have I sinned

    and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you may be justified in your words

    and blameless in your judgment.

Psalm 51:4 English Standard Version (ESV)

Speaking of David’s confession, John Calvin says:

Against You only…I conceive his meaning to be, that though all the world should pardon him, he felt that God was the Judge with whom he had to do, that conscience hailed him to his bar, and that the voice of man could administer no relief to him, however much he might be disposed to forgive, or to excuse, or to flatter. His eyes and his whole soul were directed to God, regardless of what man might think or say concerning him.

…There is every reason to believe that David, in order to prevent his mind from being soothed into a false peace by the flatteries of his court, realized the judgment of God upon his offense, and felt that this was in itself an intolerable burden, even supposing that he should escape all trouble from the hands of his fellow-creatures.

On the import of the second couplet, Calvin says:

So that You may be justified…Any doubt upon the meaning of the words, however, is completely removed by the connection in which they are cited in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,

“For what if some did not believe? Shall God be unjust? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, ‘That thou may be justified in thy sayings, and might overcome when thou art judged.’” — Romans 3:3, 4

Here the words before us are quoted in proof of the doctrine that God’s righteousness is apparent even in the sins of men, and his truth in their falsehood.

To have a clear apprehension of their meaning, it is necessary that we reflect upon the covenant which God had made with David. The salvation of the whole world having been in a certain sense deposited with him by this covenant, the enemies of religion might take occasion to exclaim upon his fall, “Here is the pillar of the Church gone, and what is now to become of the miserable remnant whose hopes rested upon his holiness?”

…Aware that such attempts might be made to impugn the righteousness of God, David takes this opportunity of justifying [God’s righteousness], and charging himself with the whole guilt of the transaction. He declares that God was justified…should he have spoken the sentence of condemnation against him for his sin, as [God] might have done but for his gratuitous mercy.

Of course, the knowledge that our sin offends God most should not excuse us from seeking our brother’s or sister’s forgiveness. However, we should fear all the more, having been forgiven by others, that we did sin against Him who purchased us at great cost to Himself.

Ligonier Generic Background - David and Bathsheba

Life of David, Lecture 13 – David and Bathsheba, R. C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries

In Spirit and in Truth

How do we worship? Is it by actions or by attitudes? Do feeling count? Is there one right way, place, and time? As Jesus Christ confronted the Samaritan woman at the well with the truth of who He is, He said:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24 English Standard Version (ESV)

Remarkably, in this statement lie answers for the questions with which we opened this post. Calvin comments on the passage:

But the hour cometh. …To show that God does not choose to be worshipped either in Jerusalem or in mount Gerizim, he takes a higher principle, that the true worship of Him consists in the spirit; …hence it follows that in all places He may be properly worshipped.

Why, and in what sense, is the worship of God called spiritual? The worship of God is said to consist in the spirit, because it is nothing else than that inward faith of the heart which produces prayer, and, next, purity of conscience and self-denial, that we may be dedicated to obedience to God as holy sacrifices.

But the Old Testament Church had elaborate ceremonies in their public worship. Did they worship in spirit and truth under the Law?

I reply, as God is always like himself, he did not from the beginning of the world approve of any other worship than that which is spiritual, and which agrees with his own nature. …Moses…declares in many passages that the Law has no other object than that the people may cleave to God with faith and a pure conscience.

…Thus we may justly say that the worship [described in] the Law was spiritual in its substance, but, in respect of its form, it was somewhat earthly and carnal; for the whole of that economy, the reality of which is now fully manifested, consisted of shadows.

…In all ages God wished to be worshipped by faith, prayer, thanksgiving, purity of heart, and innocence of life; and at no time did he delight in any other sacrifices.

But what about public worship in today’s visible Church?

…There are indeed among ourselves, in the present day, some outward exercises of godliness, which our weakness renders necessary, but such is the moderation and sobriety of them, that they do not obscure the plain truth of Christ. In short, what was exhibited to the fathers under figures and shadows is now openly displayed.

…Thus all who oppress the Church with an excessive multitude of ceremonies, do what is in their power to deprive the Church of the presence of Christ. I [dismiss] the vain excuses which they plead, that many persons in the present day have as much need of those aids as the Jews had in ancient times. It is always our duty to inquire by what order the Lord wished his Church to be governed, for He alone knows thoroughly what is expedient for us.

So why was there a difference between the Old and New Testament Churches?

The true worshippers. … Knowing that the world would never be entirely free from superstitions, [Christ] thus separates the devout and upright worshippers from those who were false and hypocritical.

…What it is to worship God in spirit and truth appears clearly from what has been already said. It is to lay aside the entanglements of ancient ceremonies, and to retain merely what is spiritual in the worship of God; for the truth of the worship of God consists in the spirit, and ceremonies are but a sort of appendage.

Finally, why is worship not elaborate ceremony but in spirit and truth?

God is a Spirit. …God is so far from being like us, that those things which please us most are the objects of his loathing and abhorrence…As we cannot ascend to the height of God, let us remember that we ought to seek from His word the rule by which we are governed. Christ simply declares here that his Father is of a spiritual nature, and, therefore, is not moved by frivolous matters, as men, through the lightness and unsteadiness of their character, are wont to be.

***

As Mark Dever preaches, our whole lives are acts of worship if they’re lived in obedience to God. Our public worship consists of: prayer, singing, hearing the Word read, hearing the Word preached, and participating in baptism and the Lord’s supper. Worship is hearing God’s word and responding to it in obedience.

Mark Dever: Worship in Spirit and Truth, Ligonier Ministries

Why We Use Scripture Extensively in Our Posts

It’s not because we’re lazy (but, if you knew me better, you might disagree.) Nor is it because we can’t write well; though you may disagree with this as well. It’s because His word is what He says He will use to save us from the penalty of death which our sins against Him alone so richly deserve. He says:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

   and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

   giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

   it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

   and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11 English Standard Version (ESV)

His purpose, His eternal purpose is realized in Christ and the Church. The Lord alone is the objective source of knowledge and action who has entered into what we consider our world. Of course, it is His and is His forever.

When He was drawing me to Himself, He made my reading from the scriptures irresistible. I remember dwelling in long passages from a large bible at the front of a main line church sanctuary so many years ago. Months later, when He was ready for me to submit to Him in repentance, He sent an evangelist who read from the scriptures in answer to my doubting questions. And I trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ that evening after that sent one left.

You might think: “What does this have to do with me; I’m doing okay. It’s you, Adolphus, who needs a crutch to face the inevitability of death.” Well, I thought the same back then; so did everyone who professes belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His sovereign will that chooses and saves you. No one, by strength of will, can save themselves. Everyone, whether saved or not, will stand before God’s judgment seat and give an account of ourselves. It is only by the merit of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, conferred to us through faith that we can face that judgment and live. All others will be sent away from His presence.

I offer you, not only the links above, but this verse for your consideration:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (ESV)

Please, we beg of you, repent and believe.

Albert Mohler: The Authority of Scripture, Ligonier Ministries

The Rebellion

Most of us would like to know beforehand when a disaster will occur. Many, to avoid the consequences, but some, to profit from them. If only those who boarded the planes knew that fateful September morning what was about to happen.

In the same way, we’d all like to know when the world will end. Many pretend that it will go on just as it has for millennia. Some think differently. A few believe the scriptures when they speak of the last day:

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 English Standard Version (ESV)

So there are signs of the end. But, what would these things look like? John Calvin comments on this passage:

Paul, …foretells that, after [those in the visible church] have had foreign enemies for some time molesting them, they will have more evils to endure from enemies [within the church], inasmuch as many of those that have made a profession of attachment to Christ would be hurried away into base treachery, and inasmuch as the temple of God itself would be polluted by sacrilegious tyranny, so that Christ’s greatest enemy would exercise dominion there.

Relative to Antichrist’s pernicious arrogation of deity, Calvin says:

Scripture declares that God is the alone Lawgiver (James 4:12) who is able to save and to destroy; the alone King, whose office it is to govern souls by His word. [Scripture] represents Him as the author of all sacred rites; it teaches that righteousness and salvation are to be sought from Christ alone; and it assigns, at the same time, the manner and means.

And concerning the history of the visible church, Calvin says:

My readers now understand, that all the sects by which the Church has been lessened from the beginning, have been so many streams of revolt which began to draw away the water from the right course, but that the sect of Mahomet was like a violent bursting forth of water, that took away about the half of the Church by its violence. It remained, also, that Antichrist should infect the remaining part with his poison. Thus, we see with our own eyes, that this memorable prediction of Paul has been confirmed by the event.

So, are we able discern the fruition of these things in time to flee the consequences? The Lord Jesus Christ warned:

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:36-39 (ESV)

Calvin comments on this passage:

So now Christ declares that the last age of the world will be in a state of [senseless] indifference, so that men will think of nothing but the present life, and will extend their cares to a long period, pursuing their ordinary course of life, as if the world were always to remain in the same condition… [Emphasis mine]

Though the report of the last judgment is now widely circulated, and though there are a few persons who have been taught by God to perceive that Christ will come as a Judge in due time, yet it is proper that those persons should be aroused by this extraordinary kindness of God, and that their senses should be sharpened, lest they give themselves up to the indifference which so generally prevails.

Therefore, if you haven’t yet, we urge you to repent while there is still time.

***

Speaking of our collective indifference, The Federalist has summarized the recent Planned Parent video expose’. Item number 7 describes the Carly Fiorina video. No, I did NOT watch.

In the same vein, I don’t often agree with Mr. O’Reilly, but when I do, I offer you this video:

Is America Becoming Barbaric? Fox News, July 28, 2015

All Israel Shall Be Saved

Much has been said recently about the reestablishment of Israel in the Middle East. Even Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism, which we mentioned a few weeks ago, touches on the issue of national Israel. Some of what’s been said is divisive and some is not.

So let’s step back from the contemporary rhetoric and see what the Bible says. The Apostle Paul discussed Israel in his letter to the church in Rome. He described that nation’s relationship to God now that the gospel had been revealed. Paul made the following statement:

And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,

He will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;

Romans 11:26 English Standard Version (ESV)

What did he mean by ‘in this way?’ It seems that a lot of controversy surrounds this clause.

The exegete John Calvin said of the verse:

Many understand this of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before [e.g., the sacrificial system].

But I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning:

“When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the first-born in God’s family.”

Calvin didn’t make this assertion and others because of personal preference or animus, but based on the context of Paul’s statements in the chapter. Paul went on to say:

As regards the gospel, they [i.e., Israel] are enemies for your [i.e., the hearers of his letter] sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Romans 11:28-32 (ESV)

To this, Calvin commented:

[Paul] shows that the worst thing in the Jews ought not to subject them to the contempt of the Gentiles. Their chief crime was unbelief: but Paul teaches us, that they were thus blinded for a time by God’s providence, that a way to the gospel might be made for the Gentiles;

Paul then intends here to teach two things — that there is nothing in any man why he should be preferred to others, apart from the mere favor of God; and that God in the dispensation of his grace, is under no restraint that he should not grant it to whom he pleases.

There is an emphasis in the word mercy; for it intimates that God is bound to none, and that he therefore saves all freely, for they are all equally lost.

…Paul simply means that both Jews and Gentiles do not otherwise obtain salvation than through the mercy of God, and thus he leaves to none any reason for complaint. It is indeed true that this mercy is without any difference offered to all, but everyone must seek it by faith.

And thus ‘in this way’: All Israel Shall Be Saved.

Valley of Jezreel

The view from Megiddo, northeast across the Jezreel Valley in Israel to Mount Tabor, 9 November 2005, by Joe Freeman, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

Everyone Divided

There’s no sidestepping it, scripture divides us. This principle applies to everyone we know and everyone we may never know. The Apostle John, in his first letter to the Church, describes what is true of everyone.

Writing about the Christ, John says:

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. 1 John 2:29 English Standard version (ESV)

To this, Calvin says:

If you know that he is righteous [John] again passes on to exhortations, so that he mingles these continually with doctrine throughout the Epistle; but he proves by many arguments that faith is necessarily connected with a holy and pure life. The first argument is, that we are spiritually begotten after the likeness of Christ; it hence follows, that no one is born of Christ but he who lives righteously…

Next, speaking of our response to Christ, John says:

And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:3 ESV

And Calvin says:

And every man that has this hope …The meaning then is, that though we have not Christ now present before our eyes, yet if we hope in him, it cannot be but that this hope will excite and stimulate us to follow purity, for it leads us straight to Christ, whom we know to be a perfect pattern of purity.

Then, speaking of those apart from Christ, John says:

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4 ESV

Calvin explains the distinction:

Whosoever commits, or does, sin. …The import of the passage is, that the perverse life of those who indulge themselves in the liberty of sinning, is hateful to God, and cannot be borne with by him, because it is contrary to his Law.

It does not hence follow, nor can it be hence inferred, that the faithful are iniquitous; because they desire to obey God, and abhor their own vices, and that in every instance; and they also form their own life, as much as in them lies, according to the law.

But when there is a deliberate purpose to sin, or a continued course in sin, then the law is transgressed.

John presses this point further:

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 1 John 3:15 ESV

And Calvin responds:

Is a murderer. …The Apostle declares that all who hate their brethren are murderers. He could have said nothing more atrocious; nor is what is said hyperbolic, for we wish him to perish whom we hate. It does not matter if a man keeps his hands from mischief; for the very desire to do harm, as well as the attempt, is condemned before God: nay, when we do not ourselves seek to do an injury, yet if we wish an evil to happen to our brother from someone else, we are murderers.

Returning to those in Christ, John says:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 1 John 5:1 ESV

Calvin responds with:

Whosoever believes …The first truth is, that all born of God, believe that Jesus is the Christ [i.e., Messiah, Savior]; where, again, you see that Christ alone is set forth as the object of faith, as in him it finds righteousness, life, and every blessing that can be desired, and God in all that he is…

Loves him also that is begotten of him …The context plainly shows that his purpose was no other than to trace up brotherly love to faith as its fountain. It is, indeed, an argument drawn from the common course of nature; but what is seen among men is transferred to God.

John elaborates on the condition of those in Christ:

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 1 John 5:4 ESV

About the victory, Calvin says:

This is the victory. …This passage is remarkable, for though Satan continually repeats his dreadful and horrible onsets, yet the Spirit of God, declaring that we are beyond the reach of danger, removes fear, and animates us to fight with courage. …But as this promise secures to us perpetually the invincible power of God, so, on the other hand, it annihilates all the strength of men…he makes victory to depend on faith alone; and faith receives from another that by which it overcomes. They then take away from God what is his own, who sing triumph to their own power.

And, as if to draw a final distinction, John says:

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. 1 John 5:18 ESV

To which, Calvin’s explanation is:

We know that whosoever is born of God If you suppose that God’s children are wholly pure and free from all sin, as the fanatics contend, then the Apostle is inconsistent with himself; for he would thus take away the duty of mutual prayer among brethren. …Hence spiritual life is never extinguished in them… Though the faithful indeed fall through the infirmity of the flesh, yet they groan under the burden of sin, loathe themselves, and cease not to fear God.

Keeps himself. What properly belongs to God he transfers to us; for were any one of us the keeper of his own salvation, it would be a miserable protection. Therefore Christ asks the Father to keep us, intimating that it is not done by our own strength. …And we know that we fight with no other weapons but those of God. Hence the faithful keep themselves from sin, as far as they are kept by God. (John 17:11).

There are many ‘everyones’ that we come across every day. All are divided in the ways we’ve just seen. Which are you? Which, then, is your neighbor? Our duty is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

I don’t know your situation; but I find I need to pray for and serve my neighbors to keep myself from mischief.

Everyone at Yankee Stadium

Yankees Stadium Crowd, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons 26 February 2013, Donald Riesbeck Jr., in the Public Domain

I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me

How often do we say: “I’m sorry; please forgive me?” Rarely, is my guess, based on how often I hear it. I suspect that no longer seeking forgiveness is the result of permissiveness seeping into what used to be common practice almost everywhere. That’s not to say that these words aren’t still necessary for good relations with others.

Most of us know that my standard is the scriptures, and specifically, in this case, the Gospels. Here, we see how the Lord’s disciples tried to evade this very burden; but He didn’t let them do it:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22 English Standard Version (ESV)

And

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Luke 17:3-6 (ESV)

We’re all prone to doubt others’ motives when they keep repeating the same offenses and “seeking forgiveness” time and again. We’re not to be punching bags, after all. However, the Gospel of Matthew lays out a clear process of reconciliation for us to follow:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.

First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

And

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)

So, if they refuse to listen to the church and continue to persist in their sin then, as the Apostle Paul states, do not associate with them:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (ESV)

Until, perhaps, the Lord may grant them repentance, or even salvation, if that’s what’s lacking.

Now such a reconciliation process should not be an occasion for gloating; rather, it should give us pause to reflect on our own behavior. We should be humble toward one another:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV)

And this sacrificial love (i.e., agape) is, for the professing church, the mark by which we are to be known:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 (ESV)

We have to remember right relationships require humility and not anger:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:19-21 (ESV)

To do this, we must exercise self-control:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, Titus 2:11-12 (ESV)

We must make our actions agree with the words we profess:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18 (ESV)

So, then, let us press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.

Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

The Return of the Prodigal Son, circa 1668, Rembrandt (1606–1669), Public Domain in the US

Salvation

There is much confusion about this concept nowadays. There needn’t be. Scripture is clear:

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin says:

Neither is there salvation in any other. …And assuredly Christ had showed this one token of his grace, to the end [that] he might be known to be the only author of life. We must consider this in all the benefits of God, to wit, that he is the fountain of salvation. And he meant to prick and sting the priests with this sentence, when as he says that there is salvation in none other save only in Christ, whom they went about to put quite out of remembrance.

As if he should say, that they are twice damned who did not only refuse the salvation offered them by God, but endeavor to bring the same to naught, and did take from all the people the fruit and use thereof. Although he seems to speak unto deaf men, yet he preaches of the grace of Christ, if [perhaps] some can abide to hear; [and] if not, that they may at least be deprived of all excuse by this testimony.

Neither is there any other name…Salvation (says he) is in Christ alone, because God has decreed that it should be so. For by name he means the cause or means, as if he should have said, forasmuch as salvation is in God’s power only, he will not have the same to be common to us by any other means than if we ask it of Christ alone.

Whereas he says under heaven…I do rather think that this was added, because men cannot ascend into heaven, that they may come unto God. Therefore, seeing we are so far from the kingdom of God, it is needful that God does not only invite us unto himself, but that reaching out his hand he offer salvation unto us, that we may enjoy the same.

Peter teaches in this [passage], that he has done that in Christ, because he came down into the earth for this cause, that he might bring salvation with him. Neither is that contrary to this doctrine, that Christ is ascended above all heavens, (Ephesians 4:10). For he took upon him our flesh once for this cause, that he might be a continual pledge of our adoption. He has reconciled the Father to us forever by the sacrifice of his death: by his resurrection he has purchased for us eternal life.

And he is present with us now also, that he may make us partakers of the fruit of eternal redemption; but the revealing of salvation is handled in this [passage], and we know that the same was so revealed in Christ, that we need not any longer to say, “Who shall ascend into heaven?” (Romans 10:6).

And if this doctrine were deeply imprinted in the minds of all men, then should so many controversies concerning the causes of salvation be soon at an end, wherewith the Church is so much troubled…

The Visual Bible – Acts Chapter 4