If

Two weeks ago we discussed ‘casting doubt.’ Two of the questions we looked at began: “If you are the Son of God…” This week, I’d like us to consider a similar question: “If He is the Lord, then what does that require of us?” Last week’s questions, spoken by the Lord Jesus’s adversaries, insinuated He was not who He said He was. This week’s question assumes He is who He says He is.

Let’s consider, then, what sort of people should we be? In the context of Christ’s return, the Apostle Peter says:

What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. 2 Peter 3:11b – 12a English Standard Version (ESV)

Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached a sermon called “The World On Fire” based on these verses almost a century and a half ago. The second half of his sermon discusses how we ought to live. He starts by comparing us to Noah:

…Our position as Christians is, at this moment, like that of Noah before the destruction of the world by water. What manner of person ought Noah to have been? He said to himself, “This fair and beautiful world in which I dwell will soon be covered with the ooze and slime of a tremendous deluge.”

He looked upon his fellow men and he thought and said of them, “Except these men fly to the ark and are sheltered with me, they will, every one of them, be drowned.” He saw them marrying and given in marriage, feasting and trifling at the very hour when the flood came and he felt that if they would believe as he did they would find something other to do than to be engrossed in carnal pleasures.

When he saw them heaping up money he would almost laugh yet weep to think that they should hoard up gold to be submerged with themselves in the general flood. When men added to their estates acre after acre, I have no doubt the Patriarch said to himself, “The flood will sweep away all these landmarks and as it carries away the owner so will it destroy all vestige of his barn and his farm and his fields.”

Spurgeon then helps us walk in Noah’s shoes, so to speak, and think along with him:

I should suppose such a man, daily expecting the rain to descend and the flood to burst up from beneath, would lead a life very free from worldliness, a life the very reverse of the rest of his fellow men. They would reckon him to be very eccentric. They would be unable to understand him. And, indeed, his conduct would be such that no one could understand it except upon the theory that he believed in the destruction of all around him.

He then draws conclusions for us from Noah’s life:

Now our life ought to be like that of Noah. Look around on the beauties of Nature and when you enjoy them, say to yourself, “All these are to be dissolved and to melt with fervent heat.” Look up into the clear blue and think that yonder sky, itself, shall shrivel like a scroll and be rolled up like a garment that has seen its better days and must be put aside.

Look on your fellow men, your own children and your household, and those you pass in the street or meet with in transacting business, and say, “Alas, alas, unless these men, women and children fly to Jesus and are saved in Him, they will be destroyed with the earth on which they dwell, for the day of the Lord is surely coming and judgment awaits the ungodly.”

This should make us act in a spirit the opposite of those who now say, “Go, let us buy and sell and get gain. Let us heap together treasure. Let us live for this world. Let us eat and drink, and be merry.” They are of the earth, therefore is their conduct and conversation earthy. They build here, on this quicksand, and after their own sort they find a pleasure therein—but you whose eyes have been opened know better—and you, therefore build upon the Rock.

Then Spurgeon exhorts us to take God’s perspective:

You understand that the things which are seen are but a dream, that the things unseen are, alone, substantial. Therefore, set loose by all things below the moon and clutch as with the grasp of a dying man the things immortal and eternal which your God has revealed to you!

And he reminds us what we will face as the consequences of our actions:

Such conduct will separate you from your fellow men, as there is down deep in your heart an [goal] different from theirs. And as you set a different estimate on all things, your conduct will be wide apart from theirs. Being swayed by different motives, your life will diverge from theirs and they will misunderstand you. And while trying to find motives for you, as they do not know the true motive, they will ascribe ill motives to you.

But, so it must be. You must come out from among them, be separate and touch not the unclean thing. And the fact that all these things are to be dissolved should make it easy for you to do so, no, natural for you to do so, as it must have made it both easy and natural to the Patriarch Noah.

Spurgeon then examines the worldly man’s perspective:

…The sinner finds a reason for sin when he says, “God is not here. Everything goes on in the ordinary way.  God does not care what men do.”

“No,” says the Apostle, “He is not away, He is here, holding back the fire. He is reserving this world a little while, but by-and-by He will let the fires loose and the world will be destroyed. He is not far off. He is even at the door.”

Considering all that preceded, he calls us to examine ourselves and pray:

Am I ready to be caught away to be with my Lord in the air? Or shall I be left to perish amidst the conflagration? How ought I to live! How ought I to stand, as it were, on tiptoe, ready when He shall call me, to be away up into the Glory, far off from this perishing world!

It makes us look upon all these things in a different light and upon eternal things with a more fixed eye—and a sterner resolve to live unto God. Observe, if sin, even on the inanimate world, needs such a purging by fire as this—if the fact that sin committed here makes it necessary that God should burn it all up—what a horrid thing sin must be!

O to be purged from it! Refining fire, go through my heart! Spirit of the living God, sweep with all Your mighty burnings through and through my body, soul and spirit till You have purged me of every tendency to sin.

Finally, Spurgeon calls those outside the commonwealth to enter by the narrow way:

…Will you not have Christ? Will you not have a Savior? For if you will not, there remains for you only a fearful looking for judgment and of fiery indignation! Tempt not the anger of God! Yield to His mercy now! Believe in His dear Son. I pray that you may this day be saved and God be glorified in your salvation. Amen.

And, thus, let it be.

The World On Fire – Charles Spurgeon Sermon, YouTube, Published March 4, 2017, Christian Praise and Worship in Songs, Sermons, and Audio Books

Casting Doubt

The noun ‘doubt’ means:

A feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.

“some doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of this account”

synonyms: uncertainty, unsureness, indecision, hesitation, dubiousness, suspicion, confusion

antonyms: certainty, confidence, conviction, trust

Two world-historical persons faced life threatening doubt in their lifetimes. One chose poorly which resulted in death for himself, his wife, and all his children and the Other chose well which resulted in everlasting life for those who are His. These are their stories.

The first story starts and ends in a garden:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Genesis 3:1-3 English Standard Version (ESV)

To this, the commentator, John Calvin, said:

Yea, has God said? …More correct is the [translation…] ‘Can it be, that God should forbid the eating of any tree whatever?’ …because there is greater probability that Satan, in order to deceive more covertly, would gradually proceed with cautious prevarications to lead the woman to a contempt of the divine precept.

…Under the pretext of inquiring into the cause, [Satan] indirectly weakens [Adam’s and Eve’s] confidence in [God’s] word. …I have no doubt that the serpent urges the woman to seek out the cause, since otherwise he would not have been able to draw away her mind from God.

Very dangerous is the temptation, when it is suggested to us, that God is not to be obeyed except so far as the reason of his command is apparent. The true rule of obedience is, that we, being content with a bare command, should persuade ourselves that whatever he enjoins is just and right.

But whosoever desires to be wise beyond measure, him will Satan, seeing he has cast off all reverence for God, immediately precipitate into open rebellion…Satan…wished to inject into the woman a doubt which might induce her to believe [what God had said] not to be the word of God…

The second story starts in a wilderness and ends on a site of execution:

[Jesus…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness] for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” Luke 4:2-4 (ESV)

and

After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,

    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4:2-4 (ESV)

To this temptation, Calvin said:

Christ’s reply…is appropriate: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” […It is as if He said:] “You advise me to contrive some remedy, for obtaining relief in a different manner from what God permits. This would be to distrust God; and I have no reason to expect that he will support me in a different manner from what he has promised in his word. You, Satan, represent his favor as confined to bread: but Himself declares, that, though every kind of food were wanting, his blessing alone is sufficient for our nourishment.”

Such was the kind of temptation which Satan employed, the same kind with which he assails us daily. The Son of God did not choose to undertake any contest of an unusual description, but to sustain assaults in common with us, that we might be furnished with the same armor, and might entertain no doubt as to achieving the victory…

Next, he unravels the often-unacknowledged truth of our daily sustenance:

The word does not mean doctrine, but the purpose which God has made known, with regard to preserving the order of nature and the lives of his creatures. Having created men, he does not cease to care for them: but, as “he breathed into their nostrils the breath of life,” (Genesis 2:7,) so he constantly preserves the life which he has bestowed.

In like manner, the Apostle says, that he “upholds all things by his powerful word,” (Hebrews 1:3😉 that is, the whole world is preserved, and every part of it keeps its place, by the will and decree of Him, whose power, above and below, is everywhere diffused. Though we live on bread, we must not ascribe the support of life to the power of bread, but to the secret kindness, by which God imparts to bread the quality of nourishing our bodies.

Hence, also, follows another statement: by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God shall men live. God, who now employs bread for our support, will enable us, whenever he pleases, to live by other means…

Finally, Calvin sums up this lesson as:

The precise object of Christ’s reply is this: We ought to trust in God for food, and for the other necessaries of the present life, in such a manner, that none of us may overleap the boundaries which he has prescribed.

But if Christ did not consider himself to be at liberty to change stones into bread, without the command of God, much less is it lawful for us to procure food by fraud, or robbery, or violence, or murder.

And this second story ends outside Jerusalem:

Those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Matthew 27:39-40 (ESV)

About these verses, Calvin discusses the question:

If thou art the Son of God. Wicked men demand from Christ such a proof of His power that, by proving himself to be the Son of God, he may cease to be the Son of God. He had clothed himself with human flesh, and had descended into the world, on this condition, that, by the sacrifice of his death, he might reconcile men to God the Father.

So then, in order to prove himself to be the Son of God, it was necessary that he should hang on the cross. [Yet,] those wicked men [argued] that the Redeemer will not be recognized as the Son of God, unless he come down from the cross, [disobeying] the command of his Father, and, leaving incomplete the expiation of sins, [thus] divesting himself of the office which God had assigned to him.

But let us learn from [their evil witness] to confirm our faith by considering that the Son of God determined to remain nailed to the cross for the sake of our salvation, until he had endured most cruel torments of the flesh, and dreadful anguish of soul, and even death itself.

And lest we should come to tempt God in a manner similar to that in which those men tempted him, let us allow God to conceal his power, whenever it pleases Him to do so, that he may afterwards display it at his pleasure at the proper time and place.

And so God deigned to show us favor by resisting the temptation and triumphing over death.

On the same topic, the preacher, Charles Spurgeon, offers solace and encouragement in the face of many such ‘ifs’ that cast doubt.

Therefore, no longer doubt, but believe in Him.

R.C. Sproul: Christ Crucified, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries

Live Move Be

The words in the title of this week’s post are found in Oprah’s favorite bible verse:

She says these are words to live by. The verse in its entirety is:

For

   “‘In him we live and move and have our being’;[a]

as even some of your own poets have said,

   “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’”[b]

Footnotes: a. Probably from Epimenides of Crete; b. From Aratus’s poem “Phainomena”

Acts 17:28 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin comments:

For in him. …We have our being in him, inasmuch as by His Spirit he keeps us in life, and upholds us. For the power of the Spirit is spread abroad throughout all parts of the world, that it may preserve them in their state; that He may minister unto the heaven and earth that force and vigor which we see, and motion to all living creatures.

Then Calvin corrects a possible misinterpretation:

Not as brain-sick men do trifle, that all things are full of gods, yea, that stones are gods; but because God does, by the wonderful power and inspiration of His Spirit, preserve those things which He hath created of nothing…

He explains why the Apostle Paul would use such non-biblical sources:

Certain of your poets. [Paul] cites half a verse out of Aratus, not so much for authority’s sake, as that he may make the men of Athens ashamed; for such sayings of the poets came from no other fountain save only from nature and common reason.

Neither is it any marvel if Paul, who spoke unto men who were infidels and ignorant of true godliness, [did] use the testimony of a poet, wherein was [present] a confession of that knowledge which is naturally engraved in men’s minds…

Focusing on the meaning of the poetry itself, Calvin says:

…It may be that Aratus did imagine that there was some parcel of the divinity in men’s minds, as the [Manicheans] did say, that the souls of men are of the nature of God…

But this invention ought not to have hindered Paul from retaining a true maxim, though it were corrupt with men’s fables, that men are the generation of God, because by the excellency of nature they resemble some divine thing.

Finally, Calvin relates the poetical expressions to that which God explains throughout scripture:

This is that which the Scripture teaches, that we are created after the image and similitude of God, (Genesis 1:27.)

The same Scripture teaches also, in many places, that we be made the sons of God by faith and free adoption when we are engrafted into the body of Christ, and being regenerate by the Spirit, we begin to be new creatures, (Galatians 3:26.)

And certainly, God’s scriptures are words to live by.

Judgment and Condemnation

I was speaking with someone at church a few weeks back and we both wondered what 2 Corinthians 5:10 meant:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 2 Corinthians 5:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

Are believers judged? Rather than guess, I offered to look into it. Here’s what I found Calvin had to say:

We must be manifested. Though this is common to all, yet all without distinction do not raise their views in such a way as to consider every moment, that they must appear before the judgment-seat of Christ…For then the books, which are now shut, will be opened (Daniel 7:10).

That every one may give account. As the passage relates to the recompensing of deeds, we must notice briefly, that, as evil deeds are punished by God, so also good deeds are rewarded, but for a different reason; for evil deeds are requited with the punishment that they deserve, but God in rewarding good deeds does not look to merit or worthiness.

For no work is so full and complete in all its parts as to be deservedly well-pleasing to him, and farther, there is no one whose works are in themselves well-pleasing to God, unless he render satisfaction to the whole law. Now no one is found to be thus perfect. Hence the only resource is in his accepting us through unmerited goodness, and justifying us, by not imputing to us our sins.

After he has received us into favor, he receives our works also by a gracious acceptance. It is on this that the reward hinges. There is, therefore, no inconsistency in saying, that he rewards good works, provided we understand that mankind, nevertheless, obtain eternal life gratuitously…

So, here, I think we have half the explanation. All humankind is judged for the good and bad that they’ve done in this life. Any good we can do is only good insofar as God does not count our sins against us. This is only possible through faith in Christ’s saving work on the cross. And that, too, is freely given by Him alone to those who do not merit it.

But what of the condemnation due for the bad that we do? The scriptures say:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. John 5:24 (ESV)

Calvin says about this verse:

He that heareth my word. Here is described the way and manner of honoring God, that no one may think that it consists solely in any outward performance, or in frivolous ceremonies. …But here Christ demands from us no other honor than to obey his Gospel…

Hath eternal life. By these words he likewise commends the fruit of obedience, that we may be more willing to render it…

And shall not come into condemnation. There is here an implied contrast between the guilt to which we are all naturally liable, and the unconditional acquittal which we obtain through Christ; for if all were not liable to condemnation, what purpose would it serve to free from it those who believe in Christ?

The meaning therefore is, that we are beyond the danger of death, because we are acquitted through the grace of Christ; and, therefore, though Christ sanctifies and regenerates us, by his Spirit, to newness of life, yet here he specially mentions the unconditional forgiveness of sins, in which alone the happiness of men consists. For then does a man begin to live when he has God reconciled to him; and how would God love us, if he did not pardon our sins?

…Though life be only begun in us, Christ declares that believers are so certain of obtaining it, that they ought not to fear death; and we need not wonder at this, since they are united to him who is the inexhaustible fountain of life.

But what shall we do with such confidence? I suggest, with Calvin, that we cast off fear and live a life worthy of our gracious God’s gift.

The Last Judgment, Martin, 1853

The Last Judgment, 1853, John Martin (1789-1854), Tate Britain, Public Domain in US