Christianity 201

January 6, 2018

The Steps to Decision (C201 Version)

If you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from death, you will be saved. For it is by our faith that we are put right with God; it is by our confession that we are saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  (Romans 10:14)

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. (Psalm 37:5-6)

Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.  (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 NLT)

One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see! (John 9:25b)

…also…

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you…” (Matthew 7: 21-23a)

Earlier today at Thinking Out Loud I shared that at home we had been discussing the process by which people ‘cross the line of faith’ and identify as Christians. It reminded me of a graphic image I had in my files, but then discovered some people had improved on the one we posted there in March, 2014.

One of the challenges we face comes when we try to make things into a formula or try to over-analyze what God is doing by the Holy Spirit in human hearts. As someone once described it, “The problem of trying to figure out how a cat works is that once you dissect it, it no longer works.” Furthermore, God is working in different ways in different peoples’ lives.

So where did the graphic come from? Here’s what I wrote about this at the time,

A long time ago, a pre-internet generation of Christians were as excited about the latest books as today’s host of internet bloggers. While we might think the universe didn’t exist until we were born, there was the same mix of academic writers as well as popular writers.  One of the latter was Emory Griffin who wrote a paperback about evangelism called The Mind Changers, and in that book, he frequently quoted James F. Engel, who wrote the textbook Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice

Engel dissected the conversion process as only a late 20th Century academic could, breaking it down piece-by-piece. I’ve always kept a copy of this particular little chart handy, because it reminds me that making disciples (or what a previous generation called soul-winning) doesn’t happen overnight (though it can) but often involves the careful processing through of ideas and thoughts. Yes, some people encounter Jesus and the transformation can be instantaneous, but often it has to be reasoned through (or even emoted through; I don’t know if there’s a word for that) and it usually involves some other person whose gift is apologetics or just being there with love or perhaps some combination of the two.

Today, people still discuss whether or not salvation happens as a crisis experience (in a moment, in an instant) or whether it is a process experience (as C. S. Lewis defined so well in the train analogy in Mere Christianity) but if it’s a process, it might look something like Engel describes in the graphic.

Why does it matter?

I suspect that many of us, in our interactions with people expect them to move more rapidly to the point of decision. We’re aware of imperatives like “Choose today whom you will serve;” and “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” We’ve heard the story of D. L. Moody opting not to give an invitation at the end of a message, only to have many hundreds who were there that day perish that week in the Chicago Fire. We long for instantaneous results.

While a crisis experience can definitely spark conversion, I think it’s more likely to be a process. Furthermore, we know statistically that guilt and fear may result in short-term decisions, it definitely is detrimental to the making of long-term converts. The attrition rate for those guilted in or scared in is quite high.

Discipleship is also a process involving much followup post-decision. There’s a second part to Engel’s graphic that we didn’t share this morning at Thinking Out Loud that I want to share here:

Today’s thoughts began with some verses on the subject of salvation. To my mind, they seem much more simple compared with the complexity of the upper graphic. But I am aware that as God is a work the lives of our friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers; it may be that a change in the heart needs to be accompanied by a change of mind on various aspects of the gospel, and this might move forward in stages, rather than all at once.

Read the verses again in the light of the chart, and read the chart again through the lens of the verses. Is there someone in your sphere of influence who God is telling you might want to progress on the journey to decision and discipleship?

 

May 27, 2017

Jesus: His Three Count Case Against the World

A year ago here we introduced you to Jean’s Gospel, a series of teachings which appear on Michael Newnham’s blog Phoenix Preacher. Today we looked at a few of Jean’s more recent writings and chose this one to share with you. Click the title below to read this at source:

Jean’s Gospel: The Advocate

But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:5-11)

When Jesus said, “I am going to him who sent me,” the disciples did not grasp the full significance of His departure. They understood only enough to cause them sorrow. His leaving would end their hopes that Jesus would establish a visible kingdom and government on earth. Moreover, Jesus had just finished preparing the disciples for the rejection and persecution they would receive from the world. Could they accomplish their commission without Jesus physically with them?

But just moments earlier Jesus had told the disciples they would accomplish greater works than He “because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Now He adds: “it is to your advantage that I go away.” Jesus was not leaving them alone. When He returned to the Father, He would send the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them as their Helper, Advocate and Comforter. The disciples would be the instruments of the Holy Spirit, and He would guide them into all truth.

Christ’s kingdom will remain and grow, but as a spiritual kingdom: “he will convict the world.” His kingdom is not a government constituted in worldly fashion by human wisdom and power, but a government of the Holy Spirit, in which Christ rules invisibly, not with bodily power, but through the Word alone. The Church proclaims Christ, His Word and His kingdom to the world.

But first Jesus had to return to the Father: “if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.” Jesus had work to finish, in the flesh, as the world’s High Priest, by offering himself as the perfect sacrifice and substitute for the sins of the world. Thus His route to the Father would take Him to Calvary, to a sepulcher, to His resurrection, to His ascension and finally to His exaltation at the right hand of the Father.

“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:” (John 16:8)

Pilate and the Jewish leaders thought they could convict and put an end to Jesus and His followers, but actually the Holy Spirit, through the office of preaching, would take the initiative, reverse the roles, and convict the whole world – rich and poor, strong and weak, kings and slaves, that the world is in the wrong before God. The world will be compelled to hear the Holy Spirit’s case against it regardless of rejection, threats, intimidation or persecution against Christ, His Church or His preachers. No one will be able to escape sin, death and hell, nor enter heaven, who does not hear and submit to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus makes His case against the world in three counts: concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment.

Count #1: “concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;” (John 16:9)

Because it does not believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin.

When Paul preached in Athens, he accused the Greeks of “ignorance” concerning God (Acts 17:22-31). God is not “an image formed by the art and imagination of man” (Acts 17:29). Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to God. If “sin” is defined as “missing the mark”, then one always will miss the mark if one is ignorant of the target. Unbelief in Jesus is the chief sin, because Jesus is the image of God and without belief in Him one is ignorant of God.

Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15); “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3); “Whoever has seen [Jesus] has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Only with belief in Jesus can one begin to fear, love and trust God; only then can one begin to live according to God’s will and commandments.

Belief in Jesus, that He is the Son of God, who has made satisfaction for our sins, who died and was raised for our justification, etc., falls outside of empirical knowledge and human wisdom, so none of us acquires a belief in Jesus through human means. The Holy Spirit must convict the world of who Jesus is and what He suffered in our stead, and of His victory for our benefit. He who does not believe in Jesus cannot be rid of sin nor escape the wrath of God, because he has no forgiveness and abides under condemnation.

Count #2: “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer;” (John 16:10)

The Holy Spirit will convict the world that Jesus is righteous and the world is unrighteous, because Jesus goes to the Father and the world sees Him no longer.

Jesus is the One of whom the Father said: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) It is Jesus of whom David was speaking: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’ ” (Matt 22:44). By His going to the Father, the Holy Spirit convicts the world that Jesus alone is righteous.

On the other hand, there is no righteousness on earth. As God warned Moses: “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Ex 33:20). David also wrote: “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you” (Ps 143:2).

Therefore, man cannot obtain righteousness by his own efforts; he must clothe himself in the righteousness of Christ through faith in the Gospel. As Paul wrote: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order 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 comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:8b-9).

Count #3: “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:11)

The Holy Spirit will convict the world of God’s judgment in favor of Jesus and against the world. He will testify that Christ’s death and resurrection prove that Jesus defeated the powers of sin, death and Satan. By His victory, Satan is judged and condemned. Anyone who shares the unbelief of Satan is similarly judged and condemned.

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ ” (Acts 2:37)

The Holy Spirit has two offices. With the Law He performs His alien work which is to convict and condemn the whole world. With the Gospel He performs His proper work which is to comfort and make alive. “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6b).

What is the Father’s desire for everyone who receives the Holy Spirit’s verdict? Quite simply this: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Amen.

 

January 2, 2017

“Skip the Truth and Make Us Feel Good”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today’s title is from the NCV rendering of Isaiah 30:10

They tell the seers,
    “Don’t see any more visions!”
They say to the prophets,
    Don’t tell us the truth!
Say things that will make us feel good;
    see only good things for us.

The pastor in the church we visited on New Year’s Day started 2017 with a message on sin. Although he used literally dozens of scripture references — many from Romans — this passage in Isaiah 30 (12-14 in particular) was the only verse for which he prepared a slide for us to read. Many people just want to hear things that will make them feel good. Elsewhere, we read about people having “itching ears.”

Today, we’re going to contrast the contemporary language of The Message with the more formal commentary of Matthew Henry. However, where you see italics, I’ve used more modern expressions. Everything from this point on is Matthew Henry.

So, go now and write all this down.
    Put it in a book
So that the record will be there
    to instruct the coming generations,
Because this is a rebel generation,
    a people who lie,
A people unwilling to listen
    to anything God tells them.
They tell their spiritual leaders,
    “Don’t bother us with irrelevancies.”
They tell their preachers,
    “Don’t waste our time on impracticalities.
Tell us what makes us feel better.
    Don’t bore us with obsolete religion.
That stuff means nothing to us.
    Quit hounding us with The Holy of Israel.”  – Isaiah 30: 8-11 (MSG)

They forbade the prophets to speak to them in God’s name, and to deal faithfully with them.

They set themselves so violently against the prophets to hinder them from preaching, or at least from dealing plainly with them in their preaching, did so banter them and browbeat them, that they did in effect say to the seers, See not. They had the light, but they loved darkness rather. It was their privilege that they had seers among them, but they did what they could to put out their eyes — that they had prophets among them, but they did what they could to stop their mouths; for they tormented them in their wicked ways, Rev. 11:10.

Those that silence good ministers, and discountenance good preaching, are justly counted, and called, rebels against God. See what it was in the prophets’ preaching with which they found themselves aggrieved.

  1.  The prophets told them of their faults, and warned them of their misery and danger by reason of sin, and they couldn’t take it. They must speak to them warm and fuzzy things, must flatter them in their sins, and say that they did well, and there was no harm, no danger, in the course of life they lived in. No matter how true something is, if it be not easy to listen to, they will not hear it. But if it be agrees with the good opinion they have of themselves, and will confirm them in that, even though it be very false and ever so undeserved, they will have it prophesied to them. Those deserve to be deceived that desire to be so.
  2.  The prophets stopped them in their sinful pursuits, and stood in their way like the angel in Balaam’s road, with the sword of God’s wrath drawn in their hand; so that they could not proceed without terror. And this they took as a great insult. When they continued to desire the opposite of what the prophets were saying they in effect said to the prophets, “Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the paths. What do you do in our way? Cannot you leave us alone to do as we please?” Those have their hearts fully set in them to do evil that bid these accountability monitors to get out of their way. Be quiet now before I have you killed! 2 Chron. 25:16.
  3.  The prophets were continually telling them of the Holy One of Israel, what an enemy he is to sin ad how severely he will judge sinners; and this they couldn’t listen to. Both the thing itself and the expression of it were too serious for them; and therefore, if the prophets will speak to them, they will determine that they will not call God the Holy One of Israel; for God’s holiness is that attribute which wicked people most of all dread.

Now what is the doom passed upon them for this?

Therefore, The Holy of Israel says this:
    “Because you scorn this Message,
Preferring to live by injustice
    and shape your lives on lies,
This perverse way of life
    will be like a towering, badly built wall
That slowly, slowly tilts and shifts,
    and then one day, without warning, collapses—
Smashed to bits like a piece of pottery,
    smashed beyond recognition or repair,
Useless, a pile of debris
    to be swept up and thrown in the trash.”

Observe,

  1. Who it is that gives judgment upon them? This is what the Holy One of Israel says. The prophet uses the very title they find so objectionable. Faithful ministers will not be driven from using such expressions as are needed to awaken sinners, though they be displeasing. We must tell men that God is the Holy One of Israel, and so they will find him, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.
  2.  What is the basis of the judgment? Because they despise this word—whether, in general, every word that the prophets said to them, or this word in particular, which declares God to be the Holy One of Israel: “they despise this, and will neither make it their fear, to respect it, nor make it their hope, to put any confidence in it; but, rather than they will submit to the Holy One of Israel, they will continue in oppression and perverseness, in the wealth they have collected and the interest they have made by fraud and violence, or in the sinful methods they have taken for their own security, in contradiction to God and his will. On these they depend, and therefore it is just that they should fall.”
  3.  What is the judgment is that is passed on them? “This sinfulness will be to you as a wall ready to fall. This confidence of yours will be like a house built upon the sand, which will fall in the storm and bury the builder in the ruins of it. Your contempt of that word of God which you might build upon will make every thing else you trust like a wall that bulges out, which, if any weight be laid upon it, comes down, nay, which often sinks with its own weight.”

The ruin they are bringing upon themselves is,

  1. Surprising: The breaking shall come suddenly, at an instant, when they do not expect it, which will make it the more frightful, and when they are not prepared or provided for it, which will make it the more fatal.
  2. Total and irreversible: “Your and all you hold dear shall be not only weak as the potter’s clay (Isa. 29:16), but broken to pieces as the potter’s vessel. He that has the rod of iron shall break it (Ps. 2:9) and he will not spare, will not have any regard to it, nor be in care to preserve or keep whole any part of it. But, when once it is broken so as to be unfit for use, let it be destroyed, let it be crushed, all to pieces, so that there may not remain one shred big enough to take up a little fire or water”—two things we have daily need of, and which poor people commonly get in a piece of a broken pitcher. They shall not only be as a leaning fence (Ps. 62:3), but as a broken mug or glass, which is good for nothing, nor can ever be made whole again.

December 20, 2016

God’s Power and Peter’s Sin

Today we’re paying a return visit to Enoch Anti from Ghana. His blog, Truth Publication may not be currently active, but this, the last article posted, makes for good reading.

Depart From Me…I Am A Sinful Man

Have you ever thought about it? What is the greatest need of humankind? This question will generate a lot of response. Probably, for the majority, top of the list will be eradication of poverty and disease. Others will put forth world peace, eradication of drug and sex trafficking. To others, equal rights for all humankind will top the list. These indeed are commendable, but they are not the greatest need of humankind. The Bible gives us the answer:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

This is the divine verdict from God. All humankind have sinned. Not only that, but by our sins, we are estranged, alienated and separated from God. We are enemies of God and liable to receive the just punishment for our sins. Paul describes our hopelessness in Ephesians 2:1-3 saying ,

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”.

The above is true of every human being. It is the present reality of the unbeliever and it was the reality of the believer who has now come to Faith.

Now the reality of sin as our greatest need came home to me again very strongly today when I read portions of Luke’s gospel for my devotion. In Luke 5, the story is told of Jesus using the boat of Peter to preach and afterwards, He issued a command saying

“Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (v.4).

Here is an experienced fisherman who has toiled all night and caught nothing, so he might have been surprised by the command from Jesus. Indeed he was and his response tells:

And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!”(v5a).

However, I suppose having heard Jesus preaching, his heart might have been convicted to obey. So he didn’t stop at questioning Jesus’ instruction. He responded positively afterwards:

“But at your word I will let down the nets.”(v.5b).

After they heeded Jesus’ instruction, we are told a miracle happened. They had a great catch to the extent they had to signal other fisherman to assist with bringing their catch (vv.6-7).

Simon’s report in the narrative is what caught my attention:

“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”(v.8).

A miracle has taken place. But it seemed the miracle didn’t matter to Simon. We are looking at a great breakthrough for that day. They have a great abundance. But in the midst of that abundance, the state of Simon’s heart was laid bare. He was convicted: “he fell down at Jesus’ feet”. He was broken. He lost himself. Before Him was no ordinary man but Jesus, God incarnate.

In that moment of a great miracle, his sinful heart all played before him in front of a Holy God: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”. Anyone who encounters the holiness of God is always struck with the wretchedness of their soul (Isaiah 6:5, Romans 7:24). Sin is our greatest predicament (Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 53:6) and until we are reconciled to God, nothing else matters that happens to us. A miracle or breakthrough is of no significance to a heart dead in sin.

Like Simon, we must all fall on our knees at the feet of Christ and plead for forgiveness and reconciliation. Our sin must not drive us away from God, rather it must drive us to Him. Jesus didn’t drive away Peter, but He spoke forgiveness to the need of his sinful heart:

“And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”(v.10).

Here is the mercy of God in action; a man not only forgiven, but his life takes on a new direction. A sinful man cleansed and reconciled to God and commissioned to be a soul winner – fisher of men. Our greatest need is to be forgiven of our sins and reconciled to God. That is the foremost reason Christ walked this earth (Ephesians 2:14-17).

June 12, 2016

The Conscience: God’s Operative Tool

•••by Russell Young

The Word of God often speaks of the need to be led by the Spirit in order for a person to be eternally saved.  How does the Spirit lead?  The answer is that God uses a person’s conscience to guide him or her.  The conscience is really God consciousness within the believer.  Where the conscious is strong, that person has a strong awareness of the presence of God.  Where it is weak, the bearer has only a weak or limited knowledge of God’s presence.

Following the believer’s confession of faith and of Christ’s lordship, the new believer is given the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead in obedience to the Word and will of God.  Regarding the Spirit Christ said, “But I tell you the truth:  It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:7-8, NIV) Conviction takes place through a person’s conscience, and the conviction of the world of sin applies to all sinful activity-its practice in the lost and its practice in God’s children.

Christian conscienceA person’s conscience is his moral consciousness. And the writer of Hebrews has recorded that it is the Spirit that cleanses our conscience or moral consciousness from interest in performing those acts which lead to death. (Heb 9:14)  The result should be that a person’s awareness or consciousness of those immoral acts which might tempt him or her should alert them concerning the danger before them.  The Old Covenant Israelites did not enjoy the privilege of the Counselor to guide them but had to rely upon the law and their own sinful nature in order to live righteously.  They could not do it.  The conscience not only alerts the believer of dangerous temptations but also disturbs him or her when sin has occurred so that the sinner, including the believer, might repent and seek forgiveness for cleansing by the blood of Christ. (1 Jn 1:9)

The Holy Spirit uses the conscience to reveal dissonance between God’s Word and will and the believer’s heart and practices.  Paul was able to boast that he kept his conscience clear. “Now this is our boast:  Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in holiness and sincerity that are from God.  We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.” (2 Cor 1:12, NIV) John stated, “If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God…because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” (1 Jn 3:21-22, NIV)

The Holy Spirit is active in the lives of believers.  He enlightens them to sin and alarms them when it occurs.  Without his ministry in this regard, transformation into a holy mind and the development of righteous practices could not occur.  When the conscience is troubled a person can know that he or she is acting outside, or about to act outside, the will of God.  The conscience is the warning bell.

The Spirit, or warning bell, can be quenched, however. (1 Thess 5:19) That is, by consciously and repeatedly ignoring the Spirit’s alerts the heart will become hardened to the issue involved and the alert will no longer be heard.  The development of a sensitive Spirit or strong God consciousness is the most important tool the believer has to aid in living a righteous life.

Repeated quenching of the Spirit can lead to the conscience becoming seared; that is, a person’s conscience will no longer work to reveal sin and he or she will a become hypocritical liar.  “The Spirit clearly says that in the later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.  Such teaching comes through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as by a hot iron.” (1 Tim 4:1-2, NIV) A seared conscience leads to powerlessness, and to an unholy walk and possibly to the abandonment of faith. Special care should be taken not to sear the conscience concerning “pet” sins. The sins that a person has a tendency to rationalize or excuse.  The believer is to be careful to follow the Spirit’s leading if he or she is to remain faithful and develop the holiness that leads to eternal salvation. (Heb. 12:14)

In respect to the Spirit’s leading, it must be remembered that each person is God’s masterpiece or workmanship. (Eph 2:10) He is working to make them a sacrifice acceptable for God’s kingdom. (Rom 15:16) Christ said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.” (Jn 10:27, NIV) The Lord’s sheep or children will listen to and follow him, and when they do they will be conformed to the likeness of his Son. (Rom 8:29)

The Spirit uses the Word of God to enlighten the believer in regard to sin and righteous living and the Spirit instructs the conscience.  Those who neglect to bathe themselves in God’s Word will be unable to effectively fight the battle against sin and to achieve his or her necessary transformation.  In his study the believer has a responsibility and the privilege of knowing the heart of God on all manner of issues.  The conscience is God’s operative tool consequently, the believer should develop and protect it.

April 27, 2015

Owning the Holy Spirit

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
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This week at church highlighted a truth about the Jesus telling his disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit. The first thing Jesus said would happen is focused on the world; on the non-followers.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment…  (NIV)

The phrase in verse 8 you are probably more accustomed to hearing is, “he will convict the world of sin…” (NASB & others). But familiar as this is, we tend to overlook that this is directed to those we could call today ‘outside the Church.’

Instead, we think of the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer.

We certainly get this a few verses later.

13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

The difference between this and verse eight is that we often overlook the activity of the Holy Spirit in the world at large. We forget that God is, by His Spirit, already planting seeds in the hearts of people, already making a difference by His very presence. We look at the situation of the ‘lost’ as though their salvation all depends on human effort; as though it all depends on us.

We also do this in other areas:

  • A Christian pastor has a large church but also has a unique gift of defining the gospel without using the words and phrases to which some of us are emotionally attached. His ministry is condemned because seasoned Christians are judging it in terms of how it touches them instead of how it effective it is being in the lives of those unfamiliar with Christian doctrine. It’s simply easier to attack it than to understand and embrace the pastor’s philosophy of ministry.
  • A Christian author writes a book that also uses terminology and situations not generally associated with the proclamation of the Gospel, and the book is a huge hit with unbelievers and, over the passage of time, many see it as the thing that started them on the road to genuine faith. But conservative Christians find the imagery so different from that used in the Bible that they condemn the author as a false teacher, ignoring the potential that God can and is using it.
  • A member of my church has a great 1:1 evangelism ministry with people he knows from the shop floor of his workplace, and his weekend hobby as a biker. As a result, he often meets people to discuss spiritual interests in a local bar. He is roundly criticized by other people in the church for the inappropriateness of the context where his witness and discipleship conversations are taking place, who fail to see the fruit of the ministry.

You get the pattern. But if the Holy Spirit of God was first sent to the world to convict of sin, we have to realize that we, the religious set, don’t own the Holy Spirit.

Yes, He is a gift to the believer and to the Church, but the Holy Spirit is also a gift to the world.

 

 

 

January 21, 2015

The Sin that is Resident Inside Us

We return to an author who appeared here a year ago. Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. To read this at source on the church blog, click the title below:

Why Is Sin Still Alive In Me, In You?

When my oldest daughter was very young, we almost lost her in a drowning accident. While my wife and I were engaged in a casual conversation by the pool, my daughter walked down the steps and into the water. She was just a few feet away, yet we did not see her. Seconds later, my wife looked over and immediately pulled her up and out. We thank God for His grace that afternoon.

In the same way, sin works in stealth mode; it must be taken seriously – it separates us from God and directly opposes Him. Sin corrupts our character and our testimony; it prevents holiness and quenches and grieves the Spirit within. Why, then, do so many continue to fall into sin? A story was told of a young boy who kept falling out of his bed. Frustrated, he asked his mother why? She wisely answered, “It’s because you don’t stay far enough in.” In the same way, many of us fall back into sin because we don’t get far enough into God’s framework of safety and protection.

Why-is-Sin-Still-Alive-in-Me-and-You-400x225Overcoming sin, especially sexual sin, can be a difficult battle for Christians, but victory is not optional; it’s essential. In Romans 6 and 7, Paul has an open dialogue about our old sinful nature being crucified with Christ so that sin loses its power in our lives. The good we want to do we often do not do, and the evil we seek to avoid we sometimes practice. The result is misery, so Paul asks, “Who will free me from this body and life that are dominated by sin?” (cf. Romans 7:24).

It leaves one to wonder, “If I’m dead to sin why is it still alive in me?” How can Paul declare that he is dead to sin in one verse, yet a few verses later ask, “Who will free me from the domination of sin in my life?” Romans 6:16 is the clarifying verse, “Whatever you choose to obey becomes your master?” You can choose sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God. It’s a choice. And once you make a choice, it then makes you. “Grace changes the nature of man, but nothing changes the nature of sin” (Puritan, John Owen).

There is power in the word of God to save us from ourselves, overcome temptation, and reposition us again in the will of God. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). We must submit to the work of the Holy Spirit as well.

As a believer, God equips us with discernment so that we are able to grasp what is really going on. This is why the role of the pulpit in these dire times is so important. Those who fail to preach the word of God in all its fullness fail to pierce the heart; sinners are not challenged to turn to the Savior. Paul encourages pastors to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Convince means to cause others to believe firmly. Rebuke means to warn, confront, or challenge with the hope of changing course. And exhort is to urge, appeal, or to encourage. But many today focus only on exhortation to win favor and acceptance.

We’d do well to revisit Jeremiah 23 regularly. Although this passage was written primarily to the false leaders in Jeremiah’s day, the principle still applies to us—stand firm in God’s counsel; don’t simply exhort, rebuke and convict as well: “‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!’ Says the LORD…they also strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns back from his wickedness…and to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, ‘No evil shall come upon you’….I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied…but if they had stood in My counsel, and caused My people to hear My words, then they would have turned them from their evil way…therefore, they shall not profit this people at all, says the LORD’” (Jeremiah 23:1-32).

These leaders, like many today, had “perverted the words of the living God” (vs. 36) by not warning, instructing, challenging, and contending for the faith. Pastor’s, as the church falls deeper into self-reliance and further from reliance on God, our need for bold leadership has never been greater. Change will only occur when there is a strong conviction of sin, genuine faith, humility, and sincere repentance—may God grant us the wisdom and strength to proclaim these truths. We must stop confusing God’s patience with His approval and preach with conviction from the pulpits again. We are not called to coddle, but to convict.

Be encouraged, God sends His word to heal and deliver us from our destructive lifestyles (cf. Psalm 107:20). But we must not simply hear, we must apply God’s truth to our lives. Hearing alone does nothing without the active step of obedience. Obeying God’s voice can keep us from sin, or sin can keep us from hearing God’s voice.

Turn, or return, to Him today and experience His grace, love, and forgiveness. Its not too late. Recall Romans 6:16, “Whatever you choose to obey becomes your master?” We can choose sin, which leads to death, or we can choose to obey God. It’s a choice. And, as stated earlier, once you make a choice, it then makes you. ​

January 21, 2014

Sin Kills

Sin Kills 2

Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship, in Lancaster, Ca. He has recently written Desperate for More of God, for which you can watch a book trailer here. This article appeared in November on the church’s blog under the title, The Cross of Christ is Foolishness . . .”

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

There is a significant shift in the church today to avoid controversial truths such as the cross. The cross confronts evil; it’s repulsive to sinful man. Darkness hates the light. God’s Word says to confront, confess, and turn from sin, whereas many encourage us to ignore, overlook, and continue in them. Silence about sin minimizes the cross. But the cross only makes sense in light of the consequences of sin. “To convince the world of the truth of Christianity, it must first be convinced of sin. It is only sin that renders Christ intelligible” (Andrew Murray; 1794-1866).

Many mistakenly believe that Jesus didn’t mention sin—after all, He was “a friend of sinners.” However, Scripture reveals quite the opposite. For example, in John 5:14 Jesus exhorted a man to sin no more or a worse thing would happen to him. He also told the woman caught in the act of adultery to “go and sin no more.”

It’s clear that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (I Timothy 1:15), why, then, is there a move within the church to avoid mentioning difficult truths such as the cross, sin, judgment, and so on? John 12:43 may reveal the answer, “They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” “The old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it” (A.W. Tozer).

Sin has a life cycle — it either grows or withers depending on whether we feed or starve it. This is why the puritan author, John Owen, wrote, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” With that said, here is why we need the cross of Christ:

Sin is within: “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Our sinful nature is at war with God. No peace treaties can be signed; no concessions can be made…sin must be eradicated: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (cf. Hebrews 9:22). The life of the flesh is in the blood. Christ’s life had to be offered in order to saves ours.

Sin has a cost: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). It’s been said that sin takes you farther than you want to go, costs you more than you want to pay, and keeps you longer than you want to stay. Sin has a tremendous price, but fortunately, this greatest of debts was paid: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Sin separates: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2). Sin separates all nations, tribes, and tongues from God. There are two types of separation: 1) separation from God eternally, and 2) separation that believers experience as the result of besetting sin. If God seems distant, Bible study boring, and church inconvenient, it may be that sin is hindering your relationship with Him. Look within…is jealousy, envy, bitterness, gossip, lust, or anger controlling your thoughts? Do you have a critical spirit? Are you compromising the gospel? Are you filled with pride and judgmentalism instead of love, joy, peace, contentment, and gentleness. If there is no repentance of besetting sin, one can never experience true freedom in Christ.

Sin enslaves (controls): “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). Mike Wilkerson, in his book Redemption, writes, “Sin corrupts worship. Not a ceasing of worship but a distortion of it. We never stop worshiping. Rather, in sin, we worship anything and everything other than God. We tend to exalt a substance, an experience, a person, or a dream to the level of a god. We define life by its attainment, and we feel like dying when it eludes us…The Bible calls this ‘idolatry.’ So addictions, for example, aren’t just drug, alcohol, food, or pornography problems. They are worship disorders. They flow from hearts bent on worshiping created things rather than the Creator.” Sin enslaves, controls, and distorts. The only way to break sins hold in our life is to embrace the cross. Jesus came to “save His people from their sins.” The penalty for sin was paid on the cross (propitiation), and our guilt was removed (expiation).

Conviction is a wonderful gift from God…run to it not away from it. Conviction is also the first step toward truly knowing God. Does 1 Corinthians 1:18 convict you: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”? Is the cross foolishness to you? That can change today. John 10:10 says that Jesus came to give us life, freedom, and a relationship with God. Are you experiencing this abundant life? Or are you bound by sin, rules, compromise, or tradition? 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. The old has gone, and the new is here. You must trust in Him as Lord and Savior and repent from your sin. This isn’t popular but it is powerful.

If you’re a believer, but find yourself trapped in sin, misery, and depression, there is also hope. God’s continually calls His people back to Him. If you return to Him with all of your heart, He will return to you. That’s a gift of the greatest value…a promise that will never fail.

The title we chose for today’s post comes from the song Sin Kills by Andy McCaroll and Moral Support, a Christian metal band from the early 1980s. It’s not the type of song I would normally embed here, but if you’re under a certain age, the lyrics are quite powerful. Click here to listen.

March 6, 2012

Recollections

A couple of short re-posts today from one year ago here at Christianity 201 for all our new readers. If that’s not you, check out what follows after the two short articles.


Promise Box Theology

I’ve decided on some benchmarks that I think moving into deeper Christian living should contain:

  • getting away from prayer lists and focusing in on intensive prayer for God to something specific for an individual in a unique situation;
  • getting away from “promise box theology” and reading entire chapters or even 3-4 chapters at a time;
  • getting away from devotionals that begin with quick stories, and instead considering a topic or an idea and thinking about how that would play out in the life story of someone you know;
  • being consciously aware of ways for improvement in terms of manifesting the fruit of the Spirit;
  • being aware of things that are sin even though you didn’t consider them sin a few months earlier;
  • becoming genuinely excited about evangelism both in terms of personal involvement and hearing stories where “it’s working;”
  • finding yourself more deeply part of the picture as you read a New Testament narrative;
  • understanding your own brokenness and the brokenness of others, and how it draws us closer to God;
  • increasingly becoming an agent of grace and being drawn to others who are
  • feeling more and more “at home” with both personal Bible study and spending time in God’s house.

I’ve left many other possibilities out, I’m sure. Feel free to add to this list in the comments.

~Paul Wilkinson


Before You Pray “Our Father…”

This was part of our [recent] worship time… My wife adapted this from something one of our team members sent.

If my religion and my life have no room for others and their joys and needs,

…I cannot pray “Our”

If I do not live as a child, beloved and learning,

…I cannot pray “Father”

If all my interests and pursuits are earthly things

…I cannot pray “Who art in Heaven”

If I — called to be holy as he is — am not holy

…I cannot pray “Hallowed be thy name”

If he is not King in my own life,

…I cannot pray “Thy Kingdom come”

If I will not listen for and obey his voice on Earth

…I cannot pray “On Earth as it is in Heaven”

If I will not make an honest effort, or if I ignore the immediate needs of others

…I cannot pray “Give us this day our daily bread”

If I choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted

…I cannot pray “Lead us not into temptation”

If I am not prepared to fight the spiritual fight with faith and truth and love

…I cannot pray “Deliver us from evil”

If I insist on my own rights and my own way

…I cannot pray “Thine is the Kingdom”

If I live according to what my neighbors and friends may say or do

…I cannot pray “Thine is the Power”

If I’m controlled by anxiety about every day’s problems and promises

…I cannot pray “Forever”

If I cannot honestly say ‘Cost what it may, this is my prayer’

…I cannot pray “Amen”


The last part of today’s multi-part post is a listing of web addresses for sermon video from some of the largest churches in the U.S. Many of you read both blogs, but I wanted to make sure nobody missed this. These are all fairly large churches, because they have the budget to do the video thing with technical excellence. But little churches can have great sermons online, too. Also, remember this was written for the broader audience at the other blog. Those of you who dig deeper have favorites that aren’t listed here.  Feel free to use the comments section to recommend things to others.


Andy Stanley

Considered one of the finest communicators in North America. Live feed from North Point Community Church in north Atlanta on Sunday at 9 and 11 AM, 2 PM, 6PM and 10PM includes worship and baptisms.

http://northpointonline.tv/ — streaming live at times as noted above
http://www.northpoint.org/messages — video server of recent series

Steven Furtick

Another young communicator whose church has really taken off in Charlotte, NC in the past five years. The reference to Sundays at 12:00, 4:00 and 8:00, refers to streaming Sunday services, because Elevation Network goes 24/7. Author of Sun Stand Still.

http://elevationnetwork.com/

Bruxy Cavey

Our first of three Canadian entries. The long-haired rock ‘n roll preacher of The Meeting House in Oakville has messages going back to 2000, though some are just audio. The media player is a small on-screen window and takes longer to buffer. Great teaching, though; you want to start at part one of a series that interests you, such as the recent 5-part series Jesus by John. Fastest growing church movement in all of Canada.

http://www.themeetinghouse.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=121&Itemid=3

Charles Price

Our second Canadian entry. The British-born pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto is an excellent Bible teacher, as seen on CTV on Sunday mornings. Deep thoughts, straight-forward teaching, but not afraid to be controversial.

http://www.livingtruthmedia.com/index2.php — most recent sermon; previous messages available on audio

Jon Thompson

Now we’re three-for-three for Canada. The very focused pastor of C4, a large church in Toronto’s eastern suburbs; site uses video player.

http://www.c4church.com/media.php?pageID=5

Kyle Idleman

The host of the H20 video series and author of Not a Fan. Teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Very straight-forward, easy to follow teaching. Video server available anytime.

http://www.southeastchristian.org/default.aspx?page=4140 (Indiana campus, different series)
http://www.southeastchristian.org/default.aspx?page=3476&project=123478&program=553660 (main campus)

Bill Hybels

The guy whose ‘seeker sensitive’ and contemporary services changed the way we approach church today. Bill doesn’t preach every Sunday anymore, but all their teachers are really high standard. This is a video server, with lots to choose from. “Weekend Services” are more like what Andy does, “Midweek Services” go a bit deeper.

http://media.willowcreek.org/

Greg Boyd

A Princeton theological education combined with large doses of Pentecostalism produced an always interesting and sometimes controversial pastor at Woodland Hills Church in Minneapolis.

http://whchurch.org/sermons-media/sermon-series

Pete Wilson

The super-casual Nashville pastor preaches several times at his area campuses but then on Sunday night does this thing in a downtown Music City club called Rocketown where he repeats his sermon from the morning, but then takes live chat questions after. Author of Plan B, and blogger at Without Wax.

http://campus.316networks.com/crosspoint.tv — Sunday night at 6:00 Central, 7:00 Eastern; but often starts a bit late
http://www.crosspoint.tv/nashville/media/ — past sermon series; video player

Craig Groeshel

Pastor of the church in the U.S. with the most satellite locations, in fact the name of the church is the name of the website, lifechurch.tv — the part of the site linked below uses a video server so you can start anytime. This links to the current series and then you select week one to start.

http://www.lifechurch.tv/watch/samson-2012/1

Rick Warren

Pastor of the 2nd largest church in the U.S. and author of Purpose Driven Church, this church streams its teaching at least ten times every single day!

http://saddleback.com/internetcampus/aboutus/servicetimes/index.html — schedule, then you go to the media player.

http://saddleback.com/mediacenter/home/default.aspx — media player

David Platt

Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. Author of Radical and originator of Secret Church (which sadly, you can’t see online, but you possibly wouldn’t want to, because each sermon is six hours long.) Video server available anytime. Very laid-back, soft-spoken teaching from a Reformed perspective.

http://www.brookhills.org/media

January 28, 2012

The Greatest Sermon Ever Preached – Part One

“On Wednesday, July 8, 1741, [Jonathan] Edwards went with other ministers to help the church in Enfield (on the MASS-CT border). There he preached his famous (and in some circles “infamous”) sermon “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God.” As best we can tell, the response to Edwards’ sermon was electrifying…. He meditated on the inevitability of the fall of the wicked, the suddenness of that fall—that is, it will be unexpected—and what they fall into—Hell. He talked at some length of people being held out of hell only by God’s mere grace, or as Edwards put it, ‘pleasure’. He assumed that motivating his hearers by fear was legitimate, if the fears were well-founded, and the motivation charitable.” ~ Dr. Mark Dever

So begins the introduction to a page devoted to Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God on Dane Gardow’s website, TruthSource.  This sermon occupies such a high place in modern Christian history that I wanted to also archive it here for C201 readers, but it will appear here in two parts; the second dealing with the application to Edwards’ audience and us.  The language is different, so take it slowly.


“Their foot shall slide in due time.” Deut. 32:35

In this verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites, who were God’s visible people, and who lived under the means of grace; but who, notwithstanding all God’s wonderful works towards them, remained (as vers 28.) void of counsel, having no understanding in them. Under all the cultivations of heaven, they brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit; as in the two verses next preceding the text. — The expression I have chosen for my text, their foot shall slide in due time, seems to imply the following things, relating to the punishment and destruction to which these wicked Israelites were exposed.

  1. That they were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall. This is implied in the manner of their destruction coming upon them, being represented by their foot sliding. The same is expressed, Ps. 73:18. “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction.”
  2. It implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: Which is also expressed in Ps. 73:18-19. “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction: How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!”
  3. Another thing implied is, that they are liable to fall of themselves, without being thrown down by the hand of another; as he that stands or walks on slippery ground needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down.
  4. That the reason why they are not fallen already and do not fall now is only that God’s appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed time comes, their foot shall slide. Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by their own weight. God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then, at that very instant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost.

The observation from the words that I would now insist upon is this. — “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.” — By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God’s mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment. — The truth of this observation may appear by the following consideration.

  1. There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up. The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his hands. — He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it. Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty to subdue a rebel, who has found means to fortify himself, and has made himself strong by the numbers of his followers. But it is not so with God. There is no fortress that is any defence from the power of God. Though hand join in hand, and vast multitudes of God’s enemies combine and associate themselves, they are easily broken in pieces. They are as great heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind; or large quantities of dry stubble before devouring flames. We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; so it is easy for us to cut or singe a slender thread that any thing hangs by: thus easy is it for God, when he pleases, to cast his enemies down to hell. What are we, that we should think to stand before him, at whose rebuke the earth trembles, and before whom the rocks are thrown down?
  2. They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it makes no objection against God’s using his power at any moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes of Sodom, “Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?” Luke 13:7. The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God’s mere will, that holds it back.
  3. They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They do not only justly deserve to be cast down thither, but the sentence of the law of God, that eternal and immutable rule of righteousness that God has fixed between him and mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to hell. John 3:18. “He that believeth not is condemned already.” So that every unconverted man properly belongs to hell; that is his place; from thence he is, John 8:23. “Ye are from beneath:” And thither he is bound; it is the place that justice, and God’s word, and the sentence of his unchangeable law assign to him.
  4. They are now the objects of that very same angerand wrath of God, that is expressed in the torments of hell. And the reason why they do not go down to hell at each moment, is not because God, in whose power they are, is not then very angry with them; as he is with many miserable creatures now tormented in hell, who there feel and bear the fierceness of his wrath. Yea, God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth: yea, doubtless, with many that are now in this congregation, who it may be are at ease, than he is with many of those who are now in the flames of hell.So that it is not because God is unmindful of their wickedness, and does not resent it, that he does not let loose his hand and cut them off. God is not altogether such an one as themselves, though they may imagine him to be so. The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them.
  5. The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession, and under his dominion. The scripture represents them as his goods, Luke 11:12. The devils watch them; they are ever by them at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back. If God should withdraw his hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls. The old serpent is gaping for them; hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost.
  6. There are in the souls of wicked men those hellish principles reigning, that would presently kindle and flame out into hell fire, if it were not for God’s restraints. There is laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of hell. There are those corrupt principles, in reigning power in them, and in full possession of them, that are seeds of hell fire. These principles are active and powerful, exceeding violent in their nature, and if it were not for the restraining hand of God upon them, they would soon break out, they would flame out after the same manner as the same corruptions, the same enmity does in the hearts of damned souls, and would beget the same torments as they do in them. The souls of the wicked are in scripture compared to the troubled sea, Isa. 57:20. For the present, God restrains their wickedness by his mighty power, as he does the raging waves of the troubled sea, saying, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further;” but if God should withdraw that restraining power, it would soon carry all before it. Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature; and if God should leave it without restraint, there would need nothing else to make the soul perfectly miserable. The corruption of the heart of man is immoderate and boundless in its fury; and while wicked men live here, it is like fire pent up by God’s restraints, whereas if it were let loose, it would set on fire the course of nature; and as the heart is now a sink of sin, so if sin was not restrained, it would immediately turn the soul into fiery oven, or a furnace of fire and brimstone.
  7. It is no security to wicked men for one moment, that there are no visible means of death at hand. It is no security to a natural man, that he is now in health, and that he does not see which way he should now immediately go out of the world by any accident, and that there is no visible danger in any respect in his circumstances. The manifold and continual experience of the world in all ages, shows this is no evidence, that a man is not on the very brink of eternity, and that the next step will not be into another world. The unseen, unthought-of ways and means of persons going suddenly out of the world are innumerable and inconceivable. Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen. The arrows of death fly unseen at noon-day; the sharpest sight cannot discern them. God has so many different unsearchable ways of taking wicked men out of the world and sending them to hell, that there is nothing to make it appear, that God had need to be at the expense of a miracle, or go out of the ordinary course of his providence, to destroy any wicked man, at any moment. All the means that there are of sinners going out of the world, are so in God’s hands, and so universally and absolutely subject to his power and determination, that it does not depend at all the less on the mere will of God, whether sinners shall at any moment go to hell, than if means were never made use of, or at all concerned in the case.
  8. Natural men’s prudence and care to preserve their own lives, or the care of others to preserve them, do not secure them a moment. To this, divine providence and universal experience do also bear testimony. There is this clear evidence that men’s own wisdom is no security to them from death; that if it were otherwise we should see some difference between the wise and politic men of the world, and others, with regard to their liableness to early and unexpected death: but how is it in fact? Eccl. 2:16. “How dieth the wise man? even as the fool.”
  9. All wicked men’s pains and contrivancewhich they use to escape hell, while they continue to reject Christ, and so remain wicked men, do not secure them from hell one moment. Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now doing, or what he intends to do. Every one lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself, and that his schemes will not fail. They hear indeed that there are but few saved, and that the greater part of men that have died heretofore are gone to hell; but each one imagines that he lays out matters better for his own escape than others have done. He does not intend to come to that place of torment; he says within himself, that he intends to take effectual care, and to order matters so for himself as not to fail.But the foolish children of men miserably delude themselves in their own schemes, and in confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but a shadow. The greater part of those who heretofore have lived under the same means of grace, and are now dead, are undoubtedly gone to hell; and it was not because they were not as wise as those who are now alive: it was not because they did not lay out matters as well for themselves to secure their own escape. If we could speak with them, and inquire of them, one by one, whether they expected, when alive, and when they used to hear about hell, ever to be the subjects of misery: we doubtless, should hear one and another reply, “No, I never intended to come here: I had laid out matters otherwise in my mind; I thought I should contrive well for myself — I thought my scheme good. I intended to take effectual care; but it came upon me unexpected; I did not look for it at that time, and in that manner; it came as a thief — Death outwitted me: God’s wrath was too quick for me. Oh, my cursed foolishness! I was flattering myself, and pleasing myself with vain dreams of what I would do hereafter; and when I was saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction came upon me.”
  10. God has laid himself under no obligation, by any promise to keep any natural man out of hell one moment. God certainly has made no promises either of eternal life, or of any deliverance or preservation from eternal death, but what are contained in the covenant of grace, the promises that are given in Christ, in whom all the promises are yea and amen. But surely they have no interest in the promises of the covenant of grace who are not the children of the covenant, who do not believe in any of the promises, and have no interest in the Mediator of the covenant.

So that, whatever some have imagined and pretended about promises made to natural men’s earnest seeking and knocking, it is plain and manifest, that whatever pains a natural man takes in religion, whatever prayers he makes, till he believes in Christ, God is under no manner of obligation to keep him a moment from eternal destruction.

So that, thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up one moment; the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out: and they have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of; all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.