Yes Single


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You’re listening to What Does the Word Say, a series of podcasts on biblical theology produced by Grace and Glory Media, and I’m Dr. Spencer. Our usual host Mr. Roby is not with me today because we are both still obeying the stay-at-home order issued as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We are also still taking a break from our continuing series on systematic theology.

In our session last week we discussed how to make your calling and election sure since being born again is a prerequisite to thinking biblically. All of our thinking is done within the context of our worldview and at the core of everyone’s worldview we find either faith in the God of the Bible, or a rejection of God. As we read in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”[1]

But those who have been born again have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. In speaking about the difference between regenerate and unregenerate people, Paul wrote in Romans 8:9, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” And, in 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” But to avoid drawing improper conclusions from the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in believers, we must balance this teaching by the fact that the Holy Spirit is also the primary author of the Bible as we read in 2 Peter 1:21, “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Now, since God is unchangeable and cannot lie, the Holy Spirit will never lead you to believe anything that contradicts his written Word. He gave us the objective revelation of his Word to guide us. And so, to think biblically requires first, that we be born again, and second that we train ourselves in God’s Word, which is why Paul told Timothy, as we read in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” And then, being led by the Spirit and knowing God’s Word, we must also strive daily to put our sin to death and to walk in the truth. We must deny ourselves. All three synoptic gospels record an important statement of Jesus. He said, as we read in Matthew 16:24, that “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

To take up a cross was a clear reference to being crucified, since the condemned criminal was required to carry his own cross to the place of crucifixion. And Paul also wrote, in Romans 6:6-7, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” We are also told in Colossians 3:5 to “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” And we are told in Galatians 5:24 that “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”

This is hard language. No one can live the Christian life if he has not been born again. Jesus said, in Luke 14:26, that “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”

Brothers and sisters, our flesh rebels at this part of the gospel message, but it is a clear teaching of the Bible. Our purpose in life is to live for God’s glory and to do the work he has assigned. His purpose for us is to make us holy, not to give us the most pleasant life possible here on earth. As Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” If we have been born again, our sins are covered by the blood of Christ. We have been forgiven because Jesus bore our sins on the cross and paid the penalty we owed. We are his blood-bought people and we cannot live for ourselves.

And so, biblical thinking requires that we born again, that we train ourselves in the Word of God, and that we crucify our old nature and live for God, not ourselves. The only question we need to ask in every situation in life is, “What does God want me to do in this situation?” And the answer must be based on the Word of God, not our subjective feelings. And, if our thinking is based on the Word of God, it will always take into account the Creator/creature distinction. In other words, we will realize that God is the Creator. His promises are true. His threats are true. He cannot change. And he is not limited by our lack of power.

And now we are ready to look at some examples of proper biblical thinking. I first want to examine Abraham, the father of all believers as we are told in Romans 4:11-12. Because of his uniquely important role in the history of redemption, God gave him a test that is the hardest test any human being outside of our Lord Jesus has ever been given, and Abraham passed the test with flying colors because his thinking was biblical.

Hopefully, you remember the story. God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. We read in Genesis 15:5 that God told Abraham, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them … So shall your offspring be.” Then Abraham and his wife Sarah waited so long that they despaired of God’s promise being fulfilled and sinned. Sarah gave her handmade Hagar to Abraham to have a child for her, as was the custom of the time. Hagar bore Abraham Ishmael. But this was not the child through him God’s promise was to be fulfilled and so years later the pre-incarnate Christ came to Abraham to announce that Sarah would bear him a son. We read about this in Genesis 18 and, at the time, Abraham was 99 and Sarah was 89 years old, so when Sarah heard the Lord say that she would bear a son, she laughed. We read in Genesis 18:14 that the Lord then said to them, “Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.”

And this is exactly what happened. So, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90, Isaac was born. The name Isaac very appropriately means “he laughs”. God then makes it clear to Abraham that the promise he had been given would be fulfilled through Isaac.[2] And this leads to the incredibly difficult test that God gave Abraham. In Genesis 22:1-2 we read, “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.’”

I remember struggling with this a great deal the first time I read it as a young Christian. I had a young son myself at the time and I couldn’t imagine God giving Abraham such a command. But we have to remember two things: first, Abraham was a unique person in the history of redemption and this unique test was necessary to fulfil God’s plan and as a symbol of what God would do for his people; and second, and most important, God knew that he was not going to require Abraham to go through with this command.

But Abraham didn’t know that, and yet he responded with immediate obedience. We are told the he got up early the next morning and headed out for the mountain. It was a three-day journey, so Abraham had time to think on the way. When they arrived at the mountain, we are told in Genesis 22:5 that Abraham told the servants who had accompanied him and Isaac on the trip, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

This shows that Abraham had been thinking as they traveled and had come to the conclusion that God was going to solve this problem somehow. Notice that he told the servants “we will come back to you.” Oh what a glorious plural pronoun! We will come back. Isaac was not to be permanently destroyed. God had told Abraham that it was through Isaac that his promise would be fulfilled, and Abraham knew that God cannot lie. And yet, if Abraham sacrificed Isaac, how could the promise be fulfilled through him? Abraham realized that God had created all things, and so it was entirely possible that even if Isaac were burned up, God could raise him from the dead.

To finish the story, Abraham builds an altar, ties Isaac up, places him on the altar, and raised the knife getting ready to kill him. But before he brings the knife down, God stops him. God then also provides a ram for the sacrifice in place of Isaac.

And we aren’t left to simply deduce for ourselves that Abraham reasoned this way. We are told in Hebrews 11:17-19 that “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” Friends, this is biblical thinking. Our problems may look insurmountable when we only consider our own resources, but when we take God into consideration, the whole picture changes.

And this event provides a glorious example of God’s love for his people. James Boice wrote that “this incident is also a pageant of how much more God would do as an expression of His love for fallen men and women. Abraham was only asked to sacrifice his son; he did not actually have to do it.”[3] But God did sacrifice his Son to pay for the sins of his chosen people. As we read in 1 John 4:10, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” And so, by using proper biblical thinking, Abraham became the father of all who believe. He saw God do mighty things and was greatly strengthened in his faith. In fact, James Boice and others believe that God gave Abraham a great vision of how he would ultimately bring about the redemption of his people by offering his eternal Son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice on the exact same mountain, and then raising him from the dead.[4] We will have more to say about this in a few minutes, but for now let me move on to another example of biblical thinking.

Consider the patriarch Joseph. His brothers were jealous and sold him into slavery. He was carried down to Egypt and enslaved there. There he was falsely accused of molesting his master’s wife and was put into prison. But then, God miraculously moved to not only secure his release from prison, but to cause Joseph to rise to be second in command in all Egypt. Later, when there was a severe famine, Joseph’s brothers had to come to Egypt to buy food for their families. What a shock when they found out that Joseph was the one from whom they had to buy food! And then the entire family moved to Egypt and lived under Joseph’s protection. Years later, when Joseph’s father, Jacob, died, his brothers were worried that he would exact revenge on them. But Joseph was able to think biblically about the situation. He knew that God is sovereign over everything and he realized that God had sent him ahead to Egypt in order to save his family during this great famine. And so we see him tell his brothers, in Genesis 50:19-21, “‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”

By thinking biblically, Joseph avoided feeling sorry for himself, he had success in extremely difficult circumstances, and he was prevented from sinning by getting revenge against his brothers.

Now let’s take a short look at the apostle Paul.  When he was imprisoned in Caesarea and was giving his defense before King Agrippa, we are told in Acts 26:8 that he said, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” What a marvelous example of biblical thinking this is! And it provides the perfect answer to use anytime anyone claims that believing in miracles is irrational. The real question simply is, do you believe in God? And, of course, I mean the God of the Bible. The God who created all things, The God who sustains all things. If you believe in this God, then why on earth is it at all incredible to believe that he can raise the dead? Or do any other miracle? He created everything! Surely, if he chooses to, he can change creation as well. It would, in fact, be completely irrational to believe that a God capable of creating this universe would not also be able to perform miracles, which, after all, as Wayne Grudem says are simply a “less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and bears witness to himself.”[5] And so we find that once you accept as true the first four words of the Bible, “In the beginning God …”, you should be able to believe everything else the Bible says. I could give other examples from the Bible, but let me tell you a far more recent example of biblical thinking.

In 1912 John Harper was 39-year-old Scottish preacher coming to America with his six-year-old daughter. His wife had died shortly after the girl’s birth. They were travelling on the Titanic. When the ship hit the ice berg and it was obvious it was going to sink, Harper is reported to have given his daughter to one of the deckhands with instructions to get her into a lifeboat. And he then turned to help others. He is reported to have shouted, “Let the women, children, and the unsaved into the lifeboats!” And he gave his own life preserver to another man. Survivors of the tragedy tell of his speaking to people in the water after the ship sank urging them to trust in Christ. There is even a report that one man was saved. Harper called out to him, “Are you saved?” And when the man replied, “no”, Harper quoted Acts 16:31, which says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”.[6] And, by God’s grace, this man believed and was saved, both eternally, and from drowning.

Imagine being able to respond to a disaster like that with such an attitude. Harper obviously thought biblically as a matter of habit, so that even in the midst of a crisis his thinking was correct. He reasoned that he was saved and would go to heaven, but there were others around him who needed time. Perhaps God would save them! And he spoke about the only thing truly important as he was dying. What else matters when the people around you have only have a short time to live? I have no doubt this man had a glorious welcome in heaven that very day.

And let me close with the greatest possible example of biblical thinking, that of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to be made into his image and we are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ we are told in 2 Corinthians 10:5, so how did Christ think? Let’s look at the most important example possible, which is also the one to which the example we examined from Abraham points; namely, Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. But he did not use his divinity to somehow make it easy for him to obey the father in his humanity. This is clear from his answering the temptation of the devil in the desert. He would not give in to the temptation to use his divine power to turn the stones into bread even though he had been fasting for 40 days. And so we see Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion, deeply troubled at the prospects of what was about to happen. He took Peter, James and John, his inner circle, and left the others to go pray. We read in Matthew 26:39, “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’” The cup he was speaking of was the cup of God’s wrath as we read in Revelation 16:19 and elsewhere. People often focus on the physical pain of the flogging and crucifixion, which were incredibly horrible. But the worst thing facing Jesus was not the physical pain, it was the spiritual pain of taking our sins upon himself and bearing the wrath of God that we deserve. We can’t even imagine that pain. When Jesus took all of the sins of all of his people upon himself, he became an object of wrath. So, why did he say, “Yet not as I will, but as you will”?

He said that because he thought biblically. Jesus began his high priestly prayer in John 17:1 by saying, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Jesus knew that the purpose of life is to glorify God and he was completely obedient to that purpose, which demonstrates biblical thinking. He knew the true purpose of human life. And so he also prayed, as we read in John 17:4, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” And then, later in the prayer, we read in John 17:24 that he said, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” Jesus was motivated by love for the Father and for his chosen people. We are told in Hebrews 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Friends, Jesus knew that there would be great joy in accomplishing all that the Father had ordained. Biblical thinking requires that we humble ourselves before the almighty God and seek to know and do his will, not ours. We must believe that our greatest joy and satisfaction will come through obedience.

And we must know the Word of God to know God’s will, but then the Word of God will also give us strength to endure whatever trials God has ordained for us. We know that Jesus himself was meditating on God’s Word while he was on the cross because he quoted from Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I pray that all of us will learn through this current pandemic to trust in God and to think biblically. May we seek to bring him glory and to complete the work he has given us to do. Then we will be able to join with the apostle Paul and say, as he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

May God bless you all, and remember that you can send your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We’d love to hear from you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Gen 21:12

[3] James Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Zondervan, 1982, Vol. 2, pg. 222

[4] Ibid, pp 229-231

[5] Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, p. 355

[6] See the book The Titanic’s Last Hero, by Moody Adams

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Yes Single


[Download PDF Transcript]

You’re listening to What Does the Word Say, a series of podcasts on biblical theology produced by Grace and Glory Media, and I’m Dr. Spencer. Our usual host Mr. Roby is not with me today because we are both still obeying the stay-at-home order issued as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. And we are also still taking a break from our continuing series on systematic theology.

Last week I discussed how to think biblically. The first requirement is that you be born again because at the core of every single person’s worldview you either find saving faith in the God of the Bible, or you don’t. There is no third position. And this core presupposition affects how you think about everything.

But even if you have been born again, you still need to put effort into learning how to think biblically. It is all too easy to fall back on our old nature and/or to be heavily influenced in our thinking by the sea of unbiblical ideas in which we all swim on a daily basis. And so, today I want to examine how we can make our calling and election sure. And then, next time, we will look at some examples of proper biblical thinking in order to help us develop our own thinking. These examples should also provide great motivation for us because we will see the power that comes from thinking in the way God wants us to think.

So, let’s begin by examining how to make our calling and election sure, which is a command, not a suggestion. We read in 2 Peter 1:10-11, “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”[1] The Greek verb translated here as “be all the more eager” is in the imperative mood, meaning that this is a command from God, through the apostle Peter. The verb means to be zealous, earnest and diligent in pursuing something. In other words, this is important. It is not something about which we should be careless. It is, in fact, the most important thing to know about ourselves because our calling and election determine whether we are headed for eternal heaven or eternal hell.

But you may be asking yourself, “How am I supposed to make my calling and election sure? God doesn’t tell us in the Bible who is and is not chosen. I can’t pry into the eternal counsels of God to know whether or not I am an elect.” I would answer that objection by first saying that it is true in the sense that we cannot examine God’s election directly. We can, however, examine it indirectly by looking for the fruit that is guaranteed to be produced. Jesus said, in Luke 6:43-44, that “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.” His point is clear; although we can’t directly examine God’s election, we can examine our lives to see whether or not they display the fruit of someone who has been born again. In 2 Peter 1:10, it said “if you do these things you will never fall” and “these things” refers back to the qualities noted in Verses 5 through 7; namely, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. So we must look for these Christian traits increasing in our lives.

And even though being commanded to do something doesn’t always imply that we can succeed – for example, think of the command to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect – nevertheless, in this context it seems quite clear that Peter fully expects that we can, in fact, make our calling and election sure. This is not an impossible task, and it is a very important one.

There are some who think it is impossible to have a genuine assurance of salvation. Certainly Arminians, Catholics and others who think that you can lose your salvation cannot be assured of their final salvation for they believe it is always possible to sin so grievously as to lose it. And while we do not agree that a true Christian can ever lose his salvation, we must admit that there is a real possibility of having a false assurance. You should not feel secure that you are saved just because you once prayed a prayer and were baptized.

Nevertheless, the biblical command stands and examining ourselves for the sake of making our calling and election sure is an important activity. There are certainly degrees of assurance, but having a solid, biblical basis for assurance that you have been saved helps a great deal in living a productive, holy Christian life that is pleasing to God.

As we have argued in previous sessions, everyone who is elect will be effectually called by God, which means that they will be regenerated, or born again, and will then repent, believe and be saved. And this salvation will be apparent if we observe the changes in their lives. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” So, let’s briefly discuss how we are to examine ourselves.

We addressed this question before, in Sessions 96 and 97, where we looked at the teaching in 1st John. This letter is an excellent place to look because John tells us that he wrote it to enable his readers to test themselves. In 1 John 5:13 we read, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” We noted at that time that the Rev. P.G. Mathew summarized John’s teaching in his commentary on 1 John. Mathew wrote that John provides “three biblical tests of authentic Christianity: the doctrinal test, the moral test, and the social test.”[2] I don’t want to go back over all that we presented in those sessions, I’ll let those who are interested go listen to them. But I will give a quick survey here and then move on to some other tests.

First, with regard to the doctrinal test, John mentions a number of fundamental Christian doctrines. The list is not meant to be exhaustive, but certainly no one is truly born again who doesn’t agree with these basic doctrines. If you are interested in the Scripture references for each of these, take a look at the transcript for this session and you will find them. John mentions the following doctrines: the eternal deity of the second person of the Trinity[3], the fact that Jesus Christ is truly God[4], that he is truly man[5], that he is perfectly holy[6], that he is the promised Messiah[7], that men are all sinners[8], that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins[9], that he has promised eternal life to his chosen people[10], that we are the children of God[11], that we must love our brothers[12], that his children will all be sanctified[13], that we have union with Christ[14], that the Holy Spirit dwells in believers[15], that Jesus truly died on the cross[16], and that obedience to him is necessary for a Christian[17].

Second, with regard to the moral test, in 1 John 2:3 we are told, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” This is a very bold and crystal-clear statement. John is not talking about sinless perfection here[18], but he is saying that a Christian’s life will be characterized by obedience. If we claim to be Christians but just go on living however we please, we are liars. And in order to obey Christ, we must know what he commands. In other words, we must know his Word, the Bible. In fact, anyone who has truly been born again will have a desire to know what the Word says. It is a very sad commentary on the modern church that most professing Christians have never read the Bible all the way through even one time, let alone made a lifetime habit of truly studying the Word of God.

Third, and last, is the social test. We read in 1 John 1:7, “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another”. And we are told numerous times in the letter that we must love our brothers and that love must be in actions, not just words. This is not just a call to make friendly small talk after church, it is a call to serious fellowship, to be involved in each other’s lives. Praying for one another and helping one another in concrete ways. It includes rebuking and correcting when appropriate, as well as sharing in material possessions and using our individual gifts for the good of the body of Christ. Christians cannot live as individuals who float around as they please. They are to be part of a local church family and to be heavily invested in one another.

So the letter of 1st John is a great place to start in terms of making your calling and election sure. But the entire New Testament is filled with tests we can apply to ourselves. Let me just give a small sampling of the other tests. In John 15:10 we read that Jesus said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” This is just one of many verses in the New Testament that speak of the necessity for us to obey God. We are to be conformed to the image of Christ and he clearly tells us here that he obeyed. Now, don’t misunderstand me, our obedience is never perfect in this life. In 1 John 1:8 we are told that “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” But if you have been born again, there is a desire to obey God and a sincere grief and repentance and crying out to God for forgiveness when you fail.

Just a few verses further down we read, in John 15:19, that Christ also said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” Friends, if you are comfortable with the ways of the world, if you feel at home here, that is a very bad sign. In Philippians 3:18-21 Paul wrote, “as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” So ask yourself, are you a citizen of earth, or are you a citizen of heaven who is just passing through this life? While praying to the Father about his followers, Jesus said, in John 17:16, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” So, friends, what occupies your thoughts and your desires the majority of the time? Are they worldly, or heavenly? Do you spend great amounts of time studying and preparing for your vacation and no time at all studying God’s Word? Are you a stranger here in this life, or is this your natural home?

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying it is wrong for you to spend some time planning a vacation, working hard at your job, or enjoying the many legitimate pleasures of this life. But how often do your thoughts turn to God? When you step outside on a beautiful spring day and see some new flowers and hear a bird singing, do you instinctively give thanks to God? When you get up in the morning, is your mind filled with all of the things you need to do that day, or do you take time to thank God for giving you another day of life and health? Do you spend time in prayer? And in studying God’s Word? If your Christianity only affects your life on Sunday morning and on other rare occasions, then I must say that your Christianity is not real.

Brothers and sisters, the Bible is God’s only infallible, objective revelation to us. It is our guidebook for life. If you have been born again there must be a desire to know God, and the Bible is where you turn. That is where you learn about God’s purpose and plan and how you can please him. It is where you learn what he loves and what he hates. It is the way you find the narrow path that leads to eternal life. J.I. Packer in his classic book Knowing God wrote, “Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you.”[19] And we study God by prayerfully studying his Word.

Don’t buy into the illogical[20] and unbiblical modern idea that the Bible is just a record of human interactions with God and human reflections about God. It is true that men wrote the Bible, but they were guided by God. In 2 Peter 1:21, Peter tells us, “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So, in fact, the Holy Spirit is the primary author of the Bible. It is God’s Word to us and we must believe and obey it. We covered this in detail in Sessions 34 through 38, so I won’t say any more now. My point in the context of our present discussion is simply that your attitude toward the Bible is a very strong indication of whether or not your claim to be a Christian is true. It is a great way to make your calling and election sure.

There is much more that could be said about making our calling and election sure, but let me very briefly summarize what I have shared so far. First, we are commanded to do so. Second, John gives us three ways of testing ourselves; the doctrinal test, the moral test and the social test. Third, we are to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, and the dominant characteristic of his life was one of obedience to God. Fourth, we are not to be worldly. We live in this world, but we are not of this world. Our citizenship is in heaven and our thoughts should frequently be there. Fifth, our attitude toward the Word of God is critical. We must come to it wanting to know how God would have us live our lives. Our desire should be to please God, not to get ahead in the world.

Now, before I go on, let me be perfectly clear that none of us ever live up to the standard by which we should measure ourselves. That standard is high. But we should see in ourselves an honest striving. In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul wrote, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Many of you have heard the story of John Newton. He was an English slave trader in the 18th century who had a dramatic conversion which started with a storm at sea and led to his becoming an ordained minister. He is perhaps best known for writing the hymn Amazing Grace. A story is told about him near the end of his life commenting on 1 Corinthians 15:10, which says in part, “But by the grace of God I am what I am”. He is reported to have said, “though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am’”[21]. That is a wonderful statement, to which all true Christians should be able to say “Amen”. If you have been born again, God will be working throughout your life to conform you to the image of Christ. You may fall down, sometimes terribly, but the general tenor of your life will be one of increasing holiness and hatred of your own sins.

And finally, let me close this topic of making your calling and election sure by pointing out that the current coronavirus pandemic affords an excellent opportunity to do so. How you react to a trial is a very important sign of whether or not you have been born again. If you are a true Christian you will be able to overcome the natural anxiety and fear that attends difficult circumstances and rejoice in the fact that God has saved you. You will be able to have confidence that God is sovereign and fully in control of the situation and that he is good and his purposes are good. Listen to what the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:3-7; “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

It is my prayer that this pandemic and the economic crisis it has caused would prove your faith to be genuine and result in praise, glory and honor when Christ returns. And if, after examining yourself, you are not sure of your salvation, then cry out to God in humble repentance. Seek his mercy and study his Word, striving to do what it says. And remember that you can send your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we will do our best to answer you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] P.G. Mathew, The Normal Church Life, OM Books, 2006, pg. 4

[3] 1 John 1:1-2

[4] 1 John 5:20

[5] 1 John 1:1-2, 4:2, 9

[6] 1 John 1:5, 2:1, 29

[7] John 2:22, 5:1

[8] 1 John 1:8, 10

[9] 1 John 1:7, 2:2, 12, 3:16, 4:10, 14

[10] 1 John 2:17, 25, 5:11

[11] 1 John 3:1-2, 10, 5:19

[12] 1 John 2:9-11, 3:10-11, 14, 23, 4:7-8, 11-12, 19-21

[13] 1 John 3:3, 6, 9, 5:18

[14] 1 John 3:24, 4:13, 5:11

[15] 1 John 3:24, 4:13

[16] 1 John 3:16

[17] 1 John 2:3-6, 3:22, 24, 5:2-3

[18] Or it would conflict with what he says in 1 John 1:8, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

[19] J.I. Packer, Knowing God, InterVarsity Press, 1993, pg. 19

[20] The idea is illogical for many reasons; e.g., the agreement between all the parts of the Bible, which would be impossible given the number of authors and separation in time if they were not guided by God, the prophecies contained in it, and so on. See Sessions 4-11 and 17-21.

[21] quoted from The Christian Spectator, 1821, Vol III, pg. 186

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You’re listening to What Does the Word Say, a series of podcasts on biblical theology produced by Grace and Glory Media, and I’m Dr. Spencer. Our usual host Mr. Roby is not with me again today because we are both still obeying the stay-at-home order issued as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We are also continuing to take a short break from our series on systematic theology. This week I want to talk about how to think biblically.

It is important for Christians to think biblically at all times, but it is especially important in difficult times like these. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 the apostle Paul wrote, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”[1]

We are not free to think whatever we want to think. Jesus Christ is Lord of everything, including our thinking. It dishonors God and therefore displeases him when we think improperly. So, for example, if we think that the coronavirus pandemic is somehow outside of his control, we dishonor him. To think that way is to disparage his sovereignty and power.

Now someone may think that by believing God is not in control of this pandemic he is defending God from being charged with not being good or loving, but that is a completely unbiblical way to think. We discussed God’s providence in some detail in Sessions 88 through 93, but for now let me just note that if God is not in control of every detail of every single event in the universe, then we can’t trust any of his promises.

Also, the Bible clearly tells us that God is in control of everything, so to say otherwise is unbiblical. I won’t go back through all that we covered before, Session 89 provides a number of Scripture references in support of this statement, but let me just give three examples for today.

First, in Proverbs 16:33 we are told that “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” Now casting a lot was the Old Testament equivalent of rolling the dice, so this proverb is explicitly telling us that God is in control even of things that people tend to think of as random events.

Second, in Psalm 139:16 King David was praying to God and said that “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” This shows us that God is also in control of our lives. In fact, we are told elsewhere that he knits us together in our mother’s wombs (Ps 139:13), he ordains when, where and to whom we are born (e.g., Ps 139:13, Is 45:13, Acts 17:26). He elects us unto salvation or passes us by and leaves us to be justly punished for our sins (e.g., Rom 9:13). He has ordained the exact moment and cause of our death (e.g., 1 Sam 28:19, Ps 139:16). And all of this was done before the creation of the world (e.g., Eph 1:4).

Third, in the New Testament we read, in Matthew 10:29, that Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” Which makes it clear that even seemingly unimportant events in this world are under God’s control.

And we also can’t restrict God’s sovereignty by saying that he isn’t in control of disasters and sinful acts as well. With regard to so-called natural disasters, God has established the fixed laws of heaven and earth as we read in Jeremiah 33:25, which certainly include the physical laws governing weather, earthquakes and so on. But God is still in control of these things. For example, Jesus calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee by simply commanding the wind and the waves to be still as we read in Mark 4:39. And with regard to sin, God does not directly cause sin, but he is in complete control of it. If he so chooses, he can stop anyone from doing any particular sinful act. And yet, we must admit the obvious fact that there are very many natural disasters and wicked sinful things that happen in this world. So, it is clear that God allows them to happen, and he does so for a purpose. He is not capricious.

It is sometimes argued, although incorrectly, that the existence of evil in this world proves that God is either not completely good, or not completely sovereign. We answered that charge in Session 74 and so all I’m going to say now is that the statement is the result of a faulty assumption; namely, that God’s purpose is to make our lives here on earth as pleasant as possible, which simply is not true, that isn’t his purpose.

In order to think biblically, in other words correctly, about anything that happens in this life we must first have a biblical perspective on life, which includes understanding that God’s purpose is the manifestation of his own glory. The biblical perspective is also eternal. This life is short, but we are all made for an eternal existence, either in hell or in heaven. When you consider those two eternal realities, all of sudden you realize that the most important thing, in fact, we could say the only truly important thing in this life for everyone is determine to which of these two possible eternal homes you are headed.

All of human history is subservient to this ultimate purpose. God is creating a people for himself, which is variously called the church (e.g., 1 Tim 3:5), or the family of God (e.g., 1 Pet 4:17), or the bride of Christ (e.g., Eph 5:24-32), or God’s inheritance (e.g., 1 Sam 10:1), or God’s treasured possession (e.g., Ex 19:5). The one thing needful, as Christ said to Martha in Luke 10:42, is to make sure that Jesus Christ is our personal Lord and Savior, “for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” as we are told in Acts 4:12.

To think biblically means to view everything through the lens of Scripture. In other words, it is to have a biblical worldview. Phil Johnson, the late professor of law at the UC Berkeley Law School and author of a number of excellent books, wrote that “Understanding worldview is a bit like trying to see the lens of one’s own eye. We do not ordinarily see our own worldview, but we see everything else by looking through it. Put simply, our worldview is the window by which we view the world, and decide, often subconsciously, what is real and important, or unreal and unimportant.”[2]

The common idea that we can build our worldview from scratch by being entirely neutral observers of reality and then analyzing the data and determining what we think is right is completely false. There is no such thing as a neutral observer and everyone, the scientist no less than the artist, views everything through the lens of his own preexisting worldview. And he will work to incorporate everything he sees into this preexisting worldview.

Now, our worldview is a bit like an onion, it has layers to it. On the outer layers we have opinions that are things we think are probably true, but we are perfectly able and willing to change those views if we find them to be inconsistent with the world we observe. So there certainly is a sense in which we can correct and build our worldview. But as you peel off the layers and get deeper and deeper into your worldview, you get into things that you believe far more strongly. Views that it would be incredibly difficult to convince you to change. And when you get to the very core of your worldview, you come to your most dearly held personal commitments, and the most important of these by far is whether or not you believe the God of the Bible exists and whether or not you believe the Bible to be his infallible Word. Every single human being alive either believes these statements are true, or not true. There are no exceptions. To think that you haven’t decided yet, is to have decided in the negative.

And these two statements are really inseparable since the Bible is the only place we receive objective revelation of the true and living God and his way of salvation. Now, we can learn many things about God from the world around us and from our own nature, but that revelation doesn’t provide sufficient information to be saved and to properly love and serve God; it is only sufficient to leave us without excuse when we stand before God.

Paul wrote in Romans 1:18-20 that “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” In other words, this revelation, which is called general revelation, is sufficient for obligating every single human being to seek to know the true and living God, but no one does so. Paul wrote in Romans 3:11 that “there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”

So, all people in their natural state have a fundamental, core belief, or presupposition, that the God of the Bible does not exist and the Bible is not his infallible Word. In one sense everyone knows better but, as Paul wrote, they suppress this truth. And because of this fundamental presupposition at the core of his worldview, the unbeliever thinks differently than a born-again Christian will think. Paul wrote, in Romans 1:21, immediately after the verses I read a minute ago, that “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” He also wrote, in Ephesians 4:17, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” An unbeliever’s thinking is futile because it will never arrive at the right answer about God.

It isn’t that unbelievers can’t design cell phones and GPS systems, build cars and bridges and so on. They can do all of those things. But whenever it comes to thinking about God, they will get the wrong answer. And God is the only reality that truly matters in the end. Because where you spend eternity, whether in heaven or in hell, depends on your answer to one simple question, which Christ posed to his disciples in Matthew 16:15, “Who do you say I am?”

Unbelievers will give a range of answers to this question. Some may simply say that Jesus Christ is a fictional character and never really existed at all. Some will say that he is a real, historical figure, but that he was just a normal man who was put to death by the Romans in 1st-century Palestine and that was the end of him. His disciples then told people he had been raised from the dead and started what we call Christianity. Some unbelievers will concede that Christ was a great moral teacher, but nothing more.

Some unbelievers will even say that Jesus Christ is God and will call themselves Christians, but they have made up a different Jesus in their minds rather than believing in the Jesus who is revealed to us in his Word, the Bible. And this is nothing new. In his second letter to the church in Corinth Paul was rebuking them for not remaining true to the gospel and he wrote, in 2 Corinthians 11:4, “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” But a different Jesus is of no use, in fact a different Jesus, a different gospel, will damn you. Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 7:21 that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” That statement is terrifying. Jesus goes on to say that many will come to him this way and he will tell them to depart from him. In other words, he will send them to hell.

Only a true, born-again Christian will give the right answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”. A true believer will say that Jesus Christ is the second person of the eternal, almighty triune God, the Creator, Sustainer, Judge and Redeemer of all mankind. This eternal second person of the holy Trinity became incarnate when the Holy Spirit caused the virgin Mary to conceive. She then gave birth and Jesus grew up, lived a perfect sinless life, and willingly gave his life on the cross as the perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of all those who put their faith in him.

This radical difference in worldviews between a believer and an unbeliever leads to a radical difference in thinking. But there are two important points to make about this difference. First, you cannot change your own worldview in this radical way. You must be born again. You must cry out for God to do a mighty work and give you a new heart and a new spirit so that you can repent and believe on Jesus Christ. As Jesus said in John Chapter 6, Verses 44 and 65, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” and “no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

And the second important point, and what I want to spend the rest of our time on today, is that if you have been born again, you still need to work in order to develop proper biblical thinking. A born-again person has the right presupposition at the core of his worldview, and he has the Spirit to enable him to understand God’s Word and apply it, but he also still has his old sinful nature to fight against and he needs to study the Word seriously, put it into practice, mortify his sin and walk in holiness in order to grow in faith and knowledge. We can’t just assume that if we have been born again, or regenerated, we suddenly know how to properly live the Christian life.

That is why the New Testament epistles always contain both indicatives and imperatives. The indicatives are there to instruct us about certain facts and the imperatives are there to command us how we are to live in the light of those facts. And we are given pastors and teachers to help us understand and apply the Word properly. We read in Ephesians 4:11-16 that it was Christ himself who, “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Without proper teaching and study, you can be born again and yet remain an infant in Christ, being “tossed back and forth by the waves” of this life. Waves like the coronavirus pandemic. And you can be “blown here and there by every wind of teaching”, like the false preachers who will tell you that if you have enough faith God will certainly heal you and keep your finances from failing. Now, to be clear, the Bible says that God is able to heal you and keep your finances from failing, and it is proper for you to pray for that. But the Bible is equally clear that God does not promise to do so. He will do whatever is best for you and will give him the greatest glory.

For example, even the apostle Paul was given a thorn in the flesh to humble him. He prayed three times for God to remove it, in fact we are told he pleaded with God to remove it, and yet God said “No.” We read in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that God’s answer was to say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It would obviously be silly to say that Paul’s faith was not sufficient, so the false teachers who say things like this are wicked charlatans on their way to hell and they want to bring you along with them. Don’t listen to them! Read the Word of God. Study it. Know what it says. Be guided by pious and learned men. If you study the Word yourself and pray, you can tell the difference. Go to our website, whatdoesthewordsay.org, and request your free copy of Good News for All People by the Rev. P.G. Mathew. If you read it prayerfully and then continue to study the Word, you will find it is written by a pious and learned man and that it properly expounds the Word of God, which is able to save you and equip you for difficult times, which the Bible says we will all go through. Times like we are in right now.

In our session last week, I mentioned that we must all make our calling and election sure because if we are not God’s children, then his promises are not for us and we have no real hope. The way you make your calling and election sure is by prayerfully studying God’s Word and then examining your life in the light of the many tests given to us in that Word. I will speak more about that next week, but for today let me just say that if you have been born again, if the love of God is in you, then you can take great solace in his promises.

You may die from Covid-19, or your spouse may die from it, or you may lose your job and much of your savings, these are all possible even for God’s children. But you have eternal life and God has promised that he will never leave you nor forsake you. You can rejoice as I noted last week even as you go through these trials. In fact, let me close with one of God’s great promises to his children. In Philippians 4:6-7 God commands us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Brothers and sisters, what a glorious promise this is! The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, can be ours even as we go through trials. Do not be anxious. Go to God with thanksgiving and praise and, yes, even with your requests for worldly things. He may not grant all of your worldly requests, but he does promise to give you his peace. And he promises, in Roman 8:28, that in all things, even this pandemic, he works for the good of those who love him.

So, may God bless you with his peace. And I hope that you will join with me in praying that God will use this pandemic to draw many people to himself, that we would see a mighty revival.

And remember that you can send your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would love to hear from you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] In the Foreword to Nancy Pearcey’s book, Total Truth; Liberating Christianity form its Cultural Captivity, Crossway Books, 2004

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You’re listening to What Does the Word Say, a series of podcasts on biblical theology produced by Grace and Glory Media, and I’m Dr. Spencer. Our usual host Marc Roby is not with me today because we are both obeying the stay-at-home order issued as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We are also taking a break from our continuing series on systematic theology and instead, I am going to present a short meditation on the Scriptures to encourage all of us in this troubling time.

As I noted in Session 143 on The Proper Christian Response to the Corona Virus Pandemic, as Christians we should not be anxious about anything. We know that our God is sovereign over all the affairs of man and he has promised us, as we read in Romans 8:28, that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”[1]. Therefore, we can face trials with great confidence. In fact, as Christians we can rejoice even when we are experiencing troubles.

Now you might be thinking, “He’s gone too far this time, how on earth can I rejoice when the stock market crash has taken away a third of my retirement savings?” Or “How can I rejoice now that I’ve lost my job?” Or “How can I rejoice while I’m afraid of getting Covid-19?” You might be thinking that to rejoice in times like these is simply irrational. But that is not what the Bible tells us, so let’s take a look.

First, let me say that I am not saying we rejoice in the fact that we are experiencing trouble. But we can rejoice even when we experience trouble because we know that God is completely in control and therefore, the trouble cannot destroy us. Also, we know that God’s grace will be sufficient for us as we go through the trouble and we know that God can bring good out of it.

In Romans Chapter 4 the apostle Paul makes the argument that Abraham was justified by faith. He had faith to trust God’s promises even when he couldn’t see how things could possibly work out. If we go back to Genesis Chapter 17, we see that God had promised Abraham the he and his wife Sarah would have a son even though Abraham was 99 years old and Sarah was 89. We read in Genesis 17:19, “your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.” Now think about that promise from a human perspective, sometime in the next year Abraham and Sarah were to have a child, when he would be 100 and she would be 90 years old. That is impossible based on normal human experience. And yet, Abraham believed God.

Now, this is the episode Paul was referring to when he wrote in Romans 4:20-22 that Abraham “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’”

Brothers and sisters, it glorifies God when we trust his promises. Note that Abraham was strengthened in his faith. How was his faith strengthened? He thought back on all that God had done for him already and he reasoned about the nature of God. God is the omnipotent Creator of all things. God cannot lie. God cannot change. As Abraham meditated on these truths, his faith was strengthened and he gave glory to God. True faith is based on facts, not wishful thinking or nebulous feelings. As the Rev. P.G. Mathew put it in his commentary, “Faith is not self-delusion, positive thinking, or repetition of a mantra. Faith proclaims, ‘I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me’ (Phil 4:13, author’s paraphrase).”[2]

God had spoken to Abraham personally. But what about us? Mathew notes, “Unlike Abraham, we meet God today in his word. Therefore, the more we read and meditate on the Scriptures, the stronger we will grow in God.”[3] And so that is what we are doing today. We are looking into God’s Word and meditating on it in order to increase our faith so that we can stand in this trial and glorify our great God.

And note that Paul said Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. It doesn’t say that Abraham truly was righteous in himself, although he no doubt was by human standards, but no one is righteous in God’s sight as we are told in Romans 3:10. Nevertheless, Abraham’s faith caused him to be counted righteous in God’s sight, in other words, he was declared justified.

And then, based on these historical facts from the Old Testament, Paul wrote, in Romans 5:1-5, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Now, there is a lot in these five verses, but for our purposes today I just want to point out three things. First, we have peace with God. The biggest problem of every human being is that we are born sinners under the wrath of God. And so, having peace with God means that our greatest need has been met. That alone should give us the ability to rejoice even in times of trouble. No eternal harm can come to a soul that is at peace with God. But you must be sure that you are at peace with God, so make your calling and election sure or this promise does not apply to you.

Secondly, we know our eternal destiny is to be glorified and spend eternity with God. When we consider that eternity never ends, and that our eternal destiny is guaranteed to be glorious, we can see, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” When we compare anything that might happen to us in this life with eternal glory in the presence of God, it will be seen to truly be light and momentary.

And third, we see that suffering can be useful. Suffering produces perseverance, which could also be translated as endurance, or patience. In other words, we become less focused on our immediate pleasure and more cognizant of eternal realities and the things that are really important. We can go through momentary troubles knowing that there is a good result to be obtained if we go through them properly and profit from them. And then Paul tells us that perseverance produces character, which could also be translated as proof of character.[4] If we display this perseverance or patience in suffering, it is proof that our character is being formed in a godly way. And this, in turn, produces hope Paul tells us.

Mathew points out that “In modern usage, the word ‘hope’ is full of contingencies and doubts. It usually connotes ‘hope so.’ In the New Testament, however, hope signifies absolute certainty. It is faith oriented to the future based on the promise of the good, almighty, God, who does not change his mind.”[5] Mathew also says that “In our natural thought, we would expect that sufferings would destroy our hope of being glorified. But tribulations, in fact, strengthen our hope by weaning us from focusing on ourselves and the world, and turning us to God. Tribulations make us heaven-focused.”[6]

And so, we can see based on this passage in Romans, that the Bible tells us to rejoice even when we are suffering. We don’t ask to suffer of course. We don’t pretend to enjoy suffering. We don’t minimize or tell others who are suffering that it isn’t real. No, we have an intelligent, compassionate understanding of suffering. It is part and parcel of living in a sinful world. But good can come out of it. If a person is not born again, suffering can be used by God to turn that person away from reliance on and infatuation with this world and to turn him to Christ in saving faith instead. And God can use suffering in the lives of his children to purify us, as gold is refined in the fire.

But, I must note that whenever we suffer any kind of trial, be it personal or corporate like this current pandemic, we should always cry out to God to show us our sins so that we can repent of them. God undoubtedly has multiple purposes he is accomplishing through this trial and we can, and should, be praying that a great revival would be one of them. But we must also recognize that one of the purposes is almost surely to punish this wicked world for turning away from God. Just consider a couple of facts about our own country to show that God cannot be pleased with us.

First, according to the CDC, the leading cause of death in the United States in 2017, the most recent year for which I could find data, is heart disease. It was responsible for 647,457 deaths.[7] But, according to the Wall Street Journal, there were about 862,320 abortions in that year.[8] The number isn’t exact because those in favor of abortions don’t want you to know how many there are, and so some are not reported and the number was almost certainly higher. But it is clear that there were far more abortions than there were people who died of heart disease, so the terrible truth is that Abortion is the leading cause of death in the United States of America.

My second example would be the LGBTQ movement. We have gay pride days, gay pride month and so on. But the Bible is abundantly clear that homosexuality is a sin. The prophet Isaiah prophesied to the Jewish people at a time of prosperity and he spoke about the coming judgment. In Isaiah 3:8-9 we read, “Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling; their words and deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence. The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves.” Does that not sound like the United States of America today?

Therefore, trouble like this should cause all of God’s children to cry out for forgiveness; forgiveness for our own sins and for those of our country. That is the first thing we should do. But then we also need to learn from Abraham and strengthen our faith by meditating on God’s Word. It has been said, and quite rightly, that when we stare at our problems, they can look too large to handle, but when we look at God and realize his awesome power and goodness, our problems shrink down to size.

And so, let me close today by taking a quick look at Psalm 42 to encourage us all. This psalm is very relevant to our situation as Christians today, living in the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic. Many of us live in places where we have been ordered to stay at home. As a result, we are not able to gather with our brothers and sisters in our local churches on Sunday mornings. And Psalm 42 was written at a time when the psalmist was not able to go the temple to worship.

Now, some scholars think that Psalms 42 and 43 were originally one psalm and were then separated, perhaps for some liturgical purpose. The two psalms can certainly be read as one and the refrain in Verses 5 and 11 of Psalm 42 is repeated in the last verse of Psalm 43, so these scholars may be right. But whether or not they were originally one psalm is not important for what I want to say today. Let me read just the first five verses for now:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and (my God)[9].

There are a number of things we should notice from these verses, but for today I have time to make only three quick points. First, as I said, the psalmist was, like many of us, unable to go to his normal place of worship. Notice that he says “I used to go with the multitude … to the house of God”. As a result of his inability to go worship publicly with the saints, he cries out, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

And that leads to an obvious question we should ask ourselves; “Do I thirst for God?” And I want us all to be very thoughtful and careful in answering that question. Think about a time when you have been extremely thirsty. When you’re really thirsty it is hard to think of anything else. It absolutely dominates your thoughts and you have an unshakable desire to go get something to drink. It is a very powerful thing. And notice that the psalmist doesn’t say his thirst is for going to be with his friends, or to hear the music, or to hear an encouraging word from the pulpit. He says his thirst is for God. Charles Spurgeon wrote that “When it is natural for us to long for God as for an animal to thirst, it is well with our souls, however painful our feelings.”[10]

And so we should all seriously examine our own thoughts on this matter. Do we really thirst for the living God? If we do, then let me remind us that he is present with us. We should go to church when we can and it should be a great delight to do so, but we don’t have to go to a particular building to meet with God. At the end of the Great Commission, in Matthew 28:20, Jesus told us, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We can meet with him in our own homes. Come to him in prayer and meditate on his Word. He is present and he knows your trouble.

The second thing I will note is that the world mocks us. The psalmist said “My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” After a recent shooting event in this country I remember there was a huge uproar against a public official who said he was praying for the victims. People were saying all sorts of stupid and downright blasphemous things about prayer not being helpful and God not being able to prevent the shooting or not being good because he didn’t. It will always be the case that unbelievers will mock true Christians. But our response must be to pray and to be obedient to God’s will.

The third thing I want us to look at, and the thought with which I want to leave us all, is Verse 5, where the psalmist preaches to himself, saying “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” We must put our hope in God and praise him in all circumstances. He is our Savior and our God. If we hold on to those truths, we can and will rejoice even in times of great trouble such as we our experiencing now. As Paul said in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” We have a great and awesome God and as a friend of mine has been saying lately, the most important statistic of all about this pandemic is that God is 100% sovereign.

So, brothers and sisters, we must repent of our own sins and cry out for mercy for this wicked country. Meditate on the Word of God and be strengthened in your faith. Seek to know what God would have you learn through this trial. We serve a mighty God and he is able to bring about all that he has promised. And remember that you can send your questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. And we will do our very best to respond. So, may God bless you in the coming week.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] P.G. Mathew, Romans: The Gospel Freedom (Volume 1), Grace and Glory Ministries, 2011, pg. 221

[3] Ibid, pg. 220

[4] See Ibid, pg. 267

[5] Ibid, pg. 255

[6] Ibid, pg. 268

[7] Data from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm

[8] See U.S. Abortion Rate Drops to Lowest Level Since 1973, WSJ, Jennifer Calfas, Sept. 18, 2019 (https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-abortion-rate-drops-to-lowest-level-since-1973-11568827339)

[9] In our Bibles these two words are really the beginning of Verse 6.

[10] C. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Hendrickson Publishers, 2016, Vol. 1, pg. 271

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