Sunday, December 17, 2017

SAVING FAITH


SAVING FAITH

(See Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 14)

Introduction

I think the Apostles spoke for all of us when they said to Jesus, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). But what exactly is faith? Well, faith has to do with the mind, the emotions, and the will. Our understanding is based on faith. Our feelings are based on faith. And our desires are based on faith. In other words, every reasoning human being operates in accordance with his faith. Faith is what drives us to get out of bed in the morning. Faith is what makes us passionate about things. And faith is what causes us to think about things.

Faith includes assent to the truth of things not seen by the naked eye. Faith knows where the kettle is when you get out of bed in the morning. Faith knows that you will feel better when you have your breakfast. Faith knows that you will feel more like doing things once you’ve got out of bed and had breakfast.

When you think about it, there is no rational-being who does not have faith. Therefore, there is a general faith that all mankind enjoys. So, unlike animals that work on instinct, all reasoning beings operate by faith. Perhaps all of that sounds a little confusing to you, but all we’re trying to say is that everyone believes in something. No one believes in nothing, not even the atheist.

Even though we may never think about it, each one of us (whether Christian or not) goes about our daily lives operating in accordance with a basic set of principles or convictions. Our basic set of principles or convictions is summed up in one word: Faith. I suppose at its most fundamental level faith is the belief or conviction that you are – i.e., that you exist. You have faith, which is to say that you are convinced that you exist because you think, feel, and will.

Now, that might all sound a bit too “Rene Descartes” for you. He’s the man who said, “I think, therefore, I am.” Well, let me point out that that’s the place where fallen man’s faith begins. Fallen man begins with himself – thinking, feeling, and willing. In a word fallen man believes that it’s all about him. But in the following, among other things, we’re going to see that it’s really all about God.

You, and I, the universe and all that is in it, didn’t begin with you or me. You and I, the universe and all that is in it began with God. It’s on account of God alone that anyone thinks, feels, or wills. And what we need to look at is not just the faith that every human being has, but rather, we’ll be looking at the type of faith the elect of God have, which faith comes only after they have been regenerated by God.

The Grace of Faith

Just as the ordinary or general faith every reasonable human being has is a gift from God, so is saving faith a gift from God. But saving faith is God’s gift only to His elect, i.e., those He has chosen from before the foundation of the world. Saving faith is what enables the elect person to believe in (or have faith in) the things God has revealed – to the saving of his soul. In other words, the faith in saving faith is the instrument God uses, through which to convince the elect person that God’s remedy for sin is true.

Think about it, without saving faith man is as a rifle without the firing pin. He is as a chainsaw without the motor. He is as white bread without yeast. He is as a way-out-of-tune piano. Now, these things might be useful for something, but they cannot be used in the way they were designed or intended without that vital ingredient or component. And to be sure, it’s not until a person receives the grace of saving faith that he realises – that he becomes convinced – that he hasn’t been using his life properly.

As a youngster I brought a wooden object home from school for my mum. I had made it in the woodwork class. She thanked me and said it was lovely and placed it on the mantelpiece and stuck a couple of ornaments on it. I explained that it was actually supposed to be a string-winder – a flat bobbin of sorts. But she was having none of it – it was an ornament holder! So she sat on it two plastic elephants sitting on their hind legs facing each other with their trunks in the air!

Without saving faith human beings function in all sorts of ways other than they were designed. But, as every Presbyterian knows, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Therefore God designed Man to give God glory while enjoying a joyful rapport with Him. God is the Creator. Man is a creature. Therefore if man the creature is ignoring God his Creator he is functioning improperly, which is to say that fallen man is not glorifying God, and therefore is not enjoying a joyful relationship with Him.

The grace or gift of saving faith to God’s elect is God’s way of restoring the originally intended relationship. This He has done through Jesus Christ. That original relationship was broken when man’s representative, Adam, ate the forbidden fruit. But it’s through faith, saving faith that a person realises and acknowledges that it’s not all about me. Therefore, unlike general faith, saving faith is an objective faith. Saving faith is not a faith based upon your thinking, feeling, and willing – i.e., you. Rather it’s a faith based upon some object outside and apart from you.

The object of saving faith is God. But this isn’t to say that there is no subjective aspect to saving faith, of course there is. For how else can a man glorify God and enjoy Him if there was no subjective or personal aspect? But it is only through saving faith that man realises his full potential. It’s through saving faith that the person learns to live life to its fullest. No longer is he like the string-winder collecting dust on the mantelpiece, now he, as it were, can be used to go fishing, flying kites, building brick walls, tying parcels etc. Now he can be used by God to do all those things God designed him to do, even things that bring great joy. And he is no longer in danger of falling off the mantelpiece into the fire!

Saving faith, therefore, is a gift of God. And how does saving faith come to us, if it is a gift and not something we ask for? Well, saving faith is a work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of Christ who works this faith in the elect person. And He ordinarily does it by bringing the Word of God to that elect person. Saving faith is spoken of in Romans 10:17 where the Apostle says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Yet there are some people who read the Bible and hear the Gospel preached but don’t have saving faith. Why is this? It’s because the Holy Spirit has yet to convict or convince them of the truth of the Gospel. For isn’t that what the Holy Spirit was coming into the world to do? It’s as Jesus says of the Holy Spirit in John 16:8, “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…” If saving faith is about being convicted about God and the truth of God, then those who are not convicted about these things have not been given the gift of saving faith. In other words, saving faith is more than just acknowledging God and the things of God. It is more than assent. For as James says, “Even the demons believe—and tremble!” James 2:19.

So, the gift of saving faith brings with it conviction. For the elect person it brings with it a change of thinking, feeling, and willing. He then becomes a doing-hearer of God’s Word – not just a hearer only. In other words he seeks to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

When ducklings hatch they follow the first object they see. Sometimes that object might be something other than the mother duck! When we are born again by the Spirit, we stop following the wrong object (self) and start to follow the object of saving faith – God in Jesus Christ.

And the three main ways his saving faith is strengthened are by the Word, by the administration of the Sacraments, and by Prayer. Therefore the true Christian loves God’s Word because it is God’s Word. In other words, God speaks to him through His Word. Therefore the true Christian loves to hear God’s Word expounded in sermons, and in books. He’ll do personal Bible study, and even attend Bible Studies to find out more about his God. He’ll enjoy the company of other Christians who love talking about God and the things of God. This is one of the ways his saving faith is strengthened.

Another way his saving faith is strengthened is by his paying close attention to the two the Sacraments as they are administered in church. He knows that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the Gospel visualised. So, as he peers into these with the eyes of saving faith, his faith is nourished.

And not only does God speak to the believer, but the believer is also permitted to speak to God. This speaking to God is what we call prayer. His faith is strengthened through prayer because in prayer he is talking to the object of his faith. In prayer the person acknowledges who God is, His Person, His exalted station. As the one praying more and more considers the nature and character of the One being prayed to, i.e., the sovereign Lord who is able to answer prayer, his faith is strengthened.

But as it is with the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, so it is with prayer. It is the Holy Spirit who continues to convince and strengthen the saving faith in the person. We’ve seen then that saving faith is a gift of God – it’s of grace.

The Grip of Faith

Though God in Jesus Christ is the object of saving faith, and as such would seem to be your grip on God, saving faith is actually God’s grip on you. Sometimes we say that a thing has “really grabbed hold of us.” This is simply another way of saying that we are really convicted or convinced about a thing. We might be gripped by a piece of music, a painting, a scenic view! Well, the person with saving faith has been gripped by the Word of God. He likes the sound of God’s Word. It has a clear sounding ring of truth to it. It’s music to his ears! In a word, the person with saving faith hears God speaking in the Scriptures. And why should this surprise us since it was God the Holy Spirit who wrote the Scriptures. He’s the One who is working effectually in the believer’s heart. Therefore when the Spirit works with the Word in the believer’s heart, the believer hears the voice of authority.

The Scriptures (all sixty-six books) are the voice of authority in the believer’s life, which is another way of saying that God is the authority in the believer’s life. For God speaks to fallen men through His Word. Voices and visions are no longer needed now that we have the full canon of Scripture. But, how do you know which parts of the Bible are the Word of God? Well, Paul gives us the clear answer to that question in 2 Timothy 3:16a where he says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…”

So we see then that saving faith accepts all the Scriptures, i.e., the whole Bible. This is another way of saying that the believer accepts everything in the Bible. But it’s not to say that the believer understands everything in the Bible clearly and all at once. For the Bible Itself says, for example, that some of Paul’s writings are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16).

But there is a vast difference between saying that a thing is hard to understand and a thing is impossible to understand. How can God be three Persons yet one God? How can the 2nd Person in the Trinity become also a man? How can the Holy Spirit dwell in a believer? These things are revealed in the Bible, but they’re not easy to understand. If the Bible says that in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, then why would I invent the Theory of Evolution?

If God says He created each of the creatures “according to their kind” then why would I come up with a view that has slime changing into birds and fish, and even men? It’s because of saving faith that the Christian believes to be true whatever is revealed in the Word. And he believes it to be true because of the authority of God who speaks therein. It’s God, remember, who is the object of his faith. His own understanding, feelings, or desires are no longer the object of his faith. As the hymn writer writes, My faith looks up to Thee, Thou Lamb of Calvary.

But is this saving faith anything to do with blind faith? No! It’s the person who cannot see God in Jesus Christ who is blind! For he is walking in darkness! Think about it: the Sovereign God does not and cannot lie. The Bible claims to be the Word of the Sovereign God. Therefore His Word is truth – all of it! Jesus confirms this in John 17:17b when He says to His Father, “Your Word is truth.”

And, saving faith gives obedience to the commands in God’s Word. Saving faith trembles at the threatenings in God’s Word. Saving faith embraces the promises about this world and the world to come in God’s Word. In short the person with saving faith responds appropriately to everything in the Word of God. We shudder at the mere thought of Hell. We rejoice at the thought of Heaven.

Now, the main principles of saving faith are the accepting, receiving, and resting upon the risen Saviour Jesus Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and everlasting life. For these are revealed in the Covenant of Grace of which the whole Bible is the exposition. For God has been pleased to reveal Himself by way of covenant, even the Covenant of Grace. The Gospel, which is the Good News of salvation to all men, is the articulation of the Covenant of Grace.

The Gospel today is God’s Covenant of Grace being shouted from the rooftops! “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” Romans 10:15b. “Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace!” Nahum 1:15a. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” Isaiah 52:7.

Does your God reign? Has the Good News gripped you? Do you have saving faith?

The Growth of Faith

Now, if the Apostles said to Jesus, “Increase our faith”, this must mean that there are different degrees of faith. It must mean that even saving faith must need to undergo some kind of growth. So, we’re talking about a growing conviction in the believer. And since the Holy Spirit is the One who convicts, we’re talking about being full of the Holy Spirit.

Now, how does a hot air balloon ascend and descend? It fills itself with hot air to rise; cool air to come down again. It’s all to do with convection. It’s all to do with heat transference. You hear about people who are “on fire for the Lord.” To be on fire for the Lord is to be full of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18b). It is to be enjoying a real close relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

So, how does one get full of the Holy Spirit? Aren’t all Christians in a sense “full of the Holy Spirit”? Well, if the Spirit indwells you then you are full of the Holy Spirit. But, if you blow air into a balloon you’ll see that it is full at many different stages of expansion. It always has air in it, but it has room to grow. Well, likewise the Christian always has room to grow.

So how does the Christian’s saving faith grow? How does he generate the heat that lifts him closer to God? Well, he avails himself of the means of grace we mentioned earlier: the ministry of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, and prayer. The ministry of the Word is what goes on when you hear a Biblical sermon in church. Then there are the church Bible Studies, and your own personal Bible study. There are recorded messages you can listen to, there are books you can read. All of these help to kindle the fire of saving faith within you.

Then there is the administration of the sacraments in church. They are given also for the strengthening of our faith. In church Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the Good News of Jesus Christ coming into us through the eye gate. They have been given by God also for the strengthening of the faith of those who are spiritually discerning.

And don’t forget to pray! Pray without ceasing! Be in constant contact with God through Jesus Christ.

All these things have been given to us by God for the building up of our faith, our saving faith. And if you involve yourself in these things, then your spiritual growth will lead to full assurance. Even though our saving faith takes a battering at times, by seeking the Lord in His Word, Sacraments, and Prayer, our faith will mature like sweet grapes on the vine. Neglect these things, and you will start to wither on the vine – until you seek the Lord again.

To be sure, some days our faith is strong, others it is weak. But we should know that if our faith is true saving faith, then we will persevere with the Lord, because He will persevere with us.  This is because Christ is the author and finisher of our faith. He is the source or the beginner of our faith, and He is the completer or perfecter of our faith. Therefore He is the One who, by His Spirit, grows our saving faith.

May He be pleased to increase our faith as a gardener might grow giant water melons!

Conclusion

The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to be “…looking unto to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” Hebrews 12:2a. He is the object of our faith because He is God, i.e., God and Man in one Divine Person forever. He is the One who went to the cross to redeem those elected by the Father. He is the One who (with His Father) sent the Holy Spirit to those chosen ones. The Holy Spirit comes to us with the Word. That’s why Paul says in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

If you have heard the Word of God, what now is your attitude to it? Are you convinced that it is the very Word of God? Are you convinced of its Divine authority? Are you convicted about the things revealed in the Gospel? Do you believe Jesus lived a perfect life for sinners? Do you believe that Jesus died for sinners? Do you believe that you are a sinner? Do you believe that you have transgressed God’s Commandments? Do you believe that Jesus is your Saviour personally?

Have you accepted Him for who He is? Have you received Him as your Saviour? Are you resting upon Him alone for Justification, Sanctification, and everlasting life? If you are, if you are turning your back on your sins and believing in Jesus Christ and His righteousness alone to save you, then you have saving faith. It means that you have all the benefits of God’s Covenant of Grace in Jesus Christ.

And it means that it is the Spirit of Christ in you who is driving your understanding, your feelings, and your desires. It means that though your faith may at times be weak or strong, your faith will get the victory!

As the Apostle Peter says, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” 1 Peter 2:1-3.

And we, along with the Apostles, say to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

Friday, December 15, 2017

TRUE LOVE


True Love

Many years ago my true love bought me a guitar. The first finger-picking song I learned was Scarborough Fair made popular in 60s by Simon & Garfunkel. Are you going to Scarborough Fair?/Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme/Remember me to one who lives there/For she once was a true love of mine. Then he makes a list of impossibilities for her to complete before he will accept her again as his true love. For example, she’s to make him a shirt without a seam or fine needlework. Apparently some of the lyrics were inspired by an earlier Scottish ballad called Elfin Knight which contains the following line: ‘For thou must shape a sark to me/Without any cut or heme,’ quoth he. Regardless of the song’s origin, true love is ordinarily displayed when someone does something seemingly impossible for someone else. We might say then that the true love in the Scarborough Fair song is a conditional love.

Much has been made of the Bible’s usage of the Koine Greek words for love, such as phileo and agape. Some maintain that agape always means unconditional love. However, D.A. Carson in his book Exegetical Fallacies begs to differ. Is God’s love for us a true love, i.e., a conditional love or is it always unconditional? Bear with me here: The Bible has always taught that the way of salvation is through perfectly keeping His Commandments. Impossible? The Pharisees when Jesus walked the earth didn’t think so. They thought they were doing a fine job of keeping the Decalogue, that was until Jesus came along and exposed their sin by saying things like, ‘You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I tell you, that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ Matthew 5:27-28. In other words, to get right with God includes our hidden thoughts as well as our words and deeds. So, if getting right with God and getting into Heaven is based on perfect obedience then it’s impossible for us to satisfy God’s conditional requirements. Enter Jesus! God’s true love for His people is demonstrated in Jesus doing the impossible. He perfectly kept the impossible conditions for all who believe in Him. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’ John 3:16.

Unlike the Pharisees, and unlike people who are living today who think all you need to get saved is to try to be good or at least less bad than axe-murderers or Adolf Hitler, God has not made it easier to be saved. It is still impossible – unless you have Jesus Christ and His perfect Commandment keeping as you the believer’s Representative. So, Jesus did what neither you or I can do. He kept God’s Ten Commandments perfectly for all who believe in Him. And what was He doing dying on a cross? He was paying what we owed to God’s justice for our breaking of God’s Ten Commandments – in thought and word and deed! True love then is God forgiving our sins for the sake of Jesus Christ. God gave His Son our sins and poured out His wrath on Him in our stead while giving us His Son’s righteousness, i.e., His Commandment keeping.

A seamless shirt? Too easy! ‘Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece’ John 19:23. Only God’s love is true love.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A WALK BY THE RIVER


A Walk by the River (of Soul-Restoration)

“You need to take time out to de-stress. Go for a walk on a beach. Feel the sand between your toes.” Thus said the doctor to me during a conversation I had as I was sprinting toward the end of a very busy year. I skidded to a halt. She had stopped me in my tracks: “Stress? What? As an Army Chaplain?” “Yes, you have a stressful job.” I’m still in a bit of denial here, but doctor knows best! Well, I suppose I had been very busy, what, with holding down a fulltime job and at the same time writing a graphic novel based on a true story.

More than three months have passed since the doctor told me to take that break. During the intervening period, I have spent many days in hospital on three different occasions. However, none of it was related to stress. It was twice for surgery and once to be treated for a raging kidney infection, morphine included! No walk on a beach. No sand between my toes. Only catheters and cannulas.

One of the plusses of having older brothers is that they have a special affection for their younger siblings. I have two older brothers. They have been giving valuable feedback on my novel – and my health. Should I try to make a blockbuster out of my novel as my publisher was gently suggesting? Would my health adversely suffer from the extra work this would entail? Says my eldest brother,   

“I’m sorry to hear your health is not optimum, and particularly regarding the stress bit… Take the break your doctor is recommending. Wait upon the Lord. What does your Lord want you to do about this [blockbuster novel] option? A touch of Elijah here. Rest, sleep, eat, rest, sleep eat. Tune into the horizon. Wait for that still small voice… Listen to the Lord. He walked away from the crowds. Do nothing without Him. Bivouac, rest, wait for Spirit-touched intuition.

“My love to you brother. Look after yourself, emotionally as well as physically. Even the birds on the branches are imbued by God with the blessed healing instinct to have a bath in a puddle, preen and oil the feathers, enjoy the sun for a while, eat well, fly happily within God-given capacities. No shame in that. Never shame in that. It is fulfilment. It is Ecclesiastes. God is the only audience, the only readership, whose endorsement ultimately matters.” – Fergie.

“Listen to the Lord. He walked away from the crowds.” Wow! Jesus sought no adulating crowds. He sought no man’s praise! Often I’ve sung the following words of Be Thou My Vision, that ancient Irish hymn that speaks to the Celt in me:

“Riches I need not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art.” (Translation by Mary Byrne.)

“Crowds of people came to hear Him and to be healed of their sickness. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:15b-16. (See also Matthew 14:13; Mark 1:35; 6:45-46; Luke 22:41 etc.)

Far from the Madding Crowd was a popular Thomas Hardy novel written in 1874 and turned into a movie in 1915; 1967; 1998 and 2015. Hardy borrowed his book’s title from the 1751 poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:

“Far from the Madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray,
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.” – Thomas Gray.

If Jesus needed to retreat from the frenzied crowds, then so do I – so do we all. But separately of course and not together! We need time to reflect; time to think; time to de-stress; time to pray.

I’ve had three general anaesthetics this year. Each time, before they put me under, I would pray and try to think of Bible verses that applied to my situation. Invariably the versified form of Psalm 23, The Lord’s My Shepherd would get stuck in my head, especially the fourth stanza which I would sing in my head to the tune Crimond:

“Yea, though I walk through death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear none ill:
For Thou art with me; And Thy rod
And staff me comfort still.” – Stanza 4, Psalm 23, The Psalms and Church Hymnary (Revised Edition) 1927.

“Yea, though I walk through death’s dark vale…” They had pumped me full of morphine and I watched the ceiling lights flash by as they wheeled me on a gurney into the Intensive Care Unit. “What? Morphine. ICU? Wasn’t my dad when he was dying pumped full of morphine in an Intensive Care Unit?” I didn’t want to be alone, to die alone. I wanted my wife and family, my grandchildren at my bedside, just as it was for my dad. However, I was stressing about nothing. I was in the ICU, not because I was dying, but because there was nowhere else to put me at that time. Next morning they moved me to another room two floors above. Phew!

Meanwhile, back to my “blockbuster” novel. My second eldest brother Stuart had just finished reading it. Says Stuart:

“Obviously a mega-work, with so many strands of human experience; of societal development with brutality always in the next room to genteel parlour chit-chat. What is truth, the book demands, and yet more, Who is Truth? I'm off for a walk along the River Kelvin to think about this again.”

The River Kelvin is in Glasgow, The Dear Green Place, whose motto is, “Let Glasgow flourish through the preaching of Thy Word and praising Thy name.” Shortened to Let Glasgow Flourish and stamped on Glasgow’s coat of arms with its bell, tree, bird and fish. The motto was an inscription on a bell that was made in 1637 for the Tron Kirk, which church Stuart attended. Stuart was going for a walk along the Kelvin to think.

As I thought about Stuart walking along the banks of the River Kelvin I couldn’t help but also think of the words of a song by Hue and Cry called Mother Glasgow. It sums up the Protestant/Catholic sectarianism that exists in Glasgow, albeit to a much lesser extent than when I lived and worked in its environs. The song speaks of having a dander, i.e., a wee walk with Glasgow’s patron saint, St. Mungo (or Kentigern):

“Mother Glasgow’s succour is perpetual
Nestling the Billy and the Tim
I dreamt I took a dander with St. Mungo
To try to catch a fish that couldnae swim
And the tree
And the fish
And the bird
And the bell
Let Glasgow flourish" – Hue and Cry (1989)

Stuart was not trying to catch a fish that couldn’t swim. Nor was he walking with St. Mungo. He was needing somewhere quiet to go, somewhere where he could think. The banks of the River Kelvin fitted the bill.

Even Scotland’s national bard spent contemplatory time on the banks of a river as attested to by his poem Ye Banks and Braes O’ Bonnie Doon:

“Oft hae I roved by bonnie Doon’
To see the rose and woodbine twine
And ilka bird sang o’ its love
And fondly sae did I o’ mine.” – Robert Burns.

We all need to retreat from the hurly-burly from time to time, far from the madding crowd. What better place than the River Kelvin in Glasgow The Dear Green Place? In solitude we walk with you Stuart, with you in spirit, as you dander, not with St. Mungo, but with the Lord.

“The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want,
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green: He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.” – Stanza 2, Psalm 23, The Psalms and Church Hymnary (Revised Edition) 1927.

What happens at “the quiet waters by”? The start of the very next verse says, “My soul He doth restore again…” Soul-restoration! That’s what a quiet walk beside a river can get you – soul-restoration. It’s a place where we can reflect, a place where we can recalibrate,

“By Babel’s streams we sat and wept,
When Sion we thought on.
In midst thereof we hang’d our harps
The willow-trees upon…
O how the Lord’s song shall we sing
Within a foreign land?
If thee, Jerus’lem, I forget,
Skill part from my right hand.” – from Psalm 137, The Psalms and Church Hymnary (Revised Edition) 1927.

And here’s Burns again with a faint echo of the exile's pain,

“Ye banks an braes o’ bonnie Doon
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chaunt, ye little birds
And I sae weary full o’ care?
Ye’ll break my heart, ye warbling bird
That wanton’s thro’ the flowering thorn
Ye mind me o’ departed joys
Departed never to return.” – Robert Burns.

Departed joys? The hymnist William Cowper in his hymn O For a Closer Walk with God spoke of these:

“Return, O Holy Dove! Return,
Sweet messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn,
And drove Thee from my breast.” – Hymn 455, The Psalms and Church Hymnary (Revised Edition) 1927.

It was while He was by a river, the River Jordan that the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus “Jesus also was baptised; and while He prayed the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him…” Luke 3:22b.

Meanwhile back with Stuart by the River Kelvin, “He leadeth me the quiet waters by.” Yes, the noise of the city gets drowned out by the quiet of the river. Wars in the breast cease when the Prince of Peace walks beside you. We beat our hate into love upon the anvil of His compassion. There our red hot anger gets turned into mercy by the hammer of His Word.
Lord Jesus be near me too. “My soul He doth restore again.” Soul-restoration!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

SANCTIFICATION


SANCTIFICATION

(See Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 13)

Introduction

When you think about it, Sanctification is one of those uniquely ecclesiastical words. Where else but in church circles would you meet with such a word? And what does sanctification mean anyway? Is it just one of those words you hear folk use at a Bible study, or a prayer meeting? Is it one of those words that Christians use when they want to sound pious? Like: “Justification, Sanctification, Glorification.”

What can we say about sanctification? Well, Paul the Apostle uses the word. Therefore sanctification can’t be a bad word. For example the Apostle says in 2 Thessalonians 2:13&14, “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So we see then from this passage: 1. That sanctification is a Biblical word. 2. That sanctification is a word that expresses what God does to those He has chosen for salvation. 3. That God sanctifies those who have been called by the Gospel. 4. That sanctification is also to do with obtaining the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, i.e., Glorification. And 5. That the believer is sanctified by the Spirit working with or through the person’s belief in the truth, i.e., the Gospel.

If we add it all together we might say that God sanctifies those He effectually calls and regenerates. Or you could say for every true Christian it’s: Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification. These three are intimately connected. Simply put, Justification means you in Christ. Sanctification means Christ in you. And Glorification means you and Christ in Glory, i.e., Heaven.

In the following we’re looking specifically at Sanctification. Therefore we are looking at what Christ does in you.

Personal Sanctification

As you know, Justification is impersonal or passive. Justification is a legal transaction whereby God the Supreme Judge declares you righteous on account of the perfect life and atoning death of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. But Sanctification, like Adoption, is personal. It is active.

Adoption is God adopting you and bringing you, His adopted child, into His home, so to speak. And when you’re in His home you begin to look around at everything in wide-eyed awe and wonder. Well, Sanctification is the Spirit of God, i.e., the Spirit of Christ, setting up home in you.

The Spirit has regenerated you (the Christian). He has effectively called you by His Word. He has enabled you to find that call irresistible. And you have come to Jesus with open arms. Well all of this is because Jesus Christ has come to you by His Spirit and His Word. And as His Word has lodged in your heart, so has His Spirit with His Word. Sanctification, then, is the Spirit working with the Word in the heart of the believer.

And the thing is, because the Spirit is testifying with your spirit that you are a child of God, you now have a personal and intimate love for God and His Word. For you have been given a new heart and new spirit, just as the Lord promised through Ezekiel: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” Ezekiel 36:25-27.

Could there be anything more personal than having God come to live and work within you? Well, didn’t Jesus say, “Lo, I am with you always”? So, Jesus kept the promise He made before He ascended to Glory. He didn’t leave us as orphans. He sent another Comforter, or Helper, or Sanctifier. Therefore He as it were sprinkled us with clean water and His shed blood by pouring out His Spirit upon us.

The Spirit gets really personal with us. He starts His work of cleansing in the inside and works His way out. Therefore Sanctification is a spiritual work. It is an inner work of cleansing. And we have the promise that, “…He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6b. So, this means that we are sanctified the moment we are given a new heart and a new spirit. Therefore the thief on the cross was sanctified from the moment He believed in Jesus.

But, Sanctification is also a progressive work that the Holy Spirit does within us. But you should know that the moment God by His grace gives you and new heart and a new spirit, the control that sin had over you is immediately broken. It means that you are no longer sitting on “death row” handcuffed to Satan. It means that the Devil is no longer your father. It means that sin’s spell has been broken for you. It means that sin and death no longer reign over you. It means that you no longer live in darkness.

It means that you no longer live in the company of those angels who left their proper domain, who “…are reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day” Jude 6. It means that the old you, the “old man” has been crucified with Christ. It means that your old body of sin has been done away with. It means that you are no longer a slave to sin. It means that you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sanctification means all these things and more – as if that weren’t enough! But Sanctification is something that takes place in every nook and cranny of your being. If you’ve heard of “Total Depravity”, i.e., the “T” in T.U.L.I.P., the Five Points of Calvinism, or the Canons of Dordt, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. The Doctrine of Total Depravity doesn’t teach that any person is as totally depraved as they can be. No, Total Depravity means that every aspect of fallen man’s being is touched by and therefore is tainted by and therefore is corrupted by sin and the effects of sin. As the sea fills every crack and crevice on the ocean floor, so sin has seeped into every recess of man, body and soul. It’s the task of God the Holy Spirit to flush out all the residue of sin from us.

Now, speaking spiritually, He uses the blood of Christ to cleanse us of all our iniquities. If you will, Christ is the good leaven that leavens the whole batch. Although Jesus isn’t speaking directly about personal sanctification, He is speaking about cosmic sanctification where he says, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” Luke 13:20&21. Are we not praying for the destruction of Satan’s kingdom and the spread of Christ’s kingdom when we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven”? Matthew 6:10.

As by the power of the Holy Spirit the kingdom of Christ continues to spread throughout all the world, so the Holy Spirit works Christ into every nook and cranny of who you are. He continues till grace has permeated your whole being – we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. But you can surely see that Sanctification is personal. It is something going on in you that you are aware of. You never felt a thing when you were Justified by God. But you notice the work that the Spirit of Christ is doing in you, don’t you? If Justification is impersonal, then Sanctification is personal.

Sanctification is a “Legal Beagle” of sorts sniffing out sin wherever it might be found in you. Sanctification is you having your own internal “Private Detective” follow your every movement every moment. It’s as the Psalmist says, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” Psalm 139:7.

What’s Sanctification like? “It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing – life forevermore” Psalm 133:2&3.

The Holy Spirit is the good oil Christ baptises us with. He is the good oil poured upon us from on high. He is the good oil that that clears away the rust and grime of sin without and within us. He is our personal Sanctifier who sanctifies us personally.

Progressive Sanctification

Our personal sanctification is a progressive sanctification. For the Holy Spirit doesn’t stop when He gives us a new heart and a new spirit. No, He gives us a workout and a work-in!

Mind you, the needle seems to have stuck on the Doctrine of Justification in many churches. For many churches it’s all about “evangelism” and nothing about How should we then live? But I put it to you that “getting saved” includes Sanctification. For Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification are not the names of three men in a lifeboat trying to pluck drowning men out of the wild ocean. For the world is not sinking into the great abyss! The world is not going to Hell in a hand-basket and therefore needs to be rescued by you and me. How do we know? “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” John 3:17. Your personal Sanctification is testimony to this truth.

Now that Christ has saved the world in principle, the Father and the Son have sent the Holy Spirit into the world to put Christ’s salvation into practice. You and I have been saved – Justification. We are being saved – Sanctification. We will be saved – Glorification. But as you cannot separate the three Persons in the Trinity, neither can you have any one aspect of this trinity without the other two.

The Triune God is the eternal One. In relation to time, the past, the present, and the future are always the present with Him. Therefore the Holy Spirit has presently brought you Justification, Sanctification and Glorification. Yes, you’ll have to wait till you’re dead before you are fully glorified, but just as Christ’s resurrection was the beginning of His glorification, so is your spiritual regeneration the beginning of your glorification. For you no longer are living in darkness. You have been translated out of the kingdom of darkness into Christ’s kingdom of light. And the longer you live in that light the more you glow.

Glowing is Glorification. Glorification is intimately related to Sanctification. Therefore, just as you manifest that you have been Justified by your good works done in the Spirit, so you manifest that you are being Sanctified by the same good works done in the Spirit. But either way, your good works done in the Spirit glorify God. And your glorifying of God is an aspect of your own personal Glorification, because your good works done in the Spirit are the shining forth of the glory of the glorified Jesus Christ. He is the One who has saved you, is saving you, and will save you.

For Sanctification is also about obtaining the glory or sharing in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, (2 Thessalonians 2:14). And obtaining or sharing that glory is what Glorification is. For it is the Spirit of the glorified Christ in you who is enabling you to do your sanctified good works. Therefore, Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification is a threefold cord that is not quickly broken (Eccl. 4:12).

Yes, we must distinguish Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification, lest we end up tied up again with the cords of bondage, like Rome with its confusing Justification with Sanctification. But we must also be careful not to separate the cords, as has been done by modern evangelicalism with its antinomianism. Sanctification progresses from Justification unto Glorification. Therefore Sanctification is related to good works, i.e., works that glorify (or works of Glory).

We are to do all things to the glory of God, 1 Cor. 10:31. As Paul says to the Ephesians, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” Ephesians 2:10. The Psalmist in Psalm 1 likens the person being sanctified to a tree. “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf shall not wither, and whatever he does he will prosper” Psalm 1:3. Yes, of course this Psalm is speaking about Jesus Christ – that’s the point! He is the One working the sanctification process in you by His Spirit. He is the One producing plentiful fruit in the Christian of which good works are included. He is the leaven leavening the whole batch. His leaves are for the healing of the nations, (Revelation 22:2).

Again, Jesus gives us another picture of progressive sanctification by giving us another picture of the kingdom of heaven spreading and growing: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches” Matthew 13:31&32. Sanctification has everything to do with the growth of a Christian. The Spirit of Christ working in the world is the macrocosm. The Spirit of Christ working in the Christian is the microcosm.

Yes, there appears to be a bit of ebbing and flowing of the kingdom of heaven in the world, just as we seem to see the Christian sometimes grow but sometimes remain dormant and perhaps even backslide. But what Christian is there who does not believe that he will become more and more sanctified by the Holy Spirit helping him more and more to subdue the sinful cravings that remain in him?

The Christian’s bondage to sin is broken, remember? Hell’s cords are severed. Therefore, because this is true, the Christian’s sinful lusts are more and more weakened and put to death. The picture is that Christ has tied up the strongman (i.e., the Devil), and is now plundering the strongman’s house. You once were a child of the Devil, and the whole world was once under the power of Satan. But Christ has crushed the Serpent’s head by His cross. And He has brought you out of Satan’s strength-sapping leech-filled swamp. And He has placed you in His royal palace.

“The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell within” Psalm 24:1. Everything Satan has he has stolen from God. But Satan no longer rules over you, just as he no longer rules over the world. For Jesus says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” Matthew 28:18.

The “Great Commission” sounds a lot more like Good News to all nations when viewed in light of the Doctrine of Sanctification, don’t you think? Therefore the “Great Commission” is not about rescuing people from a perishing world. It’s about the spreading of the kingdom of Heaven throughout the earth. Therefore it’s about stamping out sin in a world already saved! It’s about sanctifying the world to the glory of God! And the place you personally begin that process of world sanctification is with you yourself!

Now, you should note the battle that each Christian faces. First there is the battle within, and secondly there is the battle without. The battle within is caused by the residue of sin within lusting against the Spirit within. The Spirit lusts against the flesh and the flesh against the Spirit. The inner war is continual and irreconcilable until we die. However, this is not to say that the Christian will never grow in grace. For, as the mustard seed, so the Christian grows with the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit – like a tree planted by waters. The Spirit is the “Holy” Spirit. Therefore the Christian grows in holiness, without which no man shall see God.

So, the picture then is this: God has saved and separated the Christian from the world of sin. The Christian is in the world but not of the (sinful) world. He is of Heaven. The Spirit of the glorified Christ works in the heart of the Christian removing the residue of sin. Though He works toward that completion, it will only fully be completed when the Christian dies, or when Christ returns. Meanwhile the Christian will continue to encounter sin in his own heart, and sin in the world.

Conclusion

Jesus said to His Disciples: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” John 18:33. Remember those words of Jesus when you become frustrated with the residue of sin in yourself, or the residue of sin in the world. Remember that Jesus has overcome the world. Therefore He has also overcome the sin that remains in you. So be patient, Christ is victorious!

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…” Ephesians 6:10-18a.

And just so that you don’t miss the fact that you are on the winning side, the Apostle John says, “…He who is in you is greater that he who is in the world” 1 John 4:4b. The Apostle Paul echoes this where he says, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” Romans 8:37. So be encouraged! Be of good cheer! Be as those who have heard the Good News!

Friday, December 8, 2017

GOD'S ADOPTED CHILDREN


GOD’S ADOPTED CHILDREN

(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 12)

Introduction

If you were planning on adopting a child you would need to fulfil certain criteria. Among many other things, you’d need to be able to support the child you wanted to adopt. But having concluded that you are able to support an adopted child, you’d need to fill out all the legal paperwork. It would only be after you’ve taken care of all the legalities that you’d be able to take your chosen child home.

Almighty God is in the process of adopting children. And, being the owner of the cattle on a thousand hills, He certainly has the means of supporting any children He adopts! In fact God has had it in mind to adopt these children from even before He created the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them! And He has taken care of all the legal “paperwork” that needed to be taken care of. His only begotten Son took care of the legal aspect of things when He lived a perfect human life and died a substitutionary death on the cross. That all the “adoption papers” were in order is testified by His resurrection from the dead.

The blood He shed on the cross is the ink of His signature to ensure that the transaction would take place legally. Justification is the legal aspect of that transaction. Adoption is the personal part. When you are justified you don’t feel a thing, because justification is a legal thing. But when you are adopted you feel elated because adoption is a personal thing.

Process of Adoption

We’ve already (above) considered something of the process of adoption. The legal aspect of our adoption by God is our justification. Adoption, like justification, is an act of pure grace on God’s part. The Father has elected or chosen the adoptee before time in eternity past. The Son has redeemed the adoptee in time by living and laying down His perfect life. And the Holy Spirit comes to the adoptee and regenerates him or her at some point in their life. So, adoption is all of God, the Triune God. Our adoption by Him goes through a process.


That we will be adopted by God is guaranteed by God by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are adopted in Him and for Him. Therefore it is because of Jesus Christ that God adopts us. Therefore it’s not because we want to be adopted by God. Neither is it because God saw any redeeming qualities in us. If you or I were going to adopt a child we might look for things we like about the child. Or the child might be old enough to ask to be adopted by us. But that’s not the way it is with God and His adopted children.

The Bible says, (therefore God says!) that we all are “children of wrath.” He says in another place that we all are “children of the devil.” So what redeeming qualities do children of the Devil have? None! And there are no “children of wrath” who seek God so that they can be adopted by Him. In Ephesians 2:3 we are told that we “…were by nature children of wrath…” And in 1 John 3:10 we are told that “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest; whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God…” And in Romans 3:10&11: “There is none righteous, no, not one… there is none who seeks after God.” So we see clearly then that God’s adopted children are adopted by His grace alone.

And when you talk about God adopting people, the thought necessarily springs to mind, that if God is adopting people, then not all mankind are His children. Yet “The Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God” is widely taught by church Liberals, Baha’i’s, and the Masonic Lodge. This is the teaching that we all are God’s children regardless, and therefore all religious paths lead to God. But the Scriptural doctrine of Adoption exposes the lethal folly of that false teaching.

To be sure there is a sense that God is Father of all creation, including therefore man. And Paul the Apostle does say to the Athenians, “…as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’” Acts 17:28. So there’s no denying that God is the Father of all as to our origin.  But that is vastly different to the teaching that God is everyone’s Heavenly Father indiscriminately. For only those who have been regenerated truly believe in the resurrected Jesus Christ and His righteousness. And only those who are of faith are justified on account of Jesus Christ and His saving work. Therefore, if you have not been regenerated by God and justified by God, there is no way you have been adopted by God, because God adopts only true believers into His family.

And He adopts on the same basis as He regenerates and justifies. And that basis is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Therefore we are adopted in Jesus and for Jesus. Think about it: what would Jesus want with anyone who does not believe in Him and who He is? He spoke to some children of the Devil as recorded in John 8:42f., “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil…” John 8:42-44a.

How to win friends and influence people: tell them that they’re children of the devil! But that’s the truth, isn’t it? But Jesus says elsewhere even to those who at least acknowledged Him, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say” Luke 7:46. Those who are teaching that all mankind is a brotherhood under the Fatherhood of God without regard to Jesus Christ are NOT doing what Jesus says, because they are clearly not teaching what God teaches in His Word. For Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Therefore if you are going to truthfully call God your Father you will need to have been regenerated, effectually called, justified, and adopted. That is the process of becoming one of God’s adopted children.

And God is the One who initiates and completes that process. He is the One who takes care of all the legal aspects of that adoption process. But, if you are worried about being a child of wrath, i.e., a child of the devil, then why don’t you repent and believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Aspects of Adoption

To be adopted as a child of God is to be given a new status. No longer are you a child of wrath. No longer are you a child of the devil. In 1 John 3:12 we’re given a clear picture of a person who was a child of the Devil. For there we’re told, “…Cain was of the wicked one and murdered his brother.” So there really are only two families on earth: children of God and children of the devil. There are no families in between. It’s as black is to white, as Hell is to Heaven, as everlasting death is to everlasting life.

But those who are adopted as children of God are snatched as brands from the fire. For we are all on the broad road that leads to destruction, and would remain on that road unless the Holy Spirit comes to us and applies the benefits of Christ’s cross to us personally.

The Apostle Paul identifies the children of God in Romans 8:14&15, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’” So we see then that the children of God are those who are led by the Holy Spirit. And notice the name Paul is calling the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:15: “…but you received the Spirit of adoption…”

If God’s justification is the signing of the legal papers for adoption, then adoption is the putting into practice what those legal documents state. Whereas Justification is legal, Adoption is personal. And notice what happens to those who personally receive the Spirit of adoption. The Spirit of adoption enables them to cry out, “Abba, Father.”

The first time you’re born, you’re born into the world. And the first thing that happens to you is that you’re given a smack! And when you’re smacked you cry out. I think the idea is that they want the newborn to draw a deep breath, thus the smack! (But I wonder how that sits with those who want to ban smacking altogether!) Be that as it may, I think it’s the Japanese who are doing a study on baby-talk. They’re trying to decipher what babies are saying with their cries and all the other little noises they make. I wonder what they’ll make of the newborn baby’s first cry as he or she comes into the world?

When God adopts you, you are born again. God sends the Spirit of adoption to you, and He comes to you to adopt you. But, He doesn’t smack you. No, He breathes the breath of life into your nostrils. He is the One who regenerates or animates you, and leads you, and causes and enables you to say, “Abba, Father!”

New Christians start to call God their Father without any outside training. This is because their status, their legal status, with God has been changed. They are no longer children of wrath or children of the devil, but they have been legally adopted into the family and household of God. The Spirit of adoption has taken them into that multitude innumerable where they begin to enjoy the liberties and privileges as God’s children.

Jesus Christ is God’s only begotten Son. He is begotten not made. The Son is eternally begotten by the Father. If there were no eternal Son there would be no eternal Father. And if there were no eternal Father and no eternal Son there would be no eternal Spirit. For the eternal Spirit eternally proceeds from the eternal Father and the eternal Son. Thus Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one eternal God. It is this God that the adopted child is calling “Abba, Father!”

Therefore if you do not have the Triune God for your Father then you are none of His, you have a false God! For the Father has elected His adoptee in eternity past. The Son has redeemed His adoptee in time some two thousand years ago. And the Spirit comes to the adoptee during the adoptee’s lifetime on earth.

And here’s one of the things the Spirit does when He comes to the adoptee during the adoptee’s lifetime on earth: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…” Romans 8:16&17a. So we see that the eternal Spirit of the Triune God lets the adoptee know inwardly that the adoptee is indeed a child of God, i.e., the Triune God. And if you are truly adopted by God then you are an heir to the blessings the Mediator Jesus Christ already has, and will have in the future.

Jesus is God’s only begotten Son. We are God’s legally adopted children. Therefore God treats us as He treats Jesus. The Man Christ Jesus is God’s “firstborn.” Therefore Jesus is our elder Brother. But with Jesus we are God’s offspring.

Benefits of Adoption

We’ve already seen that one of the benefits of adoption is to be taken into the number of the children of God and enjoy the liberties and privileges afforded by that status, i.e., to be treated by God as sons and daughters.

In Victorian times in Victorian England, upper class households would have an “upstairs downstairs” arrangement. The family dwelled and dined upstairs while the servants dwelled and dined downstairs. In this arrangement a person would know his station and place. There would be no mixing and unnecessary mingling of the two classes – upper and lower classes.

Well, when you are adopted into God’s family you have the run of the whole house. To be sure, there is an order to things in God’s household. For instance not everyone may stand in the pulpit to preach. Nor may everyone become an Elder or a Deacon. But the point I make is that all are treated as children of God in the household of God. There is no “downstairs” in God’s household. All are “upstairs” because all are God’s children. Therefore all are able therefore to cry “Abba, Father!”

“Abba” is just another word – an Aramaic word – for “Father.” You hear the word “Abba” in the name Barabbas, which means “son of Abba” i.e., “father’s son.” You wonder how much Barabbas was like his father. No doubt Barabbas was a big disappointment to him.

But one of the other benefits we have as God’s adopted children is that we have His name placed on us. If I adopted a child, that child takes on my family name. Well, so it is with God’s adopted children. When you are baptised with water you are sealed with God’s name, which is “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Baptism, as you know, is a picture of what the Spirit, even the Spirit of adoption does. He comes upon God’s elect (i.e., God’s children) and applies the benefits of Christ cross to them. It is the Holy Spirit applying the shed blood of Christ to the individual. Water baptism is a sign and seal of God’s covenant promise. It is the sign and seal that if the person is indeed a child of God, then that child is sealed to the day of redemption and will inherit the promises and is an heir of everlasting salvation.

And another benefit is that the children of God have access to come boldly before God’s throne of grace. We live “upstairs” remember! Therefore we don’t cower in the basement somewhere as we hear God walking around upstairs! That tyrant the Devil is no longer our master. No, our Father pities us as a loving father pities his children (Psalm 103:13). He knows our weaknesses. Therefore the Holy Spirit helps us come before God our Heavenly Father.

Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” We are like a little an infant before its father, lisping away, unable to express himself properly. Well, the Holy Spirit knows how we ought to express ourselves to the Father, and when we can’t, He does it for us! How many times have you been unable to express yourself before God? I’m sure like me, your prayers are sometimes just simply “Father, help me!”

And now that Christ has opened up the way to God by His flesh, we no longer have to come to God through elaborate Old Testament ceremonial systems. We simply come before God in Jesus’ name.

Yes our Heavenly Father pities us, He knows we are dust. And He therefore protects us. Our enemies as Christians are His enemies. And all our enemies have been overcome by Jesus Christ. He has overcome the whole world. Therefore we are more than conquerors in Jesus Christ. But even in the Lord’s Prayer we are to pray,  “But deliver us from evil”, even the evil one, i.e., the Devil. Peter says that the Devil goes about like a roaring lion looking for people to devour, 1 Peter 5:8. So God protects us from the Devil, therefore you need to stay close to God.

And God provides for all our needs. He doesn’t provide you with everything you want. Some of the things we want are stupid things, things that will do us harm. We’re like little children wanting everything in the toy store! But God supplies us with everything we need.

And sometimes, like a loving father, He’ll chasten us. He’ll discipline us for our own good. Those trials and tribulations that you go through in life as Christians, well, they are the Lord’s chastenings. He chastens those whom He loves, Hebrews 12:6. But never think when you are being chastened that God has cast you off. For He won’t cast off any He has truly adopted.

To be sure there will be times in your Christian life when you’ll feel as if God has forsaken you. Just think of Jesus on the cross! But, do just as Jesus did on the cross, cry out to God because He is your Father! And if you begin to curse Him, and keep on cursing Him, you should know that He never was your Father!

Sometimes that’s what the trial people go through is all about. It’s either to strengthen your faith in Him or it’s to show the person they don’t have faith in Him. Thus it demonstrates that they don’t belong to God and that they therefore need to truly repent and truly believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

I hope you can see that you have indeed truly been adopted as a child of God. It is a very great honour and a very great privilege to be called a child of the living God. Let us never abuse that honour and privilege, because we have been adopted by grace alone.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace…” Ephesians 1:3-7.