Tag Archives: New Heart

John Owen on Romans

John Owen writes in the Introduction to Calvin’s Commentary on Romans:

“We have set before us in this Epistle especially two things, which it behoves us all rightly to understand — the righteousness of man and the righteousness of God — merit and grace, or salvation by works and salvation by faith. The light in which they are exhibited here is clearer and brighter than what we find in any other portion of Scripture, with the exception, perhaps, of the Epistle to the Galatians. Hence the great value which has in every age been attached to this Epistle by all really enlightened Christians; and hence also the strenuous efforts which have often been made to darken and wrest its meaning by men, though acute and learned, yet destitute of spiritual light. But let not the simple Christian conclude from the contrariety that is often found in the expositions on these two points, that there is no certainty in what is taught respecting them. There are no contrary views given of them by spiritually-minded men. Though on other subjects discussed here, such men have had their differences, yet on these they have ever been found unanimous: that salvation is from first to last by grace, and not by works, has ever been the conviction of really enlightened men in every age, however their opinion may have varied in other respects. It may seem very strange, when we consider the plain and decisive language, especially of this Epistle, and the clear and conclusive reasoning which it exhibits, that any attempt should ever be made by a reasonable being, acknowledging the authority of Scripture, to pervert what it plainly teaches, and to evade what it clearly proves. But a right view of what human nature is, when unrenewed, as exhibited in God’s Word, and as proved by history and made evident by observation, enables us fully to account for what would otherwise remain an enigma. No truth is more fully confirmed by facts (and it ought ever to be remembered) than that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” and that he “cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” This declaration clearly accounts for the fact, that men of great learning have often misunderstood many things in Scripture, and such things as are plain enough even to the unlettered when spiritually enlightened. The learned Scribes and Rabbins were blind leaders of the blind, when even babes understood the mysteries of the kingdom of God: and no better then the Scribes are many learned men, professing Christianity, in our day.

There is indeed a special reason why, on these points, unenlightened men should contrive means to evade the obvious meaning of Scripture; for they are such things as come in constant contact with a principle, the strongest that belongs to human nature in its fallen state. Other doctrines may be held as speculations, and kept, as it were, at a distance; but when we come to merit and grace, to work and faith, man’s pride is touched; and as long as under he is its prevailing influence, he will be certain, in some way or another, direct or evasive, to support merit in opposition to grace, or works in opposition to faith. When the authority of tradition supplanted the authority of Scripture, the doctrine of merit so prevailed, that the preposterous idea, that merits were a salable and a transferable commodity, gained ground in the world. A notion of this kind is too gross and absurd to be entertained by any who acknowledge God’s Word as the only umpire in religion; and yet what is not essentially different has often been maintained; for to say that salvation is partly by faith and partly by works, is really the same thing, inasmuch as the principle of merit is thereby admitted. Man naturally cleaves to his own righteousness; all those who are ignorant are self-righteous, and all the learned who understand not the gospel; and it is wonderful what ingenious evasions and learned subtleties men will have recourse to in order to resist the plain testimony of Scripture. When they cannot maintain their ground as advocates of salvation alone by merits, they will attempt to maintain it as advocates of a system, which allows a part to grace and a part to works — an amalgamation which Paul expressly repudiates, Romans 11:6.

But it is remarkable how the innate disposition of man has displayed itself in this respect. Conscious, as it were, in some measure of moral imperfections, he has been striving for the most part to merit his salvation by ceremonial works. This has been the case in all ages with heathens: their scarifies, austerities, and mechanical devotions were their merits; they were the works by which they expected to obtain happiness. God favored the people of Israel with the rituals of religion, which were designed merely as aids and means to attain and preserve true religion; but they converted them to another purpose, and, like the heathens, regarded them as meritorious performances, and expected God’s acceptance for the very religious acts which they exercised: and in order to make up, as it were, a sufficient quantity of merit, they made additions to those services which God had appointed, as though to multiply acts of this kind was to render their salvation more certain. The very same evil crept early into the Christian Church, and still continues to exist. The accumulation of ceremonies is of itself a sufficient proof, that salvation by faith was in a great measure lost sight of: we want no other evidence; it is what has been ever done whenever the light of truth has become dim and obscure. We see the same evil in the present day. Outward privileges and outward acts of worship are in effect too often substituted for that grace which changes the heart, and for that living faith which unites us to the Savior, which works by love and overcomes the world. The very disposition to over-value external privileges and the mere performances of religious duties, is an unequivocal evidence, that salvation by faith is not understood, or very imperfectly understood, and not really embraced.

The only remedy, as means for this evil, is that which we find employed by Paul in this Epistle. He begins by showing what every man, Jew and Gentile, is by nature; he proves by the clearest evidence, that all have sinned and become guilty before God. And having done this, he discloses the way of salvation which God himself has planned and revealed; and he teaches us, that it is altogether by grace and through faith that we can be saved, and not by works. In order cordially to embrace this latter truth, it is necessary to know the first, that we are sinners under condemnation. It is impossible, according to the very constitution of man’s mind, that he should really and truly accede to the one, without a real and deep knowledge of the other. The whole need not a physician, but the sick. It is only he who is really convinced of sin and who feels its guilt and its burden intolerable, that ever will, or indeed ever can, really lay hold on that free salvation which God has provided. And when this free salvation is really known, all other things compared with it will be deemed as nothing; and then all outward privileges will be viewed only as means, and all outward acts of religion only as aids and helps; and then also all our works, however great and self-denying, will be regarded in no way meritorious, but imperfect and defective, and acceptable only through the merits of our High Priest at God’s right hand.

-John Owen

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Truly Transformational Small Groups & Relationships

We’d rather work a formula than submit to a process that will be scary and unknown, even if it will ultimately change our hearts and character. So don’t give in to the temptation to just “do” something else, to come up with a new plan, a retooled strategy, alone—again. There are no shortcuts to believing the difficult but life-giving, heart-changing, and joy-enhancing truths I’ve shared in these chapters.

Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, Page 122

“Unfortunately, I’m finding more and more accountability groups to be pretty ineffective. If people are not careful, these groups can become nothing more than places where people unload and confess but do not change. In many cases the confidentiality, safety, and security of such groups become the highest goal of the group, inhibiting group effectiveness. Now, of course, you need these elements in a group—that’s a given. But when the dynamics of the group primarily center on the commonality of the struggle itself, then what can happen is that the expectation of change—and more importantly, how it happens—can get lost. Then the group will become ineffective and eventually collapse in a spirit of defeatism and hopelessness. Maybe you’re in a group like this and know what I’m talking about.

Not long ago I was talking with a guy who had been in such a group for several years. He told me, “John, the problem is that no one in the group is experiencing any type of breakthrough or change.” He went on to say that there is something of a “spiritual” basis to the group. A Scripture portion is read each week. Songs are sung. People share challenges, falls, and similar information. There’s lots of camaraderie. But, he added, “The common denominator of why we’re all there seems to be the problems themselves and the difficulty and shame of the struggles we share. This seems a more powerful glue to the group than does the hope and expectation that Christ will show up and actually do something.” The expectancy that God would work in hearts to bring about new steps of faith and repentance had been “dumbed down,” as had been the call to serious holiness. People in the group just weren’t that hopeful that they would ever change.

This can happen so easily in a group. It’s the natural path groups sometimes take if they turn inward and the essence of the group becomes the struggle itself. Ultimately, that’s the wrong “content” to focus on so exclusively. The commonality and the camaraderie are important, but effective change groups must put the application of God’s Word front and center. The Scriptures, carefully applied to real-life situations, must take priority and be highly valued as part of any group meeting. Otherwise, the group will remain comforting and safe but will lose its power to be an agent of change. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of groups. I believe in them. Part of our ministry’s mission is to help churches begin partner ministries, and I’ve seen groups used powerfully in the lives of hundreds of people over the years. I would say that groups can be used of God in ways that individual counseling can’t match. Something happens in groups that can become a very significant part of how Christ meets people in a new way, giving them the hope of the gospel, as well as being a tangible symbol of God’s love and care expressed through the group members.

When the centrality of the gospel is at the heart of a group, then the other elements of the group can be made more effective. There are three life-changing activities that must take place as part of any successful biblical support group. The first crucial element is accountability. Accountability happens when I speak honestly about my temptation, my sin, and the condition of my heart with other Christian brothers. This requires ruthless honesty about the destructive stuff that fills and fuels my heart and speaking of it with other men. Discipleship is the second, central element, which I have already mentioned. As a group member, I am growing in faith and in God’s truth and grasping more and more who I really am as God’s child because of God’s love for me. I can expect to see step-by-step move- ment (even if they are only small steps) and growth as I take hold of the reality of the gospel. Discipleship happens where I am and helps me apply the gospel to all the chaos, conflict, and confusion in my own heart, in order to make me a new and different person. Effective discipleship also enables me to get out of myself; to begin to love and serve others with my time, energy, and resources—because of what God is doing in me and what Christ is coming to mean to me. Third, there’s the important element of transparency. Transparency is when I commit daily—with everyone, and not just with the members of my group—to living openly and without deceit, offering my life and the motives of my heart to the examination of others! Transparency may seem like accountability, but transparency is when I begin ruthlessly speaking the truth about everything I do, on a day-to-day basis. Because my sexual struggles and sin have been hidden for so long, I realize that lying and deceit have become a part of my daily habits. Now, by God’s power, I learn to walk in the light and no longer in the darkness.

Do you see how the ordinary “accountability” group may fall far short of being an effective agent of change? That’s because the element of accountability is only one of several things that are needed, and it’s not even the most important one. But we often mistake it as such, omitting other crucial building blocks to wholeness.

I know that when it comes to that last ingredient, transparency, you may be thinking, John, that seems like death! The accountability part is hard enough, but transparency, with everyone? Believe me, it may seem like death, but it’s the way to real life! It’s the way to a clear conscience and to knowing God’s love and acceptance through others who are on your team, rooting for you! There’s nothing like it. If you’ve not experienced it, you may just have to take my word for it. Small groups and one-on-one-or-two-or-three connections like this are what have helped change my life for over forty years now. Having relationships like this, where I’m reminded of the gospel through others, is what’s often made it possible for me to preach the gospel to myself in challenging situations, when my heart could easily head “south” into dark and destructive places.”

Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, Page 127-130

God’s children forsake sin (1 John 3:4–10)

“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”  (1 John 3:4–10 ESV)

When we walk in ongoing, unrepentant sin, we walk outside of God’s good, right and protective law.  To walk outside of God’s provision and protection has grave consequences.  Jesus’ mission was not only to forgive us of sin, but to free us from its grip (Romans 6).  John goes boldly tells us that no one who abides in Jesus keeps on sinning – we can’t because He is light and in Him there is no darkness or sin.  He says that no one who walks in ongoing, unrepentant sin (that is evident for we all have sin in our lives) knows Him.  This may be a long and slow process, but ultimately God ensures His elect that they are His by the way that they walk.  Our actions always speak louder than our words.  It is easy to say we love God, serve Him and pursue Him, but only those who pursue the righteousness that is found in Jesus alone are truly His.  Don’t be deceived!  If you’re hanging your hat on having walked an aisle or having prayed a prayer, but have no real desire to know God or grow in holiness, then you need to ask if you are really His child.

We aren’t of God if we make an ongoing practice of sinning.  Growth in holiness, empowered by the grace of God is the most comforting thing in regards to our eternal security.  One cannot be regenerate and walk in ongoing, apparent & unrepentant sin.  Sin is of the devil.  We must be careful not to place timetables on this – for we have all walked in sin for a season.  But, it should always frighten us and move us towards the cross.  The regenerate person cannot continue to walk in open sin because the Word of God and the Holy Spirit dwell within him.  We can’t keep on walking in open sin because we have been reborn.  It is like being reborn as a fish and trying to live on land – you can’t for long.  The very air that we now breath is the grace of God through the Word of God.

The litmus test for faith (children of God versus children of the devil):  whoever does not practice righteousness or love his brother is not walking in the light.  This takes some serious unpacking because it sounds like external behavior modification.  We are recognized by our fruit (Matthew 7:16).  The Christian is transformed to the core by the Holy Spirit, so much so that he cannot walk in a pattern of continual sin for long periods.  John boils it down to the true barometer of where our hearts really are regardless of what we profess or what we’d like to believe.  If we don’t love others, we aren’t regenerate; we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).  This is at the top of the list of the fruit of the Spirit that Paul mentions in Galatians 5:22.  We can’t produce this, it is Spirit wrought.  Additionally, if you can’t forgive then you aren’t forgiven (Matthew 6:14-15).  This is slow and progressive, but will be a growing reality in the hearts of the elect.  God, help us!

The Practice of Mortification

I recently read this in Sinclair Ferguson’s book, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life.  I thought that it was very good and was worth the time to post it.  I hope that you enjoy it!

“The aftermath of a conversation can change the way we later think of its significance. My friend-a younger minister-sat down with me at the end of a conference in his church and said, “Before we retire tonight, just take me through the steps that are involved in helping someone mortify sin.” We sat talking about this for a little longer and then went to bed; I hoped he felt as blessed as I did by our conversation.

I still wonder whether he asked his question as a pastor or simply for himself-or both.

How would you best answer his question? The first thing to do is to turn to the Scriptures. Yes, turn to John Owen (never a bad idea!) or to some other counselor dead or alive. But remember that we have not been left only to good human resources in this area. We need to be taught from “the mouth of God” if the principles we are learning to apply are to carry with them both the authority of God and the promise of God to make them work. Thus our Lord Jesus Himself believed (Matt. 4:4).

Several passages come to mind for study: Romans 8:13; Romans 13:8-14 (Augustine’s life-transforming text); 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1; Ephesians 4:17- 5:21; Colossians 3:1-17; 1 Peter 4:1-11; 1 John 2:28-3:11. Significantly, only two of these passages contain the verb mortify (“put to death”). Equally significantly, the context of each of these passages is broader than the single exhortation to put sin to death. As we shall see, this observation turns out to be of considerable importance.

A Good Starting Place
Colossians 3:1-17 is probably the best place for us to begin. The believers in Colossae were relatively young Christians. Theirs had been a radical experience of conversion to Christ from paganism. They had entered a gloriously new and liberating world of grace. In fact, perhaps-if we may read between the lines-they had felt for a while as if they had been delivered not only from sin’s penalty but even from its influence, so marvelous was their new freedom. But then, of course, sin reared its ugly head again. Having experienced the “already” of grace, they were discovering the painful “not yet” of ongoing sanctification. Sound familiar? Just at this point keen young Christians can be all too vulnerable to “quick fixes.”

But as in our evangelical subculture, quick fixes do not solve long-term problems. Unless the Colossians gained a firm grasp of gospel principles, they were at risk of falling prey to false teachers with promises of a higher spiritual life. That was what Paul feared (Col. 2:8, 16). Holiness-producing methods were in vogue (Col. 2:21-22). Moreover, they seemed to be deeply spiritual, just the thing for earnest young believers. But, in fact, says Paul, such things “are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23).

Not new methods, but only an understanding of how the gospel method works, can provide an adequate foundation and pattern for dealing with sin. This is the theme of Colossians 3:1-17.

Paul gives us the pattern and rhythm we need. Like Olympic long jumpers, we will not succeed unless we go back from the point of action to a point from which we can gain energy for the strenuous effort of dealing with sin.

How, then, does Paul teach us to do this?

NEW IDENTITY
First of all, Paul underlines how important it is for us to be familiar with our new identity in Christ (3:1-4).

How often, when we fail spiritually, we lament that we forgot who we really were.

Christians have a new identity. We are no longer “in Adam” but “in Christ”; no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit; no longer dominated by the old creation but living in the new (Rom. 5:12-21; 8:9; 2 Cor. 5:17).

Paul takes time to expound this:
• We have died with Christ (3:3; we have even been buried with Him, 2:12).
• We have been raised with Christ (3:1).
• Our true life is hidden with Christ in God (3:3).
• We are so inseparably united to Christ that we will appear in glory with Him (3:4).

Failure to deal with the presence of sin can often be traced back to spiritual amnesia-forgetting our new, true, real identity. As a believer, I am someone who has been delivered from the dominion of sin and who therefore is free and motivated to fight against the remnants of sin in my heart. You must know, rest in, think through, and act upon your new identity-you are in Christ.

SIN EXPOSED
Second, Paul goes on to expose the workings of sin in every area of our lives (Col. 3:5-11). If we are to deal with sin biblically, we must not make the mistake of thinking that we can limit our attack to only one area of failure. All sin must be dealt with. Thus, Paul ranges through the manifestation of sin in private life (v. 5), everyday public life (v. 8), and church life (vv. 9-11; “one another” and “here” indicate the church fellowship).

The challenge in mortification is akin to the challenge in dieting (itself a form of mortification!). Once we begin, we discover that there are all kinds of reasons we are overweight. We are really dealing with ourselves, not simply with calories. I am the problem, not the potato chips! Mortifying sin is a whole-of-life change.

PRACTICAL GUIDELINES
Third, Paul’s exposition provides us with practical guidance for mortifying sin.

Sometimes it seems as if Paul gives exhortations (“Put to death. – – ,” 3:5) without giving “practical” help to answer our “how-to” questions. Often today Christians go to Paul to tell them what to do and then to the local Christian bookstore to discover how to do it!

Why this bifurcation? Probably because we do not linger long enough over what Paul is saying. We do not sink our thinking deeply into the Scriptures. For, characteristically, whenever Paul issues an exhortation, he surrounds it with hints as to how we are to put it into practice.

This is certainly true here. Notice how this passage helps to answer our “how-to” questions.
1. Learn to admit sin for what it really is. Call a spade a spade-call it “fornication” (v. 5), not “I’m being tempted a little”; call it “uncleanness” (v. 5), not “I’m struggling with my thought life”; call it “covetousness, which is idolatry” (v. 5), not “I think I need to order my priorities a bit better.” This pattern runs right through the whole section. How powerfully it unmasks self-deception-and helps us to unmask sin lurking in the hidden corners of our hearts!
2. See sin for what it really is in God’s presence. “Because of these the wrath of God is coming” (3:6). The masters of the spiritual life spoke of dragging our lusts to the cross (kick and scream, though they will), to a wrath-bearing Christ. My sin leads not to lasting pleasure but to holy divine displeasure. See the true nature of your sin in the light of its punishment. Too easily we think that sin is less serious in Christians than it is in unbelievers: “It’s forgiven, isn’t it?” Not if we continue in it (1 John 3:9)! Take a heaven’s-eye view of sin and feel the shame of that in which you once walked (3:7; cf. Rom. 6:21).
3. Recognize the inconsistency of your sin. You have put off the “old man,” and have put on the “new man” (3:9-10). You are no longer your “old self.” The identity you had “in Adam” is gone. The “old man was crucified with Him [Christ], that the body of sin [probably meaning “life in the body dominated by sin”] might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:6). New people live new lives. Anything less than this is a contradiction of who we are “in Christ.”
4. Put sin to death (v. 5). It is as “simple” as that. Refuse it, starve it, and reject it. You cannot “mortify” sin without the pain of the kill. There is no other way!

But notice that Paul sets this in a very important broader context. The negative task of putting sin to death will not be accomplished in isolation from the positive call of the gospel to “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14).

Paul spells this out in Colossians 3:12-17. Sweeping the house clean simply leaves us open to a further invasion of sin. But when we understand the “glorious exchange” principle of the gospel of grace, then we begin to make some real advances in holiness. Sinful desires and habits not only must be rejected but exchanged for Christ-like graces (3:12) and actions (3:13). As we are clothed in Christ’s character and His graces are held together by love (v.14), not only in our private lives but also in the church fellowship (vv. 12-16), Christ’s name and glory will be manifested and exalted in and among us (3:17).

These are some of the things my friend and I talked about that memorable Sunday evening.”

Sinclair Ferguson. In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Kindle Locations 1826-1877). Kindle Edition.

For further reading:
Putting off involves fostering a new affection
The Expulsive Power of a New Affection by Thomas Chalmers

Ultimate Affections (1 John 2:15-17)

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15–17 ESV)

The lure to gain our identity, salvation and satisfaction in this world is real.  John tells us not to love this world or the things in it.  Just like Jesus saying that we can’t serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24), neither can we chase both God and the world.  A regenerate heart breaks (though it is slow and progressive) our love affair with the world.  Chase both the world and Jesus are mutually exclusive.  John is referring to a love for the world system, not for people in the world.  We must ask where our affections really lie?  How is this desire and affection for the world destroyed?  By seeing Jesus as far more desirable.  Matthew Henry says that the heart is narrow and that it cannot contain both loves.  Lord, Help us!

John gets specific by defining what some of these things are.  We all have God given wants and desires, but they become twisted and perverted when they terminate upon us and what we want instead of upon God.  Sin is a disordering of our affections.  The heart motivation question is what we must answer; the reprobate mind will justify all sorts of things to get what it wants.  Matthew Henry calls these “The three predominate inclinations of the depraved nature”

  • The desires of the flesh.  John Wesley says that these are largely external & outward pursuits.  Paul unpacks this in more detail in Galatians 5 when he compares & contrasts walking in the Spirit with the desires of the flesh.  “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”  (Galatians 5:19–21 ESV).  In our self righteousness, we want to feel better about ourselves because we aren’t pursuing the “varsity sins” of sexual immorality, orgies, drunkenness, etc.  But, who has not struggled with jealousy, envy and idolatry.  They are in the same list.  Are you indulging fleshly appetites or godly appetites?  The appetite that you indulge in is the appetite that will grow.
  • The desires of the eyes.  This is “of that internal sense whereby we relish whatever is grand, new, or beautiful” said John Wesley.  ““The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22–23 ESV).  What do you fantasize about?  What fuels your hopes & dreams; what is your internal imagination fixed upon?  Are they morally good things that have become “god” things?  We delight & distract ourselves with the toys, trinkets & treasures of this world as we crave these things.  This is covetousness.  For what we behold and set our gaze upon shapes & controls us.  What we say that we must have sets the course of our lives.
  • The pride of life.  Again John Wesley’s comments are helpful:  “All that pomp in clothes, houses, furniture, equipage, manner of living, which generally procure honour from the bulk of mankind, and so gratify pride and vanity.”  This is the desire to be “someone,” to be admired, to be esteemed, to hunger and thirst for the applause of man.  This is the person that must have friends, must have applause, must be significant in order to be OK.

The world, with all of these desires, is passing away.  To set our ultimate hope and affection on these transient things is as meaningless as chasing after the wind – it is vanity.  And yet the depraved parts of our minds still say that God alone is not enough.  Ah, but the man who walks in glad submission to God abides for ever.  Our joyful obedience to the commands of Christ are only possible when we are abiding in Christ.  We are in Christ now and will be in Christ forever.  God, help us to see you as the true Treasure that you really are!

The Fruit of Faith

It seems that most people in the south claim the name of Christ.  People have prayed prayers, walked aisles and stirred the waters of baptism.  But, how can we know if we really are His children?  According to Jesus, there will be many who say that they are His, but they really aren’t (Matthew 7:21-23).  How can we know that we are born again and are His children.  John addresses this in his first letter.  Here is a note from Crossway’s ESV Study Bible that I found very helpful!

“Being born again, having received the Spirit, abiding in God and God abiding in them, and knowing and loving God, Christians bear observable fruit:

  • Practice truth/righteousness (1 John 1:6; 2:29; 3:7, 10)
  • Walk in the light/as he walked (1 John 1:7; 2:6)
  • Confess sins and have forgiveness (1 John 1:9; 2:12)
  • Keep/obey his commandments/Word (1 John 2:3, 5; 3:22, 24; 5:2, 3)
  • Love one another/the brothers (1 John 2:10; 3:10, 11, 14, 16, 18, 23; 4:7, 11, 21)
  • Overcome the evil one/them/the world (1 John 2:13, 14; 4:4; 5:4)
  • Do the will of God/cannot keep on sinning (1 John 2:17; 3:9, 22)
  • Confess the Son/believe in Jesus (1 John 2:23; 3:23; 4:2, 15; 5:1, 4, 13)”

ESV Study Bible Introduction to 1 John

Remember

“So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”

and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:7–10 ESV)

Glory & honor is for those who are built upon the Cornerstone; it is not for those who reject the Cornerstone.  Jesus is a stumbling stone and a rock of offense to unbelievers & especially to the Jews:  “And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 8:14 ESV).  But, God is an obstacle that people cannot overcome!  They stumble because they disobey – as they were destined to do.  Unless God regenerates the heart, we all walk in disobedience and blindness.  Peter sounds like Paul here in Ephesians 1:11 (“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,”).  God works all things according to the counsel of His will.  The disobedience of unbelievers is due to their own disbelief & it is their responsibility.  This is not intended to foster fatalism, but to encourage the heart of true believers. Nothing catches God off guard; God has never said, “I didn’t see that one coming, what should I do now.”  So those who were persecuting Peter’s readers and pressing against them unjustly – those who were the source of their suffering will one day see ultimate justice.  One day, all sin will be justly paid for – either by the blood of Christ or by the sinner himself; justice will be served.

We don’t stumble about like blind men; we see the Cornerstone for who He is.  We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession.  This is not because we chose God, but because He chose us.  He called us out of darkness and into His glorious light.  He’s the One that calls; He’s the One that saves, not us!  And why does He redeem us?  He saves us to glorify Him (proclaiming the excellency of Him who has called us).  We were nobody’s and now we are somebody because we are His children.  We had no mercy, now we have profound mercy.  Praise God!  Hosea speaks this way regarding Israel (Hosea 1:6, 9, 10; 2:23), but the church is the fulfillment of these prophecies – we are now a people – according to His sovereign grace.

Regardless of the situation that is currently staring you in the face, regardless of the persecution and injustice that you are facing, there is cause for rejoicing.  Don’t ignore the difficulty and pain and pretend that it does not exist; Christianity is not about producing cold, emotionless Stoics!  But remember that this is not your true home – you are a sojourner, an exile.  Remember that you have an inheritance that is far greater than anything that the world has ever seen.  Remember that you are a beloved, chosen child.  Remember that this life is short and momentary.  Remember that God’s approval and affection for you has nothing to do with how faithful that you are, but rather how Faithful Jesus was.  Remember…

The need for new hearts

“And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today.”
(Deuteronomy 30:6, 8 ESV)

The Israelites problem was their hard, unbelieving hearts.  This is a major focus of Deuteronomy – God is not after mere dutiful obedience, He is after our joyful submission overflowing from grateful hearts.  The people did not have these kinds of hearts because God had not given them believing hearts.  But God, being rich in mercy, promises to give them hearts that obey – new hearts, hearts of flesh rather than hearts of stone.  Only with new hearts are we able to enjoy a covenant relationship with the Creator.

This involves God writing His laws on our hearts which produces relational intimacy (Jeremiah 31:33), and hearts of flesh that allow us to walk in true obedience (Ezekiel 36:26-27).  Those that are truly His are not based on external heritage & race – it is those who have circumcised hearts wrought by the Spirit (Romans 2:25-29 & Colossians 2:11).  Circumcision was an external sign of the covenant, but this was merely an outward picture of the inward reality of our need for circumcised hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16).  Circumcision symbolizes the removal of our stubbornness that prevents us from loving God rightly (which is the first & greatest commandment – see Deuteronomy 6:5).   This is the same as uncircumcised lips that do not speak well (Exodus 6:12) or uncircumcised ears that do not hear well (Jeremiah 6:10).   We are a stiff-necked, rebellious & stubborn people apart from the regenerating, faith depositing grace of God (here).

The book of Deuteronomy readily points out that the people need new hearts – hearts that obey, but this is not something that they can produce on their own – they need God to do it in them (Deuteronomy 30:6, 29:4).  Only those whose hearts have been made new are truly His – external rituals, signs & obedience are not enough; new hearts are required (Jeremiah 4:4 & 9:25-26 & Romans 2:25-29).  Faith springs forth from a regenerated heart.

If you are a Christian, it is not because you prayed a prayer or walked an aisle.  If you are Christian, it is because God graciously determined before He made anything (Ephesians 1:4-6) that He would make your dead heart alive (Ephesians 2:4-6, Colossians 2:3, 1 Peter 3:18).  It is because of His sovereign choosing, not because of you being spiritually attuned to God or seeking after Him.  We don’t seek God (Romans 3:11, 10:3), He seeks us (Luke 15:4-10, 19:10).  When we realize that our best efforts are but filthy rags before a perfectly holy Creator (Isaiah 64:6), we are moved to cry out for mercy.  When we realize that our faith is the result of God’s regenerating work in our hearts, then our hearts begin to overflow with gratitude & appreciation and we worship.  Be thankful today that He chose to regenerate your heart not because of anything that you did, but solely because of His goodness & grace.

God, give us believing hearts

“And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (Deuteronomy 29:2–4 ESV)

The Israelites had been witnesses of the loving care, miraculous power & sovereign rule of God and yet they did not have seeing eyes, hearing ears or understanding hearts.  They had wandered in the desert and their clothes & shoes had not worn out, God had defeated kings and given them their land (29:5-9).  Their obedience was designed to flow out of grateful hearts that remembered their God & His faithfulness to them.  It is easy for us to look down on the Israelites for their unbelief – after all they saw God do mighty miracles with their own eyes!  We ought to be careful with our self-righteousness, because unbelief is our problem as well (“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”” (John 6:29 ESV), see also 1 John 3:23).  Jesus alludes to unbelief by using the same analogy of having a hearing problem (Matthew 11:15; Mark 4:9, 12 & 23; Luke 8:8, 14:35).

Why didn’t the people obey?  Because the Lord had not given them believing hearts.  Unless the Lord opens our eyes, ears & hearts, we will remain blind, deaf & cold towards Him.  God is the one who opens hearts (Acts 16:14), and enables faith by the regenerating power of His Spirit; our only contribution is the sin that makes reconciliation necessary.  One of the major themes of Deuteronomy is Israel’s need for right hearts; it foreshadows the people’s inability to respond rightly to God (Deuteronomy 5:29, 8:17, 9:4).  It looks forward to a day when God would give His people new hearts (10:16, 30:6), which is a theme that is continued throughout the Old Testament (see Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27).

Our greatest need is not more impact, influence, morality or even obedience.  Our greatest need are hearts that truly believe the seemingly impossible promises of God.  The Central Promise of the bible is that a good, perfect, holy & all powerful God would make a way for His rebellious creatures to be reconciled into a relationship with Him.  The staggering implications of this should mark our entire lives.  The more that we understand that we are far more sinful than we first thought, but the gracious sacrifice of God in Christ covers our ongoing apathy & rebellion, the more that we walk in dependent humility.  A deeper, fuller understanding of the gospel shatters self-righteousness which is rooted in our own performance & morality.

Let us abandon our propensity of pretending to be godly, and let us actually pursue godliness.  Let us beg God to give us faith to believe, for we cannot produce this on our own.  God, take our far too small faith & multiply it, we do believe, but help us with our unbelief (Mark (9:21-24); help us to behold you for who you really are and cause us to become more like you (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Singular devotion, first affection

““If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you.” (Deuteronomy 13:6–11 ESV)

Loving God with our whole heart precedes the closest of human relationships (siblings, children, spouse or friend).  In this passage, if someone close tries to draw their affections & obedience after a false god then they were not to follow them, listen to them, pity them, spare them or conceal them.  This is radical in a culture where high value was placed upon family.  Singular devotion to God comes before family.

Radical measures are again called for when they are called to stone the tempter, and they are called to be the first one to cast the stone!  Imagine casting a stone against your sister, husband, child or best friend.  The standard of God’s holiness is HIGH.  Do we pursue holiness with this fervor today?  Do we aggressively eradicate the idols in our midst today?  

Singular devotion is of such importance that He instructs the people to completely destroy  one of their own cities if it is given over to following other gods (v 12-15).  Are we this violent with the competing affections in our hearts?  Probably not!  God longs to bless His people by showing them His mercy & grace (v 17-18).  But, the people must obey God – obedience starts with loving the Lord with all of our hearts and not having any other gods. 

They were never able to obey out of a heart of love and we persistently fail also.  Thankfully Someone did obey perfectly out of a heart of love.  He not only took our sin, but also gave us His perfect obedience so God continually showers us with mercy & grace.  Thank God for a substitute.  Be thankful that His grip on & delight in you is not contingent upon your grip on & delight in Him.  Your spiritual performance does not direct His love, approval & affection for you; Jesus imputed that to you so you can stop striving!