I Am Not My Own

One of the greatest comforts in life is knowing that we are owned. As disciples of Christ, we were the Father’s and the Father gave us to the Son. He did it in such a way that both Father and Son possess us. Jesus described this reality in John 17 as He narrowed His prayer list. He prayed for His own.

The Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563, begins with this encouragement, affectionately referred to as “Heidelberg One.”

Question: What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yeah, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth to live unto Him.

I think this comfort has great theocentric, Trinitarian, and Calvinistic clarity. The comfort is objective and durable. At the same time, I also feel its warmth. The comfort is deeply personal. We are not our own; He bought us with a blood-expense. We belong to Him; He wills and works in us to live unto Him. That is truth not only worth believing, it is the only truth that leads to life.

We are in for a great death of futility and frustration if we try to ignore or forget or deny God’s ownership. God intends for us to see His ownership as a blessing, as life, rather than a burden.

Have we been submitting to His ownership? Have we been comforted by His ownership?

Racing Back for More

We’ll be studying John 17 as a church for a while on Sundays and taking our exhortation to confession cues from Jesus’ prayer. What He wants for us should be valued and pursued by us. If we’re not desiring in the same direction that He is supplicating, we have something to examine, and possibly to confess. Last week we focused on His prayer for our sanctification. This week let us consider that He prays for His own glory.

It may seem out of place to point out our need to glorify Him when we have gathered together to glorify Him. The dentist doesn’t need to give me grief about teeth care, “I’m here, aren’t I?” And yet religious people don’t always care correctly. Take, for example, the Jews who killed Jesus to honor God.

Jesus prays that the Father would glorify Him (John 17:1, 5). Do we want the Father to glorify His Son? And how does the Father do that? What part do we have, if any?

The Father lifts up the honor of His Son by making Him known. “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Light reveals, knowledge clarifies and distinguishes, the face makes it personal. The Father removes the veil that keeps men from seeing “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (verse 4).

Knowing Christ, as we esteem His features and enjoy His fellowship, brings Him glory. So Peter commanded, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). How about us? Are we resting in our collection of knowledge relics or are we racing back to learn of Him in the Bible, more by day by week by year? Are we gathering to say things about Him or are we gathering to see Him, know Him, and give Him the sort of glory He asks the Father for?

Prayer for Sanctification

Last Sunday we entered a study of John 17. The entire chapter is one prayer by Jesus for His disciples the night before His crucifixion. We learn, or at least we have confirmed for us, what sorts of things the Son desires for us as we hear Him ask the Father. He makes a variety of supplications and we will take a few weeks in our confession time to examine if we are wanting what the Son wants.

First let us consider that Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in your truth: your word is truth” (17:17). Two verses later He says, “For their sake I consecrate myself that they also may be sanctified in truth” (verse 19).

We define (or argue about) sanctification better than we desire it. Christ wants us to be sanctified, to be set apart from the world in our desires and loves, but yet not removed out of the world. Sanctification is not an escape, it is a conscious battle to love God and to love our neighbors who don’t deserve it. The moral behavior part of being made more holy grows out of better and stronger love for the right things.

Jesus prays for our sanctification as our priest, as the one who goes to the Father on our behalf. Not only that, He went to the cross on our behalf. He “consecrated” Himself, He dedicated His life and death for the sake of our purification from sin. He cleanses the inside of the cup first.

Christian, are you pursuing purity in your heart for the sake of your pure, unmixed, uncontaminated loves? Are you loving the same direction that Jesus is praying? Are you living in a way that matches the purpose of Christ dying?

Loathsome Liturgy

Those of us who know so much, we who have been given so many biblical vistas of God’s glory, will naturally struggle to match our hearts with His majesty. Our feet are too small for the worship shoes we have to fill. There is a very real danger to give up, not entirely, but in certain religious ways. Rather than fight against sin and fight for fuller affections, we settle for worship motions.

We’re not the first or only people to ever be in that dangerous spot. Psalm 50 helps us even though it wasn’t written to us. It was for Israel, written by Asaph for Israel to sing. The choir were the “faithful ones” (verse 5), or “godly ones” (NAS), “saints” (NKJV), “consecrated ones” (NIV). The Hebrew word is hesedi, a derivative of hesed which we repeatedly heard last week: “for his hesed endures forever.” This psalm is addressed to recipients of His hesed, His-mercy-have-gotten ones.

But Psalm 50 is not a song of consolation. It is song a judgment because God is angry. “The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth” (verse 1). “God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest” (verse 3). He comes to “rebuke” (verse 8), with “rebuke” mentioned again in verse 21 as He “lays [the] charge” before them. God the LORD, the mighty, devouring, righteous judge has come into the universal courtroom to testify against His people. Why?

The indictment can be found in verses 8-21. God did not charge them with failure to offer sacrifices. “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burn offerings are continually before me” (verse 8). Nor did He charge them with ignorance of His statutes. His question in verse 16, “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?” assumed that they were singing or speaking His law. The people knew who He was. They knew what He revealed. They knew what He required in worship. They knew what He had given them.

Yet two things made their liturgy loathsome to God. They were not depending on God nor were they obeying Him. God hated their liturgy because their hearts weren’t in it. The gestures of their worship were false signals.

Wrong-hearted liturgy is worse than worth-less, it is worth His wrath. The more we have to live up to the more tempting it is to make believe. As we get more excited about growing in our understanding and practice of worship, some may appear to be excited who are not actually more grateful and dependent on Him. That doesn’t mean we need to close up shop, stop learning new songs and new parts, but it does mean that we must always remember that God is looking at our hearts.

Say the Same Thing

Usually we use the word “confess” when we speak about admitting our sin. John the Baptist called men to confess their sins (Matthew 3:6). The apostle John wrote that if we confess our sins then Christ forgives us (1 John 1:9). You have probably heard before that the Greek word behind our English translation is ὁμολογέω, a saying (logeo) of the same thing (homo). William Tyndale translated it as “acknowledge” rather than “confess” because the Roman Catholic church turned confession into a sacrament. But we Protestants understand that when we confess we don’t tell our sins to a priest. Instead, we same the same thing as God about the nature of our sin, namely, that sin is sin and we’ve done it.

In the New Testament the word “confess” also has a different subject than sin. For example, John the Baptist “confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ'” (John 1:22). The apostle John described the fearful parents of the man born blind because the “Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be the Christ he was to be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22).

Our salvation depends on our confession of faith: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Some day, “every tongue (will) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11).

This type of confession has a different subject but the same action. We say the same thing as God about whatever He says, including the nature of His Son. As we mature in Christ, we will be more specific in our confession about our sin and more specific about our confession of the Savior. Peter commanded it: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

How is your confession? Are you more frequent, more specific, and more eager for both types? If not, now is as good a time as any to confess.

Comparing Kills

Comparing kills. One sure way to kill joy and stir up envy, jealousy, and bitterness is to compare yourself with another, your lot with your neighbors’. God did not make us equal in all ways, nor does He give gifts to His people to the same degree. When we look over the fence, compare piles, and complain that ours is smaller or stinkier, our first mistake is the pride that expects more.

There is, however, another kind of comparing that kills our pride. God commands us to look at this and respond in humility. In Colossians 3:13 Paul writes about how the chosen ones, the holy and beloved of God, should treat one another. We are to put on compassion, kindness, and other Christlike clothes. Then we are to be “bearing with one another, and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other.” The sentence isn’t finished yet, but this command goes far enough. It goes so far, actually, that there must be qualifications coming.

We could call the next phrase a qualification, but the qualification removes limits more than it confines. The apostle makes an inspired comparison: “forgiving each other as (“just as” NAS) the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” “As” (καθὼς) is the killer comparative conjunction. Jesus provides more than an example of forgiveness, He sets the standard. If He forgives, we must forgive.

Jesus told a parable in Matthew 18 to the same effect. Peter asked a numerical question and Jesus gave a qualitative answer. Peter asked how many times he needed to forgive and Jesus described a man who started to choke a man who owed him 100 denarii (about three months worth of pay) when he had just been forgiven 10,000 talents (about 200,000 years worth of pay). Mercy should be shown just as mercy was received.

This is one reason why our corporate confession of sin is so important to our corporate life. If we are not struck by the contrast between His holiness and our sinfulness, then we will not be ready to treat one another with mercy and forgiveness by comparison. Such behavior should kill the weeds of pride, self-righteousness, and unrealistic expectations and grow the peaceful fruit of unity in the soil of humility.

Cracks in the Sidewalk

Sin separates. Sin divides what should be united. We know that sin isolates men from the holy God. Sin drives a wedge between friends. The good news declares that Christ reconciles. He unites all things together.

These are the grand canyons of separation, but there are also more subtle splits that sin cracks in the sidewalk. Sin makes enemies out of friends. It also fences off arguments from each other that should be back to back fighting as partners.

For example, sin severs a man’s confession from his conduct. It breaks up what should be joined together. Sin even defends itself by justifying the superiority of one or the other. All works based religions count behavior more important than belief (though that itself is a belief). Many professing believers of the gospel act as if behavior doesn’t matter. But how do we know what we believe? James wrote, “Show me your faith apart from your works (you can’t), and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18, ESV).

For a more specific example, when we confess our sin as a church, we invite believers to kneel. The symbol/ritual of kneeling can’t make anyone humble by itself. It actually can be worse than a worthless formality, it can make someone guilty of hypocrisy. Others are truly humble in heart and yet physically incapable of kneeling. So why bother? What good does that do?

Idolators kneel. Hypocrites kneel. Ignorant men kneel. And humble men kneel. The external ritual can be separated from the truth in at least four ways: 1) by kneeling to the wrong god, 2) by kneeling to show off, 3) by kneeling for who knows why, and 4) by not kneeling at all. But just because there are many ways to divide the symbol from the substance doesn’t mean every emblem is empty.

We are continuing to ask God to make us like Christ, to unite us inside and out. We are continuing to learn what heart pleases God and the appropriate liturgy that matches the heart. We are continuing to confess our sins that separate what should be united.

Before It Gets Worse

Last week marked the passing of 41 years since Roe v. Wade when the Supreme Court of the United States legalized the murder of children in womb. We usually reserve the term anniversary for events worth remembering and celebrating. Wednesday was an anniversary that requires remembering and mourning almost 55 million deaths.

Solomon wrote:

If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength is small.
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?
(Proverbs 24:10–12, ESV)

His urging, commanding, and warning applies to more than abortion but not less. We bear national guilt and we will not be able to tell God, “We didn’t know what was happening.”

If God continues to give us over to our lusts we will not be satisfied killing kids to honor “choice.” We will kill kids and call it compassion. This is already happening in Belgium. The Upper House approved a “bill [that] allows minors to ask for euthanasia on the grounds that their illness is terminal, that they are in great pain and that there is no treatment to alleviate their distress.” In his article, Shouldn’t They Know Better, John Knight wrote, “There are no age restrictions. Allegedly, the child has to be considered competent to make a decision about killing himself or herself, in addition to the doctors and child’s parents agreeing to it.”

How could a people–government officials, medical professionals, families themselves–get to the point of calling this kind of killing “compassionate”? A culture gets there by killing for convenience. The step before that is disregard or mistreatment of the vulnerable and weak, like our own kids. May God grant grace to turn the hearts of fathers to their children. May He grant sweeping repentance in our own country before it gets worse.

Near the Top of the Lists

Every Lord’s day morning we set aside specific time in our service to confess our sins. I’m no statistician nor do I listen to the confessions, so I have no data from which to make many conclusions. But what sin would you suppose needs to be confessed by the most people any given Sunday? In other words, what sin is most popular? What sin would you suppose needs to be confessed by any given person most frequently? In other words, what sin is most repeated? And what sin would you suppose needs to be confessed any given Sunday by any given person that is the worst? In other words, what sin does the most damage?

Again, I have no hard facts to support a definitive answer to those questions. However, I suspect that bitterness is a sin that nears the top of all three lists. The author of Hebrews exhorted his readers to “see to it…that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many are defiled” (Hebrews 12:15).

Bitterness corrodes. Bitterness comes from stinging hurts–real or imagined, biting slights–purposeful or perceived, and burning jealously–how unfair for him to get what everyone knows you deserve. Bitterness grows roots in the soil of self-absorption fertilized by the empathy of others. Bitterness is hard to pull up once planted.

Bitterness “springs up and causes trouble.” Misery loves company even if just to make the company miserable. Bitterness lost any sense of proportion and, if the root system has spread, neither smiles nor logic will stem the festering.

By bitterness “many are defiled.” Either that means that many persons are bitterly defiled or many others are defiled by one person’s bitterness. Even though bitterness is often unmovable, it really branches out. It is easy to find reasons to be bitter. Many do, many times. See to it that you nip it in the bud. Confess and repent from any seed no matter how small.

Saved from Righteousness

We have many things to confess and God forgives us from them all in Christ. We confess wandering, when we neglect His Word and fail to follow His directions. We confess wickedness, when we know His commands and consciously disobey. We also confess our good works, when we try to please Him with self-produced righteousness.

The writer of Hebrews describes the blood of Christ that secured eternal redemption. Under the old sacrificial system, God used the blood of goats and bulls as part of the purification process. The greater sacrifice was made by Christ. “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience.” But note what soiled our conscience. It wasn’t lies and hatred and envy and thievery and bitterness and gossip. The blood of Christ will “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Dead works are good works done by dead men.

Because of our sin, we need to be saved from our righteousness. Our best, most sacrificial, highest cost acts blacken our consciences apart from Christ. Every deed dead men do is dead. They cannot please God. In fact, they demand God’s judgment. Jesus died for our good works apart from Him, not just our evil ones. Even as believers, we boast in someone else’s righteousness applied to our account and active in our behavior.

Augustus Toplady summarizes it well in his hymn, “Rock of Ages.”

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.