“The take of modern theologians on sin (no names and no pack drill) is of great concern to me. It seems that gradually, bit by bit, more and more the bar is being lifted to allow more and more sin to pass untreated. The modern tendency it seems is for many of these men not just to be theologians, teaching that is from pulpit or Seminary desk. No, now they have to have their own worldwide ministries with conferences, other renowned preachers on board, events, blogs, books, and an ever-increasing popularity. The number of ever so gifted ‘popular’ expositors I have seen fall in my time is astonishing. Is it this popularity that lies at the root of the problem? For it seems that when once you have it you must need bit by bit, almost imperceptibly to some, broaden the path in order to keep it. And so when it becomes very unpopular to inveigh against a particular sin, it must become very hard to swim against the tide and clearly declare that sin to be what it is, sin. My desire is not to put the knife into individual theologians or preachers or ministries, (many who have been a great help to me personally), God will deal with them. It’s the theological issues and the outworkings of them in the lives of many ordinary people, Christian and non-Christian alike. When the issue of sin is fudged and people are fed a false assurance their eternal souls are being put in danger. I know of no better remedy than for us to get back to the teaching of the old Puritans, especially when it comes to the doctrine of sin. Yes, they make for difficult reading but so, so richly rewarding. For example, John Owen’s “Sin & Temptation” would blow the modern teaching on sin out of the water, but it is so very needful for this superficial age. The very motion, the inclination to sin is sin and is to be mortified, killed, or it will kill you. Do you want to know how to preach the gospel? Go back to those Puritans, they will teach you. Friends, sin is sin, it is deadly, get rid of it, all of it before it gets rid of you.”
“Fighting the Good Fight”
The Sword of the Spirit – (Ephesians Chapter 6 Verses 10-20)
This is the one singular offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit (v17b). The helmet and the sword are distinctive, ‘of’ possessive, the Spirit’s sword. And therefore invincible. The Christian’s warfare has to do with the mind, thinking. But with a Bible in hand, “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2). This is the means that the Holy Spirit uses and particularly the word of God preached. The deadly scythe to cut down the enemies of God and his people, the undiluted word of God. It is powerful and revealing, “for I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17). For Christ is in it, it produces faith that leads to salvation, “so then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). By it, we taste of the heavenly world (Hebrews 6:5). It is the Christians weapon before which the demons flee (v12). The truth is our belt (v14). The gospel is our righteousness (vv14b). Peace tranquilises the mind (v15). The shield protects us from the father of lies (v16). The sword of the Spirit is the word of God and is our principle means of grace. What does grace mean? It is an attribute of God, it is his attitude of favour towards undeserving sinners. Grace is the power by which the sinner is saved, delivered from the bondage of sin and corruption. It is by grace we are regenerated, sanctified and made pleasing to God. Grace is a spiritual blessing and virtue bestowed, by God. And the means by which it is bestowed? The preaching of God’s word.
Then there are what we would call the wider means. That of good Christian reading, of Scriptures too of course, which brings us to a conscious faith. There is the godly conversation with other saints, fellowship in other words. Fellowship is so misunderstood these days. It is not conversing about the week’s work, our favourite sports team or activities. It is conversing with and sharing the things of God with other believers. This is a means of edification, strengthening our faith. Some would include prayer, one could wider still and include all things, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). The temptations we face, the lures of the world, the fight with the flesh, all our sufferings and afflictions. To be sure God uses all these for our growth in grace. “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:3-5). In Reformed theology, however, we see the preaching of God’s word as being the main means, the principle means of grace. It is by this means we are called of God to be Christians. It is by this means we receive the knowledge of Christ. And this without the sacraments, for they are added to the word, they are signs and seals of the promise of God. But it is the word that is primary that explains the sacraments. It is the word that is indispensable, we can live without the sacraments, but not the word. “But he answered and said, It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). It is the word that works faith, sustains our spiritual life, explains the sacraments. Without the word of God, the sword of the Spirit the sacraments would be meaningless.
“Exposing the Exodus”
The Confirmed Redemption – (Chapter 13 Verses 1-22)
The regulations and rituals may seem strange to us but for Israel, they confirmed the start of salvation’s journey, they were important. They were constant reminders of God’s grace, power, and deliverance from Egypt’s bondage. The costly dedication of the firstborn would remind them that they were God’s by sovereign right. They, like we ourselves today, needed constant reminders of God’s grace. We are so wont to forget. The ass was to be destroyed if not redeemed (v13). Israel would have faced the same fate if they had not been redeemed by the slain lamb’s blood. The ass was an unclean animal, stupid, intractable. So you have two pictures there. The latter the donkey’s a picture of mankind in sin, unclean, stupid, intractable, full of his own pride and conceit (Job 11:12). And fit only for destruction, eternal destruction. If it were not for the Lamb’s blood, the real one, the one to whom the Passover lamb pointed, Jesus, God’s lamb (John 1:29). If it were not for God’s sovereign, free grace in Jesus we’d be fit only for our necks to be broken (v13). The regulations and rituals pointed to and confirmed that the redemption price had been paid. They were no longer in slavery, they had been bought back, delivered by a strong, a mighty hand (v14). The rituals would serve as a reminder of the praise and thanks that they owed to God for their deliverance. To praise him for his matchless grace and redemption, that their deliverance was all due to God and nothing of themselves. We too are reminded of the same in the Lord’s ordinances today. It is needful lest we slip into a self-righteous and Pharisaical mindset. This is ever a danger. Remember Jesus’s illustration? Two men, two attitudes. The Pharisee, he wasn’t like other men, he didn’t do the dirty, he wasn’t in the place of a sinner in need of a Saviour. The other, undone, guilty, corrupt before God. Beloved, however far on the redemptions road we are, whether we have just left Egypt or it was long ago, we are still undone, guilty, corrupt sinners before God. In need constantly of his grace. All thought and Pharisaical pretence of merit must be abandoned. Our only merit before God are the merits of the Son of God. His blood and his righteousness. And that’s how it will be through all eternity.
They would serve as a confirmation of their freedom also, in spite of Pharaoh’s efforts to keep them in bondage (v15-16). Their redemption had become a reality, they had entered into a new found freedom from the fears of the past. Theirs to enjoy in the assurance of faith, in Christ (1John 4:18). But there was and is still a danger in the regulations and the rituals, the frontlets too (v16). The latter became a badge of spiritual pride and superiority amongst the Pharisees later on. Throughout the Old Testament history, Israel falsely comforted themselves with these externals. If they had them all was well with them and God, or so they thought. As long as they had the temple, the prophets, the law, the sacrifices, the rituals, the frontlets we’re okay. But they were not. God was sick and tired of their religious practices (Isaiah 1). We can get into the same mindset today. I read my Bible (and of course the superior version), I go to church, I attend the prayer meeting. All good and proper things in themselves. But they are all external. The question is how is it with your heart. Is it still hot with love for God and for your neighbour? Do the means of grace still have and effect upon your heart? And do our hearts move us to serve God in whatever way he has called to us, out of heart love for God? Do we have a concern for the lost? Are we engaged either physically or prayerfully as we are able to reach out to lost souls for Christ? If our hearts are not right all the externals mean nothing at all. God still wants your heart.
“Fighting the Good Fight”
The Devil’s Designs – (Ephesians Chapter 6 Verses 10-20)
With the shield of faith, you are equipped to deal with, to quench each and every flaming dart the devil throws at you. Not just some, all of them. You do well to remember also that in the noise and heat of the battle, no matter how fierce it becomes you are never out of the sight of the commander in Chief. And he is not just watching you but praying for you unceasingly (Luke 22:31-32). He is dynamically present with you at all times. To utilise the shield of faith is to believe that with all your heart. One of the attacks of the enemy is to get you to not believe that. To believe because he is attacking you that God has left you, doesn’t care. But this is not true, even if you do not feel it. It is the objective truth of God’s written word, he had it written in case you would forget. “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). And, “If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Romans 8:31-34). The devilish insinuation that God is not with you is a fierce lie from the very pit of hell. And, especially so when you are in trouble of your own making when you have sinned, blundered, failed in some way. He will more than suggest that God has now cast you off. No, this is where your shield comes in, must be employed. In faith you affirm, shout it out from the rooftops if needs be, God is good! God is loving! God is caring! God is compassionate! And his call is always that you turn to him in faith and find refuge in him from the storm whatever the cause of it may be.
The thing we so often forget that God is ever seeking us. Back in the garden of Eden, it was God who went seeking our parents. They were frightened, terrified, in hiding, but he still wanted them and went in search of them in love. So tell me who is it that makes you feel rejected, useless, finished, or casts us into depression? Yes, the devil, the enemy of your soul. The one who hates your Saviour and hates you because you love him. Some of his flaming darts are slow-burners they’re not all fierce blazers. The devil’s design is to cause long-term dis-ease. But however long, in faith, we pray, we wait on the Lord, he will come, he will deliver. This dis-ease, is designed to cause dis-peace. You’ve lost the sense of peace, but remember losing the sense of something and losing the thing itself is two different things. But you flay yourself in rebuke, in shame, in agony. But this is not from God, this is not how he deals with his children. If something is wrong he may tell us firmly, but he show us, to correct us, “and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you” (Philippians 3:15). He will by his grace enable you to put it right. Be at peace child of God, for his thoughts towards you are thoughts of peace, “for I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11). But Satan doesn’t like peace, he is the disturber of such and that’s why you and I need the shield of faith. This is why we need to go on as we started, in faith, believing. The enemy would have you to believe he is strong, he is not. But God is, and he is our strength and our lives are hidden in him, they are untouchable (Colossians 3:3). When we begin to grasp what God has provided for us this provision of his complete armour we begin to understand what king David meant when he spoke of God providing a table of refreshment in the presence of his enemies. He has so provided for us also.
“Exposing the Exodus”
Release and Redemption – (Chapter 13 Verses 1-22)
For now, the narrative is suspended and consequences and responsibilities that come as a result of their redemption. God acts in grace and then establishes his rightful claims up our beings. This is the doctrine of redemption. The exodus clearly teaches us the theology of salvation. And brings to us today the appreciation we ought to both feel and express as a result of our own salvation. The consecrating of the firstborn was already a practice amongst the patriarchs. But it is redemption that gives it a historical motivation, a rationale for it. The firstborn is to set apart, for the Lord. We are in total a consecrated people, simply because we have been liberated by the Lord (12:51). And now Israel begin their momentous journey towards the promised land. Why the consecration of the firstborn? For the firstborn whether man or beast is alive but only as a result of the Passover lamb slain in their places. They are debtors (v1-3), as we today are to grace. God has ordained our freedom, he has appointed and provided us with a substitute, the One the Passover pointed to, Jesus. Therefore we are reminded that we are not our own (1Corinthians 6:19). The firstborn is a symbol of all Isreal, the spiritual, the Israel of God. We all of us owe our existence to God, our identity to God. And so we are indebted to live for God, to please him in all of our lives. “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy” (1Peter 2:9-10). When we survey the cross as the hymn writer suggests we are reminded that once we were enslaved to sin. We were captives, under oppression and bondage but just like as with Israel of old, God acted, he delivered us, set us free. So we are his, all we are and have is his.
Now a liberated Israel is bound for glory (v4-5), the land of promise. The journey has begun. But they are not left to their devices or to find their own way there. They are to be accompanied each step of the way. But it is a beginning, it is not the end. And we too constantly need to be reminded of this. We have begun and God has promised to finish the job (Philippians 1:6). Alas, it so easy to settle down where we are, in the wilderness, the world. To get anchored to it, fall in love with it, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1John 2:15-17). We are pilgrims just passing through, this is not our home (Hebrews 12:1-2). Our focus ought to be on eternal things, not the things of this world, to stand upon the promise of God (v5), to bring us to the journey’s end. We make plain where we are at by the way we live, the things we value most, the spiritual exercises we engage in, or don’t. There is always the danger of hypocrisy (v6-10). Our children can smell hypocrisy ten miles away, they know what motivates us, our lives (v8). What is the driving force in your life today, not just the word of God in your mouth (v9), but burning in your heart and motivating you in appreciation for redeeming grace, to live for God first. The wearing of the word of God on the Pharisees became more and more enlarged in order to draw attention to their spirituality. Instead of God’s grace and goodness adorning and beautifying their hearts and lives for all to see.