to cut off the sinner from all hope in himself

December 21, 2007 at 8:15 am (Brokenness, Insufficiency of Man, Sovereignty of God)

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One of the most prevalent motifs that runs through the whole Bible is its constant reminder of the insufficiency of man. While this may seem all too obvious, we need constant reminding of this critical truth in our everyday lives. This goes for the non-Christian, because he has no hope apart from Christ’s mercy, and for the Christian who has no hope, save in Christ and Christ alone. This is not only clear in those parts of the Scripture which are propositional but also are quite pervasive in the gospel narratives. If you look closely at many of the stories associated with Christ’s earthly ministry, it becomes clear that deliverance occurred in individuals only when the they were so desperate that they came to an end of themselves and were reduced to begging, if you will. Grace works salvation in us, not as we are, but first humbles our pride revealing our natural brokenness, spiritual bankruptcy and impotence, which none of us naturally appear ready to admit. For our true condition before God is that we cannot even lift a finger toward our salvation and can bring nothing to God except that which He first gives us.
In the gospels, the first reaction to an encounter with Jesus was often a holy fear or dread when confronted with His capacity to provide that which they were insufficient to provide for themselves. When Peter was fishing all night and then in the morning commanded by our Lord to cast the net to the other side of the boat to cath fish, Peter immediately took in such a load of fish that the boat began to sink. Peter’s reaction was holy fear and a desire to get away for the Lord for in it He saw his own sinfulness.

In each of the stories on Mark 4:35-5:43 we see similar happenings:

In desperation, after the disciples woke Jesus from sleep on the turbulent sea, Jesus calmed the waves, “And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41) Their fear of Jesus was now greater than had been their fear of the storm.

After Jesus cast the demons into the herd of swine, those who saw it ran off to report it and when others….”came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid.(Mark 5:15)

There was also a woman who was bleeding for 12 years that touched Jesus garment. After being healed “…the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.” (Mark 5:33)

Then lastly the crowd was astounded after Jesus raised the twelve year old dead girl to life. (Mark 5:42)

Take note, in each story, as in many more stories in the gospel narratives, people have come to Jesus to help solve some problem after all possible human means have been exhausted, many times after years of trying. The result was often people falling at Jesus’ feet. But the proud who failed to see their own desperate condition, had no such reaction. Jesus said, “If you were blind you would not be guilty of sin, but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” We are not quick to learn this lesson, i.e. that we are a dependent people and have nothing in ourselves and can do nothing apart from Jesus. That which we can do, we can only thank Him for. God reaches us when we find ourselves in desperation because we so often wrongly trust in our own boasted self-sufficiency. But Jesus calls us to pray always .. because prayer is a posture of looking away from ourselves for help to the only One who can provide it. The Bible uses these stories, most importantly, to exhibit our own helplessness, a situation which we human beings cannot resolve.

It seems that Jesus brings about events in our lives that will reveal our insufficiency so that we might find Him. For as long as we pridefully think all we can help ourselves (even a little), He remains hidden. But take note, it is by the grace of God we are what we are, which means that even the very humility needed to recognize the truth and excellency of Jesus does not come naturally. It is a gift of grace. When Peter acknowledged Jesus was the Son of the living God, Jesus quickly quenched any pride that might rise up in Peter by reminding him that even his very understanding of this was not revealed by flesh and blood but by His Father in heaven. This strips man of all possible hope in himself, even to understand or lift a finger toward God. Christ is awakened, as it were, when he hears us pray, for then we no longer are looking to our own resources nor think we have the ability in ourselves.

The common thread through these stories, and many like them in Scripture, is a revelation of man’s utter insufficiency. This is really the last thing the natural man wishes to hear so he suppresses this truth, but Jesus keeps reminding us that true faith can only be a humble faith. That is, a disposition of a beggar reduced to desperation which abases oneself and exalts God alone. No one can be a true believer unless they truly believe they justly deserve the wrath of God save in Christ’s mercy alone, having no confidence in the flesh. The will of the true Christian is bowed and despairs of all hope in himself – they can only find solace, peace and hope in Christ. We see the effects of grace working in a person when they come to the end of themselves and their own resources. Only as we become sensible of our own inadequacy and helplessness and our pride is mortified does it become apparent that Christ has done a work of grace us. For even the very humility to believe does not come by nature, but by grace. There is nothing more essential to true religion. The only door we can enter heaven is extremely low, such that we must crawl on our hands and knees to enter. True faith trusts God’s righteousness and excellence, not our own.

This is most clearly revealed in Jesus parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, where the Pharisee boasts of his obedience and the tax collector simply looks to the ground, beats his chest and asks for mercy on the sinner. This is our true position before God.

Psalm 34:18
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 138:6
For though the LORD is high, he regards the lowly,
but the haughty he knows from afar.

Isaiah 57:15
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:”I dwell in the high and holy place,and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,to revive the spirit of the lowly,and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Isaiah 66:2
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.

Matt 5:3
3″Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

This humility is the first essential thing pertaining to the true faith – to renounce all natural self-exaltation, and glory only in Christ.

How does this affect our preaching to unbelievers. In every way. Ichabod S. Spencer once said, “To cut off the sinner from all reliance upon himself, his merits and his powers; and throw him, naked and helpless, into the hands of the Holy Spirit to lead him to Christ in faith; should be the one great aim of the ministry.”

If a preacher (or a doctrine) nourishes a good opinion of man, he is spawning a dangerous error, for all men naturally are a god to themselves. They need little further encouragment to think even more highly of themselves. Consider this: if the carpenter working on your house tells you that your entire house is rotten and eaten through with termites, and thus must be torn down and a entirely new house buit in its place, but a second carpenter tells you that’s its ok, you don’t need to worry, that the house will probably stand and only needs a little reinforcement at minimal cost … most people would be naturally willing to listen to the later. The first carpenter’s advice is too drastic, you think, but you know the first one is right. Likewise, Christ comes to us and, in love, informs us that our natural state is rotten and and the old frame of the house must come down so that a new one can be built in its place. its devastating news. But the synergist comes in with his corrupt doctrine which enflames the pride of man by telling him that he is not as far gone as the other asserts. God merely need superadd grace to what you already have. (Gurnall) No, says Christ, “unless a seed falls to the ground and die, it remains a single seed” … and “he that would save his life must lose it.”

Yes we must pay our debts in full, but thanks be to God, Christ is our paymaster. Send your conscience and Satan to Christ and let them make a charge against Him, who is now sitting at God’s right hand incerceeding for you, to clear all your accounts.


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December 18, 2007 at 10:45 pm (Brokenness)

In talking with a friend at the current moment about one of the huge points of brokenness in my life, he brought up that I am holding this thing/person as an idol. This thought had never occurred to me before, but it is something that makes total sense when I think about it. Dr. Richard Kaufmann, movement leader at Harbor Presbyterian Church led the session Preparing & Preaching a Gospel Centered Message at the Acts 29 Regional Conference. In this session, he said that there are four idols that drive most people. These are power, control, approval, and comfort.

Which one do you seek? Oh I know which one I seek. If these things can be idols, then the person I was looking to to provide this idol is also one. Can I give up this idol of desperately wanting a person to like me, to want me to be a part of their life? What about, would I give up having a person like me in order to just be free from the emotional bondage that is associated with it? I’m scared to let it go, scared that upon letting it go, it will not exist anymore…that we have already said our last goodbye.

The danger with these idols is that idols always disappoint in so many ways, and have caused extreme hurt. They are weak: They can’t deliver when you succeed; they can only raise the bar. They can’t forgive you when you fail; they can only lower the boom.
They are harmful: They hurt you spiritually, emotionally and physically. They hurt others by undermining your ability to love.
They are Grievous: Most importantly, by going after these idols/other lovers you are saying to God: “Jesus is not enough. I also need _________ in order to be happy.

This is where we need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily. Preaching the gospel to others is easy, saying we live our lives so others can see the gospel through us, yeah, i can do that..but i forget the gospel in my own life. I let the idols of this world, the things I am allowing to try to fulfill me to take control, and when they hurt instead of fulfill, i am lost.

John writes in 1 John 5:20-21:   And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

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Sunny, or not so sunny days

December 18, 2007 at 10:23 pm (Brokenness)

John Piper says that no one ever said that they learned their deepest lessons of life, or had their sweetest encounters with God, on the sunny days.”  I look to that statement and just wonder where God is going with these cloudy days.  I want to write something deep and theological right now, but brokenness is overwhelming me.

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living for something bigger than me

December 16, 2007 at 5:42 am (Search for Significance)

Life…when life is good, not many questions arise. Security, peace and comfort are easily felt. But when life gets a little difficult, maybe not necessarily bad, but when things are just different than expected, its hard to remember the security, peace and comfort that were once felt so easily. Books such as 2 Kings are filled of stories of ups and downs in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judea. Kingdoms who had kings who obeyed the Lord, and ones who disobeyed the Lord. Over and over the prevelant theme is that the Lord’s plan will sustain. There were kings who sought after the Lord with all their hearts, and there were kings who worshiped other gods, sacrificed children and practiced sorcery. The Lord’s plan was carried out in the midst of the turmoil of His land, His people. 1 Chronicles goes on to finish the story, on how even though God’s plan led His disobedient children into captivity, He is still following His unconditional covenant and has not left them.

So I think of my life today, if the grace and mercy of God is ever sustaining, and His plan is all encompassing, what is my life about? Do I live my life in such a way as I am always resting in the security, peace and comfort of His Gospel, or am I allowing outside things of this world to affect my security, peace and comfort?

Dr. Paul Tripp, a Counseling professor at Westminister Theological Seminary, has written a book called A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger Than You. While I have not had time to completely read this book, due to a stack of other books I am reading, along with studying for my greek final, I have noticed some questions that were raised in the book, which made me think deeper about my outlook on life, the things that I am allowing to shape my security, peace and comfort:

  • Are you doing the concrete things in your life regularly because you are living for something bigger than your own personal definition of happiness?
  • Do you live with a deep appreciation for the Lord Jesus Christ and the gift of grace that has fundamentally changed you and the course of your life? Do you work to keep your love and worship of him fresh and new? Do you live with a sense of humble privilege that not only have you been chosen to be a citizen of his kingdom, but his ambassador as well?
  • Are you living that form-and-freedom jazz life that God has called you to? Are you committed to staying within the boundaries of what he has written, yet enjoying the freedom to improvise in the situations and relationships where he has placed you?
  • Are you dissatisfied with the broken world that you live and work in every day? And do you work for its restoration to wholeness in any way you can?
  • Have you allowed yourself to be so busy with work on earth that you do not have time to long for heaven? Or is everything you do done with one eye on the present and one eye on eternity? Are you able to deal with the pain and disappointment of today because you really have embraced the promise of a day when this world and everything in it will be made completely new?
  • Do you hold loosely to your plans, your schedule, your agenda, your expectations? Are you always looking for way to be part of what God is doing wherever you are, no matter how mundane the moment is?

Its a humbling thought to remember that this life is not about me, there is a much bigger thing going on here rather than my own trivial wordly happiness. We were created for transcendence, to be a part of the bigger picture of the Gospel in this world.

Relationships, community; a constant struggle to live in in such a way that is really the true picture of what Christ commanded them to be, but oh so joyful when they do reach that point. But where does life take you when a relationship struggles, when the joy of the relationship is no longer there, but the peace, security and comfort of the friendship is now replaced with hurt and rejection? Remembering the bigger picture is the only way to overcome these feelings, even though the longing for the peace and comfort is still very apparent. Displaying the gospel through the struggles of life is the way to we can become a part of the bigger picture of this universe and keep our thoughts focused on what the important part of this life is: displaying the glory of Christ.

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