Sunday, December 11, 2016

Christian Confidence is Offensive but Necessary

The three Jewish magistrates administering in Babylon refused to bow down and worship the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar and were accused before the King of this capital offense:

  • But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon--Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego--who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:12)

The King then offered them one last opportunity to do homage before his statue to avoid being cast into a “fiery furnace.” However, they courageously responded,

  • Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:16-18)

Such courage depends on a clear knowledge of and a confidence in God. However, it’s this very type of knowledge and confidence that is being so widely rejected today. While some insist that they aren’t possible, others attack doctrinal certainty as arrogant, unattractive, imperialistic and dismissive of other religious beliefs.

I’d like to argue that these challenges are illogical, unbiblical, and dismissive of who we are to be in Christ.

DISMISSING CERTITUDE IS ILLOGICAL: In order to dismiss certainty, the skeptic needs to make a statement of certainty. For instance, one otherwise competent theologian stated, “We can’t be certain about those very important spiritual and moral issues.” However, in order to dismiss Christian certainty, he had to make a statement of certainty – “We can’t be certain!” If we can’t be certain about such matters, how can he state so strongly that he is certain that “we can’t be certain.”

This incoherence is not a matter of wording. It is a necessary byproduct of trying to dismiss certainty. Others call themselves “Christian Agnostics,” claiming “You really can’t know if the Bible is God’s Word!” Here too, they are denying certainty with a statement of certainty – “You can’t know” – thereby contradicting themselves.

Nor can the multi-culturalist complain that our Christian certainty represents an unacceptable judgment of others. In making such an assessment, they too are judging! Nor can they claim that it’s offensive without being “offensive” themselves! Nor can they charge us with “arrogance” without being arrogant and dogmatic themselves.

CERTAINTY IS BIBLICAL: The Bible says a lot about certainty and the need for it:

  • For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. (John 17:8)

  • Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:3-4)

  • Col. 2:2-3 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

  • For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephes. 5:5)

  • Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 3:13)

More importantly, confidence is so essential to the quality of our relationship with our Lord:

·       Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. (Hebrews 10:19-22)

CERTAINTY OR CONFIDENCE IS NECESSARY AND PERSONALLY ENHANCING: The three Hebrew administrators couldn’t have lived courageously without confidence in their God. Nor can we live courageously and coherently without the confidence that our faith imparts to us. The Book of Hebrews gives us a condensed set of portraits of the power arising from the assurance of faith:

  • Through faith [they] conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. (Hebrews 11:33-36)

This doesn’t mean that assurance comes without blood, sweat and tears. It had eluded me for half of my life in Christ. I must confess that it would have been easier to have been a postmodern Christian and dismissed the hope that assurance was possible. Instead, I had been tormented by thinking that it was possible, while it seemed that there was nothing I could do to obtain it. This made me feel like a second-rate Christian. However, God is faithful, who eventually brought me to a place of stability and confidence, although it required confronting my various doubts.

Paul writes of the “riches of assured understanding” (Col. 2:2). We needs these riches in order to stand, and our God can make us stand (Romans 14:4).

CAN WE BE ASSURED THAT WE ARE SAVED? This issue is critical to our relationship with God. If we are not confident that God has received us and will never let us go, we will have great difficulty to love Him and to live for Him.

However, the Bible provides many ways that we can know that we are eternally His. For one thing, He has promised that any who really want Him can have Him:

·       All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37; 3:16)

·       For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:12-13)

We might fear that God would never accept us after all the sins we have committed. However, Paul confessed that he had been the worst sinner. Not only did he kill Christians, but even worse, he forced them to renounce Jesus! Therefore, if God had forgiven him and even made him the foremost missionary, this proves that He is ready to receive anyone, no matter how sinful:

  • The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Tim. 15-16)

We are also fearful that we might not have enough faith to be saved. However, our Savior is very gracious. The “Hall of Fame of Faith” (Hebrews 11) provides us with many examples of exemplary faith. One example of this highlights the faith of the children of Israel:

  • By faith the people [of Israel] crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. (Hebrews 11:29) 

However, when we read the original Exodus account, it doesn’t seem that the Israelites had any faith. Instead, as the Egyptian chariots were approaching, they angrily rebelled against Moses. However, since they were between a rock and a hard place, they followed Moses through the parted sea. Did they have faith? Only the smallest measure!

What does this tell us? That we only need the smallest measure of faith to satisfy our merciful God!

The Apostle John affirmed that if we have sincere faith, we can know that we are saved:

·       Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. (1 John 5:1-2)

If we are endeavoring to keep his commandments, however imperfectly, we can know that we are in Him:

  • By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. (1 John 2:3-6)

Although obedience doesn’t save us, it certainly helps us to know that we are saved. Why so? Well, if we trust in our Lord, we will do what He tells us to do. If we don’t trust Him, we will not. If we trust in our doctor, we will do what he tells us to do. This principle applies even more to obeying our Savior.

We tend to worry that we are not righteous enough or deserving enough to be saved. However, our Patriarch Abraham repeatedly failed God. He even confessed that everywhere that they would travel, he would have his wife Sarah deny that she was married to Abraham so that, if they would take Sarah, Abraham would be rewarded instead of killed (Genesis 20:13).

Abraham nephew, Lot had been living a highly compromised life in Sodom and thereafter. However, in God’s eyes, he was righteous:

·       …He rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard). (2 Peter 2:7-8)

Lot’s daughters had even got Lot drunk to have sex with him. Nevertheless, in God’s eyes, he was righteous.

How can we reassure ourselves that we belong to God? There are many ways. Jesus taught that those who belong to Him come to His light:

  • And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:19-20)

The fact that we come to the light of His Word is a good indication that we have been born again. Otherwise, we would run from the Lord and His Word. The Apostle John put it this way:

·       We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:6)

The fact that we read the teachings of the Apostles to learn how to follow Jesus is something that the natural person does not do:

  • The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14)

The fact that we care about the things of God – the Bible, forgiveness, heaven, living for Jesus – is a powerful indication that we have been regenerated.

Nevertheless, many of us have a conscience that condemns us, making us feel that we couldn’t possibly be saved. However, this is normal:

  • We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. (1 John 3:19-23)

Sometimes, we have to preach the Gospel to our condemning heart. What sermon do we preach? We remind ourselves that we have the fruits of the Spirit? Which? In the above verses, John mentioned three: We keep his commandments, believe, and love one another. Of course, we do none of these things perfectly, but we confess our sins when we don’t measure up to His standards. And when we do, He forgives and cleanses us of all our dirt.

The Apostle John had provided many tests by which we can reassure ourselves. He added sincere confession:

·       Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (1 John 4:15)

If, in all ways, we are not seeking to conform our lives to our Savior, we will not receive His assurance that we are saved and will fear judgment:

  • God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear [of judgment] in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:16-18)

When our goal is love, first of God and then or our neighbor, we are walking as Jesus did and will have confidence, even in the face of judgment.

If you still lack this confidence, just trust in the Lord. He is able to provide.

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