“There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ” (Romans 8:1). Believer, there is a banner over you. It is Christ’s banner of love. It says, “NO CONDEMNATION”. How can that be? It is because Christ has paid the penalty for your sins so fully and completely that further charges would be unjust.
The danger the title speaks of is the greatest danger that anyone is open to. It is not a danger from any person, or power outside of yourself, but a danger from within you: the danger of hardening your heart against the voice of God. The title comes from Psalm 95: 7-8, and is repeated in the New Testament in Hebrews 3: 15. The background is called the ‘rebellion’, or the ‘provocation’, referring to a time when the Israelites hardened their hearts against God in spite of the fact that He had miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt. The results for that whole generation were catastrophic. With the exception of two people, none of them entered into the Promised Land.
This sad situation is held up in the bible as a warning to us, not to harden our hearts against the voice of God: “Today, it you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts”, Hebrews 3:15. What does it actually mean to harden our hearts against the voice of God? It sounds like something which only a really hard-hearted person would do. But this is not necessarily so. This is something the loveliest of people often do. They would not dream of rebuffing or ignoring a gracious invitation to come to a wedding, or something of that nature, which had involved much planning, great cost and sacrifice. Indeed they would gladly accept the invitation, even if it interfered with plans that they had already made. Yet these same people may ignore and put aside God’s invitation to come to the greatest feast that anyone had ever prepared, the feast of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This was the costliest feast that was ever prepared in the history of this world. God gave His Son to this world in order to suffer and die in the place of sinful human beings, and so save them from the eternal destruction which they deserved. Not only so, but to give them a guaranteed eternal inheritance with Christ in heaven, where there is “fullness of joy, and pleasures forever more” (Psalm 16: 11). The invitation is to all human beings without exception to come freely and willingly to this great feast.
Your response may be, I have no intention of refusing this great invitation, indeed I have every intention to respond some day, or even soon. Please listen to me, my very dear friend, that is actually hardening your heart to the voice of God. The invitation is, “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart”. That implies that today you are hardening your heart, if you put it off even for one other day. Perhaps you may say to yourself, I would like to accept God’s invitation, but this is not a good time for me, tomorrow will be better. That is Satan’s evil plan to bring you to destruction. He never says to someone who is weighing up God’s invitation, ‘Forget it’. He will always say, ‘There is plenty of time”, and if you take His advice today, he has you where he wants: on the slippery slope of ‘another day’, when God says, ‘today’. “Behold, now is the accepted time, behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
(I will be on holiday for two weeks, but I hope to leave some ‘Holiday Notes’, while I am away.)
It is a natural tendency in man, especially in the present age, to project an image of oneself, of strength, confidence, success, prestige and so on. Sadly, this kind of ideal image has to some extent invaded the church, and even some of the pulpits of our land. The question we must ask is: Is this the picture of believers that is set before us in the scriptures? The answer is, No. Jesus began His ‘sermon on the mount’ with a list of the characteristics of the ‘blessed’, in Matthew 5:3-11. Surely, there can be no doubt that He is giving us a list of the marks of a true believer, one who is RightWithGod. The list he gives us is very different from ‘strength, confidence, success and prestige’. It is ‘poor in spirit’, ‘mourning over sin’, ‘meek’, and so on. This is very different; but the latter are the happy ones. The literal meaning of the word translated, ‘blessed’ is ‘happy’. In fact, the comforting words addressed to those described in verses 3-11, are found in verse 12: “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you”. Their reward was not to be the approval of men, but a reward which awaited them in heaven; and it was a ‘great’ reward. In this world, their predecessors, the prophets, were persecuted rather than admired; so it would be with them.
Obviously there is a difference between the image that many christians of today like to project and the biblical picture of the happy christian, that we have in Matt chapter 5. Does this really matter? Of course it does. The question of motivation comes strongly into it, and motivations are the really important things. It is not just what we do that is important, but why we do it. The worry is that the believer who is more concerned about what the world thinks of him, than about what God thinks of him, is wrongly motivated, because it is what God thinks of us that is important. We are told in 1 Samuel 16:7 in words spoken by God to Samuel, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks upon the heart”.
If we are christians, and truly RightWithGod, we will have a strong desire to get beyond the ‘child’ stage in our christian lives. This means that we must “put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11). We must put away our ‘image building’ and seek the honour and glory of God above all things. We must seek to be like Elijah who was able to say, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts”(1 Kings 19:14). We should have something of that jealousy for the honour and glory of God, even though we are not prophets.
Let us examine our motives with honesty and sincerity, calling on the help of the Holy Spirit, the Great Enabler, to help us to get this very important area of our lives right, and to keep it right.
We all become children of God the moment we are born again. We are “begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”(1 Peter 1: 3). Yes, at the moment we are born again, we experience a resurrection in our souls which is a spiritual parallel to the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is an instant in which this happens, but God usually hides this from us for our good. By nature we are prone to boast about any experiences we might have. Although that great instant is hidden from us, we soon sense the effects that it has on us. Our desires, inclinations and tastes begin to change. The detail of this varies from person to person, but in every case there will be a general swing away from the satisfactions of this world to the satisfactions of the spiritual life.
But here, as is often the case, God shows himself to be the God of the second mile. What we have described above is the first mile, where we are made the spiritual offspring of God. The second mile is, that God puts His Spirit within us to dwell there permanently, and by doing so, God is adopting us into His family making us more than offspring. We enter into a true Father/child relationship with God, and the Spirit who now dwells within us enables us to instinctively address God with humble confidence as Father. This is why the Holy Spirit is called ‘the Spirit of adoption. As Romans 8: 15, 16 puts it, “ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that, that we are the children of God”. (The words, Abba, Father, are simply the same word repeated, ‘Abba’ being like the Hebrew word for ‘Father’. Truly, our God is the God of the second mile.
This is often the way that God conveys assurance of salvation to the believer. Every true believer wants to have assurance that he or she is truly saved. Now, our first instinct is to know that we have truly believed, and that our sins are forgiven, because Christ has bourne them for us. God does not usually give us that information directly, but He sooner or later gives it to us indirectly. We have already mentioned changed desires and inclinations. Here is another way in which he gives us assurance: by enabling us to address Him Affectionately and reverently as ‘Father’, knowing that He delights in hearing it.
Of course, there are many other aspects of the Father/child relationship, which we do well to keep before us. There are all the protections, privileges and provisions that come with this relationship; there is also the discipline which comes with it, and the loving Fatherly chastisement which often goes with that discipline.
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33).