Satan’s Joy Turned to Sorrow.

In the overwhelmingly important words of Genesis 3:15. Satan receives from God some very bad news. In fact it was crushing news, just at the very moment when he thought he had triumphed over God by bringing about the catastrophe of the fall of man;  and it was indeed a catastrophe. The happy relationship between  God and man had been destroyed. The world was plunged into spiritual darkness. For man, the joy of being RightWithGod had vanished and was replaced with estrangement and alienation. He was enveloped in shame and guilt, and could not bear even to come face to face with God. This was a situation which man could never remedy. Satan knew that God was a God of perfect righteousness,  and hence, the breach between God and man was permanent. So, what he heard  from  God in Genesis 3:15, was to him a thunderbolt of bad news. The grin was wiped off his face. His  joy was turned to sorrow.

Contained in what Satan heard from the mouth of God, was the first gospel promise: “It (the seed of the woman) shall bruise (crush) thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel”. As we learned from the last RightWithGod, God is declaring to Satan that He would send into this fallen world a Saviour, born of a woman, who would suffer in the place of fallen human beings, sinners, and so remove their guilt before the all-righteous God. This was indeed a crushing blow to Satan. who thought that he had triumphed over God.

It seems strange that the ‘good news’, The first gospel promise, was announced to Satan, and not to man. We do not know the reason  for this, but  it is possible that God’s purpose in this was to emphasise that the Saviour was to be born of the seed of the very one he had enticed to sin. But Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, the parents of the whole human race, would certainly have heard the wonderful gospel promise as it was announced  to Satan. For them their sorrow was turned to joy at  the wonderful possibility that there was now hope that they would again be made RightWithGod. The good news turned their darkness into light.

The first thing that happened to Adam and Eve after the fall was a sudden change in their self-consciousness. Before the fall, as we read in Genesis 2:25, “They were both naked, the man and  his wife, and were not ashamed”. This lack of shame was due to their complete freedom from sin and its guilt. It was indeed a blissful existence. However, with the fall, this immediately changed. In Genesis 3:7 we read, “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew they were naked”.  This speaks of the sense of guilt which came immediately upon them, and which was completely unknown to them before.

This sense of guilt is still common to man, and is real, and leads man to use all kinds of remedies and devices to ease it. But it can only be eased by getting RightWithGod. Psychologists tell us that what we are experiencing is guilt feelings,  and that there is no true guilt, and that we just have to assert ourselves and put these feelings away, but this remedy does not lead to what man needs more than anything: peace of conscience.

God’s Great Enterprise

How do we connect the promises made to Abraham with the salvation of sinners? The answer lies in the fact that the bible, Old and New Testaments,  is all about the salvation of sinners. This is God’s great “enterprise”. This is in fact what all history is about. The first gospel promise is given in the all important verse, Genesis 3, verse 15. God says to the serpent (Satan embodied) immediately after the fall, two very important things, which are both of crucial importance to our understanding of this life, and the history of the world. The first of these, we will look at sometime in the future. The second is what concerns us at this moment: the first gospel promise from God that He would send into this fallen world a Saviour, born of a woman, who would suffer in the place of those whom Satan had seduced, and deal a crushing blow to Satan, who thought that he had irreversibly destroyed the plan of God for this world. The words uttered by God to the serpent were,  “It (the seed of the woman) shall bruise (crush) thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel”.  It is no exaggeration to say that this verse is the fountain of all history. All history radiates forwards and outwards from this point, and all is working towards  to a great conclusion, when at the end of history, Christ will return to see the full fruition of His great work in the salvation of  lost human souls. As we read in Isaiah chapter 53, verse 11, “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied”. He shall see that great multitude who, through His sacrifice on the cross have been made RightWithGod irreversibly and eternally. It is wonderful to think that He will be satisfied with the fruit of His labours when He sees the whole true church of all ages before Him, saved, sanctified and adorned with His own righteousness; “a multitude that no man can number”. His joy will be complete, as He looks forward to the eternity stretching before Him to be spent with that blessed company of saved sinners.

Genesis 3:15 was the first gospel promise, but certainly not the last. Throughout the Old Testament there are innumerable promises which amplify and clarify that first promise. They all point to the first coming of Christ, and His suffering on the cross. In Genesis 12, Abraham, the prime example of true faith in the Old  Testament, was told that, though He was childless then, and would be for years after, that God would make him into a great nation, and that in him all  the families of the world would be blessed. But this does not just refer to the physical descendants of Abraham, but also to his spiritual descendants, the line of true faith in the coming Saviour, or Messiah, Jesus Christ: “Know ye therefore that they that are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” ( Galatians 3:7).

There are also in the Old Testament, many illustrations which foreshadow the Lord Jesus Christ, such as Moses, Joseph, and David. We will learn more of these as we go forward with RightWithGod

God Going the Second Mile for Us.

God has a special interest in every individual believer. It is an intense, close-up interest, which has its root on God binding Himself to the believer in a covenant bond in such a way that God stakes His own honour, yes, even His very existence on keeping the believer secure in his salvation. This is graphically illustrated for us in Genesis 15, verses 10 to 21. These are ominous verses to read, but then covenants had ominous implications for those entering into them. They were not things to be entered into lightly. The benefit of grasping this is crucial to our understanding of covenant relationship, which in turn is crucial to our ongoing joy in our salvation.

In order for us to understand this passage, we must understand the background. In Abraham’s day, when something of immense consequence was to be agreed between two parties, they would enter into a covenant agreement. The procedure involved the killing of  a small number of animals and cutting them into pieces. The pieces of each animal were then divided into two mixed heaps with a space between the heaps sufficient for two people to pass through. The two parties then stood, one at each end of the passage between the pieces. At the crucial moment of  confirmation of the agreement, the two parties walked between the pieces, each from one end of the passage to the other. Each was saying, “If I break this agreement, then let me be cut in pieces like these slain animals”. The one that broke the agreement could rightly and lawfully be cut in pieces by the other.

When we look at the passage in Genesis 15, we see something astonishing beyond all imagination. God appears as a “smoking furnace and a burning lamp”, and He, and He only, passes between the pieces. Abraham does not pass between the pieces. What is God doing here, He is saying, your salvation depends entirely on Me. If I fail to keep my promise to you, then let me be as these cut-up animals. How secure is the christian in his salvation? So secure that if one was saved and then lost, the very Godhead would fall. This would mean that the the universe, presently upheld moment by moment by God,  would crumble. It simply cannot happen.

Why did God not require Abraham to pass between the pieces? because God knew what was in fallen man, even in faithful Abraham. He knew that it was impossible for fallen man, even when saved, to walk in perfect obedience, and so keep ‘his side’ of a two-sided covenant. God in His abundant mercy did not enter into that kind of covenant with Abraham,  nor does He with us, because that covenant would not last a moment. The wisdom, goodness and grace of God shines forth here in a way that causes us to fall on our faces before God in love, adoration and worship

This leaves us with a very important question: how do the promises made to Abraham connect with sinners in the present age, making them RightWithGod, and keeping them RightWithGod? We will begin to deal with this  very important question next week.

 

 

 

 

Covenant Relationship.

The bible has much to say about covenant and covenants, but it can all seem very complicated, and something  we might be tempted to pass over. If we just try to ignore the whole matter, we will never completely understand the christian life, and especially our relationship to God. My desire is to explain covenant relationship in the simplest possible way.

When we become christians, and get RightWithGod, we enter into a relationship of friendship with God. Where there was enmity, there is now friendship, and this is surpassingly wonderful. But this friendship is more than ordinary friendship: we enter into a covenant friendship with God. What is the difference? The difference is that in the covenant, God binds Himself to us  in such a way that He stakes His own honour on keeping us secure in Christ for the rest of our lives, and to continue and finish His work in us in order that we will be fully prepared for our home in heaven at the end of our lives. Our salvation and sanctification are not dependent on ourselves, they depend on the omnipotent power and unchangableness of God. It means that our failures, and they are many, will not ever, ever, ever destroy our relationship with God. We change, and are often undependable, but God changes not. Of course covenant relationship also involves our obedience, and we shall look at that at a later date, but what we must grasp first of all is the fundamental thing about covenant relationship: that God has, of His own free will, brought this relationship into being the moment we were united to Christ, and it is an indissoluble relationship. It will endure forever.

We read something of the indestructibleness of this covenant relationship in Isaiah chapter 54, verse 10: “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, says the Lord who has mercy on you.”

Some say that God’s covenant is the same as God’s promise. This is not so. Yes, God has made a promise to the sinner to save him and to keep him the moment he receives Christ, and God will never break His promise. In binding Himself to us in covenant relationship, God goes further. It is as if He goes the second mile to assure the believer. This is made clear in Hebrews chapter 6, verses 17 and 18: “God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise, the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath: so that by two immutable things in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” This hope, of course is centred on Christ, who is now at the right hand of God, verses19 and 20: “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil ( that is, in heaven). Where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus made a high priest forever after the order of Melchisedec”.

Covenant relationship is of the essence of being RightWithGod, and hence of the essence of a rich and happy christian life.

 

The Bible as the Word of Christ.

Last week we discussed the importance of the bible in the life of the christian. This is such an important topic that we must say a lot more about it.

It is like this. If we do not get this clear in our minds, and allow some space for the possibility that the bible is not God’s final revelation of His will to His church, but that He still gives special revelations of His will to some people, then the very foundations of our faith become unstable, uncertainty creeps in, and our faith is easily thrown into confusion. We do not have that anchor which is essential for an enjoyable christian life, that is, that God has given us a final and complete revelation of Himself, His will and His purpose in written form, and that that is all that we need in order to know the way of salvation, and to live a happy and enjoyable christian life, RightWithGod.

It is best for us if we settle our view on this one way or another as soon as possible, once and for all. The quality of our christian life depends on it, and our enjoyment of our christian lives depends on it. Settle it now. Know exactly where you stand in relation to the bible as God’s final revelation to His church. Finalise now where you stand on this all-important question, and my earnest prayer for you is that you will embrace the bible as God’s final revelation to His church, and you will soon learn how to navigate this life, and keep yourself RightWithGod. There is no greater joy possible in this life than that.

Now, we refer to the bible as ‘The Word of God’, what do we mean? We know that God is one and indivisible, and yet, at the same time,  He is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is triune, that is, three and one at the same time. We can never fathom this mystery of the three-in-one, no one ever has, but the fact of  plurality in God is clear from the beginning of the bible: in Genesis 1: 26 we read, “And God said let us make man in our own image.” The question we face in reference to the bible is, Which of the three persons in this Trinity is the author of scripture? The answer lies in the very important principle, that none of the persons of the Trinity ever acts independently from the others. This applies especially to the authorship of the bible. All three persons are involved to give us one complete word of God. This has the very important effect for us, that we can say that we can receive the bible as the word of Christ, who, as well as being man, is also God the Son, the Second Person in the Trinity, who took human nature into permanent and irreversible union with Himself. Because of this, He was able to suffer the penalty of sin in our place, and has now ascended to heaven where He especially is able to represent us and where He makes continual intercession for us. Thus the realisation that the bible is the word of Christ brings us emotionally much closer to it.

 

 

 

The Place of the Bible in the Life of the Christian.

It is impossible to exaggerate the place the Bible has in the life of the christian. It is not enough to believe that the bible in its entirety is God’s infallible word. It is not  enough to read the bible as a devotional book. It is not enough to have a good knowledge of its contents. All these things are important, but they do not amount to an adequate view of the place of the bible in one’s life. The bible must be the rule of life. We must be under its rule and sway in every area of our lives, from the most public areas to the most private and intimate areas. It is our God-given instruction book. The bible not only shows us how to get RightWithGod,  but it is a comprehensive guide to every area of our lives. The Psalmist says in Psalm 119, verse 105, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path”.  Our attitude should be, ‘The whole of the bible for the whole of life”.  That is the way to true happiness for the christian. Yes, the whole of the bible, the Old Testament and the New add up to one word of God. Christ rules those whom he saves through His word. He speaks to them through His word. He leads them through His word. When He met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, He said to them, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the scriptures, the things concerning Himself”. This verse is worth reading intensely,  weighing every phrase. It  tell us something of extreme importance: The whole Old Testament speaks of Christ. The only bible they had at that point was the Old Testament. We now have the complete bible, the Old and New Testaments, God’s great gift to His church, to guide her in all matters of  teaching, conduct, worship and every detail of the christian life. This enables us to live lives, as christians, which are pleasing to God, and that, for the true child of God,  means true happiness.

After we are saved, we learn very quickly to recognise when things are not right between ourselves and God. We do not have the peace which we once had, and we do not enjoy God as we once did. We realise that, although God has not left us, and never will, his frown is upon us, rather than His smile. We need to get right with him by confessing our sins and genuinely repenting, so that the relationship is restored. There is no greater enjoyment in this life than knowing that we are able to delight in God, and that at the same time, He delights in us. This is all about being RightWithGod. Once we become Christians, we belong to God, and He takes a special interest in each one of us, not only in spiritual things, but in every aspect of our lives.

How do I know that I have truly believed on Christ

Fundamental to all true understanding of salvation is the principle of, ‘We love Him, because He first loved us,’  (1 John 4:19). This principle must be kept before us continually, right from the time we are first aware of a desire to be saved. It means that our seekings and desires are a result of God working in us to cause us to seek and desire to be saved. This does not mean that we can lie back and let God ‘get on with it’, and not put any effort into it at all. No one is ever saved without  struggle or effort to believe on Christ, and to trust Him for our salvation. The question may trouble them for quite a long time: ‘Have I truly believed sufficiently for salvation’? There is no specific test for true believing on Christ. But, there are ways that we can get an assurance that we are truly saved. What are they?

These are based on the principle that we have already stated, ‘We love Him because He first loved us’. His love for us is proved to us by changes that we find in ourselves. Changes that are so slow and gradual that we are not aware of any moment of change, but perhaps suddenly we realise that we are different. Our inclinations have changed, our affections have changed, our enjoyments have changed, our enjoyment in reading the bible has greatly increased; and so the changes pile up. The explanation of these changes is that God has worked a miracle in us; the miracle of new birth. This happened in an instant known only to God, but soon we are conscious that something has happened, that we are different from what we  were. The new birth is a resurrection: we are by nature dead to spiritual experiences or enjoyments because we are fallen creatures. In the new birth we are raised from spiritual death to spiritual life. We are able to know  that we have truly believed unto salvation; we are able to love God, and to love His  Son, Jesus Christ; we are able to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord; we are able to enjoy quietness and solemnity because these things bring us nearer to God.

Of course, Satan does not  like when someone gets RightWithGod, and he will do every thing in his power to discourage you. He will tell you that  you are not really all that different from what you were; that you are not good enough to be a christian. The answer is to say to him, as you say to yourself, ‘I am not what I should be, I am not what I want to be, but I know that I am not what I was’, and send him packing! It is worth keeping in mind that the first thing that the bible tells us about Satan (Genesis 3:1) is that he is very cunning. The word in the original language means cunning or crafty. However it is worth also remembering that it can also be turned to mean skillful. We must all beware that Satan is cunning and  crafty in the most malevolent way,  but that he can also be skillful in an equally malevolent way.  We will learn much about his wiles in our christian lives. The more we learn about him and his ways, the better we will be able to deal with him.

Believing and Trusting

There is nothing more important in all our short time in this life than that we should get RightWithGod before we leave it. If we are to be saved, it must be in this life. No one will be saved after death. All who are not saved in this life will be under the wrath of God for all eternity. Hence our time in this life is of  indescribable importance. That is what this blog is all about.

We have looked at the meaning of believing on Christ, stressing  the importance of being burdened about the danger we are in if we do not believe on Him: namely, that we face a miserable, endless eternity. This makes believing  on Christ a matter of the greatest urgency.

Today we continue our quest to get as much insight into this believing on Christ as we possibly can. In order to do this we turn again to the Old Testament and the faith of Abraham. In Genesis 15, verse 6, we read, “And he (Abraham) believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him  for Righteousness”. Abraham is set before us in the New Testament by Paul as the example of  true saving faith.  In Romans, chapter 4, verse 3 we read, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness”. In other words He was saved by believing in the promise of God that He would send a Saviour, who would undo the effects of the fall. This gospel promise was first given in Genesis, chapter 3, verse 15, one of the most important verses  in the bible. That promise was increasingly clarified throughout the Old Testament, in a great many foreshadowings of Christ, the Son of God, who would come and suffer and die in time, and on this earth, as a substitute for sinners.

As often happens in studying the bible, the original language helps us enormously. We do not need to know any Hebrew in order to understand what we are about to look at. The Hebrew word for “believed” in Genesis 15, verse 6, quoted above is a very useful word in the present context. The basic root idea of the word is firmness.  The best example would be the firm and sure support given to a child when it is held in the parent’s arms. The  child has complete trust in these arms. This is really wonderful, because it sheds a precious extra light on what it means to believe on Christ, namely, that this believing is an absolute trust in His person and work. He will not fail us. If we believe on Him, and put all our trust in Him, we will be RightWithGod, and we will most certainly be saved. Obviously  there has to be an implicit, child-like trust in Christ, the One whom God has sent.

With the help of this illustation, and the one we looked at in the last RightWithGod, we should be getting a clearer idea of what true saving faith is. We must personally believe on and trust in Christ for our salvation, but at this point, we need God’s enabling help.  This is stated clearly in the well-known verse in Ephesians, chapter 2, verse 8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and  that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God”: but, crucially, all our attempts at believing and trusting must be bathed in prayer, confessing our inability in this matter and pleading that He will, in His mercy, answer our prayer, and enable us to believe and trust in Christ for our salvation. There is no lasting peace and happiness in this life without being RightWithGod.

 

 

What does it mean to believe on Christ?

Last week we quoted the well-known text in the Gospel according to John, chapter 3, verse 16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”.  This makes it look as if it is extremely easy to become a christian: just believe in Christ and you will be saved. However, we have  to be careful when we make things simple, that we do not make them too simple. The great theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, in a very different context, once said, “Make things as simple as they can be made, but no simpler”, and that is good advice when trying to explain to a person how to become a christian. We must not make it more complicated or more simple that the bible makes it.

In John 3, verse 16, in the original language there is a clue to this. The word translated ‘in’ is a word meaning motion towards, or motion into. In fact the same word is translated, ‘on’ in verse 18.

Jesus Himself was an expert at explaining spiritual things, and He usually did so by illustration, and that is exactly what He has done in the passage in John that we are looking at. He calls His hearers to consider an Old Testament illustration with which they would all have been familiar. We read the story in Numbers, chapter 21, verses 4 to 9. The Children of Israel were under the judgement of God because they had begun to complain to Moses, their God-given leader, that the way was difficult. They accused Moses on account of the difficulty, saying that he should never have led them out of Egypt where they were enslaved and oppressed by the Egyptians. In response to their sinful complaint, God sent fiery serpents among them. Their bite was fatal, and many were dying. This brought them to their senses and they came to Moses confessing their sins and asking him to pray to God to take the serpents away. In answer to Moses’ prayer God gave him a very strange instruction. He was to make a serpent of brass and set it high on a pole so that all could see it. God gives the promise that everyone who is bitten, if he or she simply looks at the serpent they would be completely healed and saved from death.

Now this is one of many illustrations from things that happened in the old testament which explains a very important aspect of the gospel: what it means to believe on, Christ in order to be saved. Now there are many such illustrations in the Old Testament, so we have to ask the question, why did Jesus choose this particular one? Why, in this most important of all gospel passages in the New Testament, did Jesus choose this particular illustration? It is because it, more that any other, it is the best illustration of what it means to believe on Christ in such a way as to be saved.

Yes, it is simply looking to Christ, and being saved; but it is no casual look: it is the looking of those who are under the judgement of God, and hence, perishing, and who know it for sure. They have been brought to the position where they have no hope, but that Christ was lifted up on the cruel cross in order to pay the penalty for their sins, and make them Right With God.

The Way to True Happiness.

Human beings have a natural urge to seek true, lasting happiness. They spend their time and resources trying to find something  that will satisfy this urge, and make them truly happy. The problem is  that they seek this in outward things and experiences, but it is not to be found in these things. This is because true happiness is to do with the inner man, what we often call ‘the heart’. Further, it is to do with a relationship: a heart to heart relationship. Who with? With God. It is a true, real, lasting heart-to-heart relationship between us  and God. This is a relationship of intense mutual delight: we delight in God and He delights in us. This relationship is described for us in beautiful picture language in the Book of the bible entitled, “The Song of Solomon”, Chapter 2 and verses 3 and 4. There the believer, in this case a woman, describes her happy relationship with God: “I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and His banner over me was love”. This is a happiness which this world and all that is in it cannot give, and cannot take away.

The purpose of this blog is not to seek to engineer this happy relationship, but to explore it, and to point those who seek it in the direction where it is to be found. Hence the title, “Right with God”. Sometimes we experience the joy of human friendship. But then, something comes between us and our friend. Things are no longer ‘right’ between us, but they are ‘wrong’, and we feel it. There may be a great desire to put things right  between us,  but it is not easy to discuss the subject, and if things are left ‘wrong’ between us for too long it becomes very difficult to put them right.

One of the most difficult things to accept about this life is that, by nature, we are not right with God. This is because we are sinners, and we do not want  to change. But the greatest thing about this life is that God has made it easy for us to get right with Him. One of the most well-know verses in the Bible is in the Gospel according to John, chapter 3, verse 16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. The result of this is that God has not waited for us to get ‘right’ with Him, but has removed the offence, and enabled us to get right with Him by believing on His beloved Son, whom He gave to the  agony of the cross to take  our sins away.

The way the bible puts it is, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (The first Epistle of John, chapter 4, verse 10). The word “propitiation” is a difficult word, but it is very expressive and important word. It points us to the fact that on the cross, God punished His own Beloved Son in our place so that the friendship between us and Him could be healed.

With God’s help I hope to further explore  what it means to be Right with God, every week.