The Thorns and Thistles of this Life.

This is a very important subject. It explains so much of why life is the way it is for man. If we try to cope with the difficulties of our daily labour without a biblical understanding of it, we are going to feel quite dissatisfied and discontent in our daily work. in order to understand the ‘Why?’ of our daily work, it must be seen in the context of the divine sentence pronounced by God on Adam after the fall. Our daily toil should never be seen in isolation from that sentence, no matter what the nature of  that work is. We saw last week, how the first man and woman, by their disobedience,  brought sin into the world, making them immediately ashamed in the presence of each other, and of God. They were no longer RightWithGod, nor right with one another as they were before. We also saw how God pronounced sentence on the woman.

Today,  we are going to look at the all-important sentence pronounced on the man, Adam. Notice that this sentence is far more involved than that pronounced on the woman. First of all the  ground is severely adversely affected by the fall. God pronounces a curse upon it: “Cursed be the ground for thy sake” (as a result of your disobedience). The sad effects of Adam’s sin on the  ground is that the growing of crops for food was going to be accompanied by sorrow. This was a massive and very sad change. It was not the beginning of man’s work activity, because man was commanded to work even before the fall:  Genesis 2:15, “The Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it”;  At this point labour was a totally satisfying and pleasurable activity. The difference that came into man’s work activity was that the experience changed from a totally satisfying one into one of much toil and much frustration: Genesis 3: 17-19: “In sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days  of thy life”. The diet at that time was mainly vegetable in character. This necessitated working the earth, but it would produce not only what was planted, but unwanted things, such as thorns and thistles: “Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth unto thee; and thou shalt eat of the herb of the field”.  It was to be  hard toil: “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread”, and this continues throughout man’s life on this earth.

Does this have relevance for us today?  It most certainly does. We are not all farmers, but the principles apply to every job in this life,  whether we are manual workers, office workers,  computer operators, top surgeons or even pastors, the principles apply. Every one soon comes up against thorns and thistle in some form in his daily work. The natural man sees nothing in his labours but toil and frustration, and he ends up living for his days off and his holidays for respite. This is the only way he can cope. He is not RightWithGod, and, consequently, no matter how satisfying the job may at first appear, eventually he cannot see his work as much more than a means of earning his living.  However, for the child of God who has been made RightWithGod through Jesus Christ, things are, or  should be different. He reads the first three chapters of Genesis, and he sees God’s judgement on mankind mixed with gospel mercy in Genesis 3:16. This enables him to cope with the thorns and thistles, because he knows they are God’s righteous judgement on mankind because of sin; he knows that by a full acceptance of God’s sentence, He glorifies God. He is saying to God, ‘Thou art just and right in all thy dealings with me, and because I see thy great mercy to me as a sinner in the promise of the Saviour in Genesis 3:15, I bow to thy rightness and justice’.

The unbeliever sees his labours as simply an economic activity, but  the person who is RightWithGod sees his labours as a religious activity. He worships and glorifies God in his submission to the sentence. He is happy that in his work, because it brings him nearer to God, and that is the happiness of the christian in every area of his life. Once we really grasp this, our experience of daily labour is transformed.

Judgement mixed with Mercy after the Fall.

We have looked at what God said to Satan after the fall: the promise of a Saviour born of woman, who would deal a crushing blow to Satan. That this Saviour would do so by suffering, is  indicated by the bruising of the Saviour’s heel. You may wonder why we have not dealt with the first part of Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed”.  The reason is that this enmity is a massively important matter for understanding the history of this world, and will require thorough treatment in a future posting of RightWithGod.

There are important matters for us to attend to before we leave the post-fall situation. We have seen that there was an immediate effect on the man and the woman in their self-consciousness. This showed in the way they immediately felt because of their nakedness. They even hid from God, showing that they were no  longer RightWithGod. Let us see clearly that this was an immediate effect of sin, and not brought about by divine sentence.

We now have to move on to God’s response to the disobedience of the woman and the man. It was certainly a pronouncement of sentence, but it was all eased by the promise that they heard concerning themselves, in the words spoken to Satan in Genesis 3:15. God’s judgements on sinners, are always mixed with mercy.

Let us look at the sentence pronounced on the  woman in Genesis 3:16: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow, and your conception: in sorrow you shall bring forth children.” It is a great blessing for a couple to have and to raise children, but the  process is mixed with trials. At every point there may be sorrow, while the child is in the womb, at birth, and throughout life. Nevertheless,  it is rare to find a mother who would say at any stage in their child’s life, ‘I wish I had never had this child’. The delights of  having children far outweigh the sorrows involved.

Also, having children nearly always has a wonderful effect on the parents. How often have we seen two selfish, irresponsible  people being transformed into responsible, self-denying, and self-sacrificing people by the arrival of their first child. As a pastor of many years’ experience, I would say that this is one of the most encouraging things that I see. It is a thing of beauty. I know that some couples are not able to have children, and, for some, this is a sore trial for them, and we must all understand something of what they go through. It is particularly important for them to get RightWithGod, and to remain so, rather than quarreling with God.

Then there is the second part of Genesis 3:16: “and your desire shall be to your  husband, and he shall rule over you”. Many attempts have been made to explain this verse, but some mystery remains. Whatever  we say,  it is clear that the fall has brought tensions into the marriage relationship. Satan will take every opportunity to magnify these tensions, and cause the couple to give up on the marriage. The important thing is for couples to read these words, “and your desire shall be to your  husband, and he shall rule over you”,  and realise that these tensions do not mean the marriage is meaningless, and that they must always guard their marriage by not allowing Satan to  magnify these tensions. They must be patient with one another, talk things over, pray together if possible, and acknowledge that God  has brought them together. These things pass over and lead to better days. From what I have seen, I am  convinced that God sustains marriages.

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.