Holiness: A Conscious Choice

Introduction

Dear young people, what comes to your mind when you think about a holy life? Do you imagine a priest in religious garb, a monk in his robe chanting, or an ascetic sitting atop a pole meditating? Or perhaps you think a holy life means abstaining from drinking alcohol, smoking, and partying. No swearing, no drugs, and no sex. People who are holy seem to take religion pretty seriously – they go regularly to church, the temple or mosque, and faithfully perform the required rituals and prayers.

It is crucial that we understand what holiness is, and what it means to live a holy life. For without holiness, no man shall see God (Heb. 12:14).

Its Real

The idea of holiness is essentially separation, or consecration. When something is holy, it is set apart and distinct from the ordinary and common. The concept of holiness is first and foremost applied to God. He is the Holy One – separate and distinct from all His creation. He is God, and there is none else (Isa. 45:22). He is separate from all sin and wholly consecrated to Himself and His glory. Because God is holy, He calls His people to be holy (1 Pet. 1:16). That means we are called to be separate from sin (to hate and forsake it) and consecrated to God (to love and serve Him whole-heartedly). To be holy is therefore to become more and more like God Himself. But all of us are by nature unholy. We were ugly sinners, spiritually dead and delighting in our sins, and wholly incapable of doing anything to makes ourselves holy. Neither do we desire to be holy.

Left to ourselves, we only become more and more unholy, falling deeper and deeper into the snare of our own sins, until we finally perish. We may live an outwardly moral life. We may observe a certain code of conduct and abstain from societal vices. We may not have broken any law of the land and are free from gross sins such as adultery and murder. But for all that, in our unregenerate state, dead in sin and without spiritual life, we are unholy.

If we are to become holy, God must accomplish the work. This work of making us holy, or sanctification, the Westminster Larger Catechism defines as a ‘work of God’s grace’ (Q&A 75). It is therefore not a work that we deserve, or that we could accomplish on our own, or in any way dependent on us. But it is wholly attributed to God. Our entire salvation, including sanctification, is of the Lord. It is of His sovereign grace and mercy. We were dead in trespasses and sins, but God Who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, has made us spiritually alive in Christ (Eph. 2:1,4,5). And the life of faith we now live is a holy life. As children of God, chosen, regenerated, justified, a holy life is not a mere possibility. It is a present reality. It is the fruit of regeneration and justification that must happen in the chain of salvation. For we have been chosen in Christ that we should be holy (Eph. 1:4).

Live it!

But that does not mean that we just passively sit around and expect God to zap us with holiness instantly. We are called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phi. 2:12). Paul exhorts Timothy to ‘flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure hear’ (2 Tim. 2:22). We are called to mortify the old man and quicken the new man in us (Eph. 4:22-24, Col. 3:5). We are to ‘abstain from all appearance of evil’ (1 Thess. 5:22). We must walk as children of light (Eph. 5:8). The Captain of our salvation summons us to ‘put on the whole armour of God and wrestle against principalities, powers,…against spiritual wickedess in high places, that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand’ (Eph. 6:11-13). We are to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).

The life of holiness is marked by two outstanding characteristics: struggle against sin, and faith in Jesus Christ.

Struggle against sin? It seems to us that godly men are hardly troubled by sin. They seem to be above the temptations of the flesh and are not attracted by the world. Aren’t they always on the mountain-top of faith, near to God and far from sin and wickedness? But regardless of how God-fearing and sinless they may appear to be, we can be certain that they do struggle with sin in their lives. The Word of God is crystal clear that sin dwells in every human heart, and there is none righteous, no not one (Rom. 3:10) (except Jesus, of course). When we were born again, we died to sin (Rom. 6:2). But sin is not dead to us. The guilt of sin is removed and the dominion of sin is broken in us, but sin is still very much alive in us, i.e. in our old man. Just read Romans 7. Yes, it is the great apostle of the New Testament who wrote that chapter, in which he speaks of the titanic struggle between the old and new man in him. We are called to mortify the old man (HC Q&A 89). We are called ‘Christians’ because we fight against sin and Satan in this life (HC Q&A 32). The very struggle against sin is evidence that we are spiritually alive and striving to live a holy life. The more we grow in grace and godliness, the more we struggle with sin, because we become more conscious of the heinousness of our sins, and how much we have offended God. Even the holiest man in this life has only a small beginning of obedience. A large part of his life involves great struggles against sin.

But the life of holiness is also marked by faith in Jesus Christ. Our very bitter struggle against sin daily drives us to the cross. We realise increasingly our utter inability to fight against sin and walk in obedience. The good that I would I do not. The evil that I would not, that I do. Our only hope is in the ONE power that is greater than the power of indwelling sin in us. When we look by faith to the cross, we know sin has no dominion over us (Rom. 6:14) – that’s the motivation to fight till our last breath! Faith that all, ALL, my sins are forgiven me and not one is counted against me to my condemnation. Faith that I shall at last have complete victory over sin and the grave when Jesus comes for me either at my death, or else at His second coming. This life of faith is sustained and strengthened as we attend to the means of grace that God has graciously given to us – worship, prayer, reading and meditating on the Word.

As we fight against our sins and walk by faith, the Lord conforms us more and more to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the ultimate goal of growing in holiness. To be conformed to Jesus Christ, the perfection of holiness, for He is God.

Blessed!

It seems that living the holy life is no easy thing to do. Indeed it is. For it is nothing less than fighting a lifelong battle against our sinful flesh. But the blessing is unspeakable. For to live a life of holiness is to live the reality of the covenant of grace: a life of covenant fellowship with the Triune God. In other words, eternal life, which is nothing but the glorious, overwhelming blessing of God Himself as our God in Jesus Christ! Life with God! (Gen. 15:1; Rev. 21:3) What can be more thrilling and blessed than that? Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God! (Matt. 5:8).

The holy life is the only life worth living. For it is life with the Holy One. Now and forever. Do we live holy lives?

Written by: Elder Lee Kong Wee | Issue 47

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Bold to Witness

The day before his Saviour was killed, the apostle Peter did not have the courage to tell a young girl that he knew and loved Jesus. Strikingly, just fifty days later, the same Peter was suddenly bold to stand in front of the multitudes and preach of the wonderful works performed through Jesus. What could explain such a radical transformation in Peter? Was he emboldened by drunkenness?   “No!” Peter denied adamantly. The explanation given in Scripture was that Peter had been filled with the Spirit of Christ. By the power of the Spirit, Peter suddenly had the courage to testify in a way unlike he had ever had before.

We are not so different from Peter. Sometimes we are bold to witness; other times we have a mouth full of teeth but no words to say. We know that we ought to confess, and yet the good that we would say we struggle to say. In order that we might be “ready to give an answer”, let us look at what witnessing is, examine some reasons why we struggle with witnessing, and conclude by seeing what we might do to improve our witness.

Biblical boldness is having the courage to speak against what is wrong and to defend the truth, even when doing so will be unpopular and perhaps even cause you to be mocked by others. True boldness is having a deep and passionate love for God and the truth of His Word, which love supersedes your personal desires and concerns about reputation. It is speaking of Christ even when no one else dares to do so.

We must witness, for God commands it of us in His word. We confess in Psalm 66:16, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul”. The mandate to witness is seen even more clearly in the NT, in texts such as 1 Peter 3:15, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”. Witnessing is so important that Christ warns He will deny entrance into heaven to those who do not confess Him on this earth. Matthew 10:32-33, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven”. We must testify of Christ, or we stand in danger of eternal damnation.

Sadly, an honest examination of ourselves leads us to conclude that we are not always so willing to confess Christ before men. We rather easily talk about sports figures or weather or work, but we are hesitant to talk about the wonderful work of salvation that God has performed in our heart through Jesus Christ His Son. Why is it that we are so slow to speak of Christ?

One reason why we might not witness is that we are afraid of the social   implications   of   witnessing. We know that people in the world generally do not speak about Christ in their conversation; it is not “socially acceptable” to speak of Christ in public. We, by nature, want the respect of men and are worried that we will lose their respect if we do speak of Christ. Thus, we keep our mouths shut in hopes of maintaining our social status among men.

Another reason why we might hesitate to witness is our own ignorance regarding God’s Word. Whether it be a perceived or a real ignorance, we imagine that we are not able to give a coherent defence of the truth. We are worried that we might be “out-argued” by someone more intelligent or logical than us. Or maybe we are worried that we will not have every proof text on the tip of our tongue, so instead of revealing our own ignorance, we keep quiet.

But the ultimate reason why we do not witness is the devil, who is hard at work inside of us. The devil hates Christ, and the devil delights within himself when Christ is silenced. He does not want the Word of God proclaimed, for he knows that Christ is the Word (John 1:1), and when the Word is proclaimed, then Christ is proclaimed. Thus, the devil works to seal our lips. He tempts us to be silent when the co- worker takes God’s name in vain. The devil prompts us to doubt our ability to give a coherent defence of the gospel.

Because the devil is the one who tempts us not to witness of Christ, and because the devil is a liar and the father of all lies (John 8:44), we can rightly say that the reason we are not bold to testify of Christ is because of sin. It is because of our sinful nature, given to us by our parents, and which sin we daily add to, that we do not want to witness. And the more we sin, the more we lose the sense of God’s favour. And the less we enjoy the sense of God’s favour, the less likely we are to confess: “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul”.

Therefore, if we want to become more effective and regular in witnessing, we must start by addressing sin within us. We must search our hearts to see what hidden faults we have. And as God gives us the grace to see and know our sins, then we cry out for forgiveness, confident that “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). The key to becoming a better witness is not merely to change our outward behaviour, but to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. We do not say: “I can do this. I can witness because of my own strength”. Rather, we say: “I believe in Christ who saves me from my sins! And this same Christ who saves me from sin has also given me His Spirit, who empowers me to witness of Him to others!”

But as we do go out and witness, a few warnings must be given against ineffective methods of witnessing. In the first place, a warning must be   sounded   against   inappropriate uses of the internet for so-called “witnessing”. Online argumentation about theological topics is not effective witnessing. Some Christians seem to think that boldness in witnessing means to engage in extended online discussions to defend their particular position. But I have yet to see one person convicted of the truth and led to penitent confession of sin as a result of online argumentation. This is not to say that the internet has no place at all in the realm of witnessing. It does. But the way in which witnessing on the internet is effective is when information about the truth is made available to those who are already seeking the truth. That is, their internet search is subsequent to their interest in the Reformed truth.

Secondly, a warning must be given against the mentality that the best way to witness is to share the gospel with anyone and everyone with whom we have contact. This type of individual tells   the   stranger   on   the   elevator about Christ, as well as the person sitting next to him on the bus, as well as the person in the next table at the restaurant. Although this individual may be commended for his enthusiasm about spreading the gospel, he ought to consider a more effective means of promoting the gospel. And a more effective way is to witness during God- given opportunities to those with whom we already have an existing relationship. When the colleague asks why you do not work on Sunday, take the opportunity to tell of the God who set apart one day in seven for us to rest and enjoy especially close fellowship with Him. When your friend asks about why you dress so modestly, then tell them about your Lord who rules over your body as well as your soul.

As you seek the courage to witness, be encouraged in knowing that the Lord will give you the grace necessary to testify of Him. It is especially through God’s Word that we are given the gracious power to witness. Read of God’s goodness in His work of forgiving us our sins, and you will be given a desire to share the good news with others. Read of how heinous and offensive our sins are before the holy God, and you will be given the strength and conviction to warn others against continuing in the path of unrighteousness. Sit under the preaching of the Word, hear Christ speak to you, pray for utterance, and God will equip you to be a faithful witness.

Written by: Rev. Stephan Regnerus

Rejoicing and Weeping Together (I): Introduction

The church is family.

No, don’t think about it doctrinally, as a matter of fact. Sure, we in our heads know the church is our spiritual home. Rather, I am speaking more than matters of fact; I am writing about experience. Is family life your experience in this church?

The experience of family life is an experience of love. The brother listens; the sister understands; the elder cares.

But is your experience that the brother does not take the time to listen; that the sister does not understand what you are going through; or that the office-bearer does not seem to care about you?

Now, stop right there. Do not point the finger; turn the question around: Are you the one that does not listen, does not try to understand, and does not care?

If you answered yes, something is wrong. If we, the church, are family, we should not turn deaf ears to each other. We should listen and put ourselves in others’ shoes; we should love!

That is where our title comes in. God, who eternally loves us, teaches us how we ought to love one another in the church. God, through Paul, says, Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep (Rom. 12:15).

The text has two actions: rejoice and weep. To rejoice means to be full of cheer, joy, and gladness. For a Christian, to rejoice always means to be full of cheer, joy, and gladness in our salvation. We rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, because we believe that Jesus Christ delivered us from all our sins (1 Pet. 1:8). When we hear this good news, we are glad, as the Gentiles were in Paul’s day (Acts 13:48).

At the same time, we have earthly joys that we experience daily. They are the joys of having our physical needs met—food, shelter, clothing, transportation—and having such things in abundance. They are the joys of having a spouse and children and of having friendships in the church. Over these things, we rejoice (see Eccl. 3:12-13).

But there is weeping too. Weeping is the expression of grief, sorrow, and pain. What a stark contrast to our joy! For a Christian, weeping is always rooted in our sorrow over our spiritual depravity. Listen to the cry of Paul: O wretched man that I am! (Rom. 7:24). Or listen to the cry of the Psalmist: When I kept silence [over my sin], my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long (Ps. 32:3). Our sorrow over who we are by nature is deep, and it comes out with a loud, audible cry.

There are earthly sorrows that we experience daily. Sicknesses from flus; stresses from schools and jobs; troubles in making a living—in such events, we experience pain to some degree. We can add here, too, anything we respond to with a negative feeling. A train fault that made us late for work (again); breaking the glass jar in the kitchen; getting your hands soiled with your child’s foul-smelling poop. As insignificant as these things are, they contribute to the emotional sorrow we experience.

All of us rejoice; all of us weep. All of us have joys; all of us have sorrows. Now the calling is to rejoice together and weep together—that is, with others in the church.

To rejoice and weep together with someone means we listen to the brother or sister. What is his joy; what is her sorrow? We listen for the joy when the brother tells us. We give our fullest attention when sister breaks down in our presence. Then we try to understand the brother or sister. We picture the feeling of the brother’s joy in our minds, so that we know what makes him so happy and glad. We let the sorrow of the sister sink into our hearts, so that we know what makes her devastated. When we listen and understand, then we respond with the same joy and the same weeping. Smiling with the brother, we tell him, “Thank God; that’s great to hear!” Weeping with the sister, we gently whisper in her ear, “It is okay; cry your heart out here. I am here to cry with you”.

To rejoice and weep together is the reality of the church’s way of life.

But how often we lose that reality! When I switch off my mind as my brother shares with me about his day—there’s no listening in that! When, rather than giving him my attention, my focus is, “Oh, wait till he hears what I have to say!” I don’t even try to understand what he is going through! And when our brother is finished, we dully reply, “Oh”. Life in the church, then, is not for the brother and sister; but for me, myself, and I.

Paul, under inspiration, would not have us live that way. Through the first eleven chapters of Romans, he exhausts words to describe the love of God for us, the eternal decree of God’s election of His church, and the power of justification that lies solely in God’s grace through faith. Salvation is of God, not of ourselves!

If salvation is not of ourselves, can our lives be about me, myself, and I? Find Paul’s answer in Romans 12. Present your bodies a living sacrifice…unto God: Is that about me, myself, and I? Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think: Anything about us? Let love be without dissimulation: What about now? The texts speak for themselves. Our salvation from God alone spells out a life that gives itself to God and His people; and a life that gives itself to God and His people is a life that loves God and His people.

And if Paul’s words are not compelling enough, listen to apostle of love, John: If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar (I John 4:20). You and I are liars if we say, “Thanks be to God!” but do not love one another in the church, much less strive to learn to love.

Again, the question is: are you the one that does not listen, does not try to understand, and does not care? Are you, am I, the one that does not love?

The calling in the church is to love. The calling is to learn the proper way to love; and that way to love is to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those that weep.

How do we do so, especially in our congregation? We have talked about listening, understanding, and responding. But more can be said. Stay tuned, D.V.

Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 47

A Letter to My Unforgiving Self (I)

Are you caught in the throes of being unforgiving? Perhaps your heart deeply aches with pangs of betrayal, hurt, and loss; forgiving the offending person seems nigh impossible. Perhaps you maintain a cold, distant relationship, purposely holding a friend or family member at arm’s length, due to something he or she did years ago. Perhaps you are fed up with someone’s repeated sins against you; you were as forbearing as was humanly possible, and he crossed the line one time too many. Even worse, perhaps you refuse to recognise that you are being unforgiving, and justify your actions with a host of excuses.

Does the familiar feeling of indignant pride well up within you, bristling as you read these descriptions, as you are all too ready to justify your unforgiving spirit? Do you feel a distant pang of guilt that you are about to sweep away, all too quickly? If the descriptions above characterise you, you are not alone. All of God’s children are tempted to harbour an unforgiving spirit towards others, whether it be one which festers over the years or one which flares up momentarily. The rest of this article is addressed to myself, in the situations when I sinfully refuse to forgive others. I invite you to undertake this meditation together with me. Together, we shall examine Scripture’s requirement on forgiveness and expose our feeble excuses for being unforgiving. Lord willing, in the next article we shall consider how we can grow to be more forgiving.

Scripture’s Requirement on Forgiveness

Self, it is good for you to know clearly what God’s Word says about forgiveness, so that you are under no illusions as to what it involves.

First of all, we need to look at God’s forgiveness of sins, the heart of the gospel. When God forgives sin, He cancels the debt that the sinner owes to Him, and does not punish the sinner with death as he deserves (Rom. 6:23a). That God, the holy, righteous God, should forgive the sins of His undeserving people, is a miracle of grace. That this forgiveness involved the sacrifice of His only begotten Son for those who were His enemies is mind- boggling. Self, let’s now apply this truth personally. You have been forgiven of God! Yes, you, self, who are the chief of sinners. You know your own heart and can see how evil and abhorrent your own thoughts are. But God has still chosen to forgive your sins! Could there be any greater wonder?

Next, we see that having been forgiven, God also expects you, self, to forgive others. God makes this clear in many passages of Scripture. We are instructed to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). Do you pray this prayer, self? We are also commanded to be “kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). Do you heed this command? It is interesting to note that there are two different words for “forgive”. The one used in Matthew refers to a letting go, not holding onto a debt. The one used in Ephesians refers to something more demanding. Not merely are we to let go, but we are to go out of our own way to do something pleasant for the neighbour. We do this by seeking his repentance, even at a cost to ourselves.

Scripture’s requirement to forgive our neighbour is clear: self, you are to forgive your neighbour even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. How God has forgiven you is the model for how you forgive your neighbour. Yes, it is not easy to do so. You might even feel that your particular circumstances justify not forgiving your neighbour. Self, let’s look at some circumstances which you think are such. Or, to put it more bluntly, let’s expose some of your feeble excuses which you use to justify your unforgiving spirit, and see whether these excuses accord with how God has forgiven you.

My Feeble Excuses for Being Unforgiving, Examined  

  1. “But he did this to me!” Or, “She said that to me!”

Go ahead, self, and fill in this and that with the worst possible reasons you can think of. Could it be physical harm to a loved one or yourself, which leaves you scarred, or involving the loss of life? Could it be an emotional anguish which tears at your soul, inflicted by the gross callousness of your spiteful neighbour? Understand, self, that I am not belittling the hurt that you face or the magnitude of the deed done against you. The deed was indeed grievous, and the pain steep; it aches my heart even to think of it. However, no matter how serious the sin committed against you, God’s Word unflinchingly demands: Forgive! Imagine if God, looking at the greatest of our sins, thundered, “But he did that! He delivered up my Son, and by wicked hands crucified and slew Him! She did this! She cried, ‘Crucify Him!’ to the very person who was supposed to save her!” If God were to treat you that way, self, there would be no forgiveness for you. However, God’s forgiveness does not have its basis in what you did, but in what Christ did – it is for Christ’s sake that God has forgiven you. Likewise, self, away with this excuse of not forgiving because of what your neighbour did; instead, forgive because of Christ’s sake: what Christ did for you.

2. “But she hasn’t repented! She has to repent first, before I forgive her, right?”

Self,   perhaps   you   aren’t   trying   to be unforgiving here; this could be something that you are genuinely wrestling with. How do you forgive the person if she shows no sign of repentance of the sin? Perhaps it may be useful to distinguish between the external act of forgiveness and the internal spirit of forgiveness. The external act of forgiveness, which must be accompanied by the internal spirit of forgiveness, can only be properly manifested when the offender repents of his sin. Otherwise, there is no forgiving (the act) to even speak of. Luke 17:3 instructs us to forgive the brother “if he repent[s]”. However, how can you genuinely manifest the act of forgiving your brother, self, unless you are ready in your heart to receive the brother’s repentance – that is, already possess a forgiving spirit? But that’s not all, self. Don’t just expect to sit back and wait for the brother to approach you. You go to him, and seek his repentance. Here’s the whole of Luke 17:3: “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him” (emphasis mine). Self, God’s Word tells us to rebuke our brother (see also Matt. 18:15), to bring him back to repentance, such that we can apply the act of forgiveness to him! This ties in to the more demanding meaning of “forgive” used in Ephesians 4:32 – the one that requires us to seek out the neighbour’s repentance at a cost to self.

This takes care of a similar-sounding excuse that you may use, self: “Since he has a problem with me or did something hurtful to me, he should talk to me about it first. I’ll wait.” Imagine if God let Adam and Eve, cowering behind some trees, seek Him first to repent of their sins before He would forgive them – there would be no seed of the woman! Imagine if God let you approach Him first before He would forgive – there would be no forgiveness for you, self! God commended His love toward you, sending Christ to die for you, when you were ungodly, a sinner, one without strength, and utterly incapable of approaching Him (Rom. 5:6-8). Self, you need to imitate God in this too.1 You need to possess a forgiving spirit towards your brother, and acting from that spirit, take steps to seek his repentance so that you may then manifest the act of forgiveness.

3. I’ve forgiven him, but I don’t want to have anything to do with him.” Self, do you even hear what you’re saying here?! “I’ve forgiven him, but I’ve not forgiven him”? “I’ve cancelled his debt against me, but I still count his debt against me, so let me remain distant from him”? Yes, only you are capable of such manifest inconsistencies, totally depraved self! Here’s where you have to examine yourself: are your actions the manifestation of love in your heart, the outworking of a forgiving spirit? If your honest answer is no, then I’m afraid that’s hatred right there, self, the lack of love.

It’s likely that the brother or sister who sinned against us is someone who used to be close to us – a family member or close friend. That explains why the offence hurt us so badly. Self, for you to “forgive” such a person, and then actively hold him at arm’s length – that seems possible only out of an unforgiving heart, a heart of hatred, where no love resides. Imagine if God did that to you – if He forgave you, but banished you to live in a secluded corner of heaven, far from Him – what misery! What an unforgiving spirit! Instead, He chooses to dwell with His people, be their God, and wipe away all tears from their eyes (Rev. 21:3-4). What a wonderful example for us to emulate!

Now, there is no mandated level of interaction to which you must restore a relationship. It may very well be that the damage done to the relationship makes it such that the same closeness is no longer possible. However, you do need to examine yourself: are your actions after that the manifestation of love in your heart, the outworking of a forgiving spirit? Do not be too quick to answer this question, self; rather, pray about it, asking God for strength to forgive where an unforgiving spirit still prevails.

Conclusion

I pray your meditation on forgiveness has been profitable so far, dear reader. The Word of God is clear on the subject: Forgive, for you have been forgiven of a debt far greater than what is owed you. Shall we be as the unforgiving servant, who, having been forgiven of ten thousand talents by his lord, demand the payment of a hundred pence from his fellow-servant? Or shall we not rather be as Joseph, who, despite being sold to slavery by his murderous brothers, and having the power to destroy them, instead fell upon them, weeping in reconciliation? Perhaps you recognise Scripture’s uncompromising command to forgive, but find it immensely difficult to do so. Lord willing, we shall continue our meditation in another article and see how we can find the strength to forgive. Till then, may the grace of our forgiving God be with you!

Bibliography

Key, Steven. “Forgiving One Another (12).” Loveland Protestant Reformed Church, Loveland, Colorado, July 12, 2015.

Baucham, Voddie. “Forgiveness.” Tabernacle Baptist Church, Ennis, Texas, August 9, 2013.

 

1 Bear in mind this difference between God’s act of forgiveness and ours: His act of forgiveness is effectually manifested even before we come to repentance, unlike ours, which can only be manifested after the repentance of the brother. Remember, God’s act of forgiveness and forgiving spirit are both rooted in the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8).

Written by: Marcus Wee | Issue 47

Faithfulness and Courage in Ungodly Babylon

Daniel   3   records   the   remarkable faith and courage of three covenant young people. These three, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, trusting Jehovah God, are not afraid of the king’s wrath. These three have a fear of God that is greater than their fear of man. These three stand out and stand alone over against a godless and anti-Christian culture. Let’s pray that our consideration of their faith will be spiritually beneficial for us in a similar day.

Ungodly Babylon and its king Nebuchadnezzar   are   representative in Scripture of the future kingdom of the Antichrist which will be opposed to the church of Jesus Christ and all true Christianity. The three friends of Daniel came to be in Babylon because of the sin of Judah in worshiping the gods of the Canaanites. Selected to live as princes in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, they were being groomed to take the culture and religion of Babylon back to their own people, and to help Nebuchadnezzar in establishing a universal state religion in which he would be the god.

This is what is happening in Daniel 3.

Nebuchadnezzar, having received and understood the vision of the image with its different parts, and understanding that he is represented by the bust of gold in that image, now sets up an image of gold, 90 feet (30 meters) tall, to represent himself. He then gathers all the important men of his kingdom (princes, governors, treasurers, captains, judges, counsellors, sheriffs and rulers) from all the parts of his kingdom to dedicate this image, and to establish himself as the “god” of the new state religion. Those who refuse to worship him face immediate death in the fiery furnace. In a similar way, the Antichrist will come and set himself up as god who must be worshiped, with the threat that all who do now bow to and worship him will be persecuted and killed (Read 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 13).

Under immense pressure, even the threat of death, these three covenant youth confess and stand strong in their faith. Their stand represents “the patience (or perseverance) and faith of the saints” in the day of Antichrist (Rev. 13:10b, 14:12).

Let’s imagine the pressures they experienced. These were men who in their grooming had received immense privileges and prosperity and had already been promoted in the kingdom. What a privilege, from a political perspective, to be invited to this important event for the honouring of the emperor. Not only do they face the prospect of losing all this, but there is a death threat issued and a furnace close by for the non-conformist.

Besides, all their peers – the crowd in front of them, behind them, and stretching out both to the right and the left – are bowing down, perhaps even some of their own countrymen from Judah. Why would one want to stand out? The pressures include a peer-pressure, the loss of prestige and prosperity, the threat of persecution and death. These all are the pressures we face in an anti-Christian world, and that we will face increasingly as the end draws nearer.

How easy it would be to bow down to the image, without having your heart in that act, and to rationalize such behavior. “An idol is nothing, right?” “This is merely a political act. In bowing to the image, are we not honouring the god-appointed authority?”     Or,   “What   good   is it to remain standing? We’ll be misunderstood and perceived as strange, anyway.”

It is characteristic of the apostatizing church and the weak believer to make such excuses. The argument is that we have to be as much like the world as we can be in order that they might understand us. When we think that way, we go along with the world, we remain silent over against blasphemy, we make ourselves, our goals, and our lives look as much like the world as we can. And, all the while, we become weaker and weaker in our stand. That’s true also for the church when she caters to the sensitivities and desires of the culture in order to avoid the appearance of being “odd”.

The “patience and faith of the saints” is that they, by God’s grace, stand out and speak out against a godless and anti-Christian world, knowing full well the consequences. This is what these three did in their refusal to bow and in their answer to the king. Recognizing that Nebuchadnezzar’s demand was not merely political but religious, they refused. In that refusal, they made a clear statement to all. Compromise or a mixed message never brings a true witness of God. They saw, not only that the worship of   an   image   is   disobedience   to God’s law, but that Nebuchadnezzar in demanding the image to be worshiped was usurping the place of God for himself (v. 5, 12b). The king himself understands that they believe that their God is greater and more powerful than any man, able to deliver them out of his hands (v. 15). They know, also the consequences. Immediately they are despised by the other nobles who, wanting to gain favor with the king, “accused them” to the king (v. 8). They understood also the consequence of death, and though they put their faith in God, they did not know for sure that God would deliver them from the fire (vv. 17-18).

We ask, “What explains their resolve?” and “Would I have such resolve?” Four observations are worthy of our consideration here.

First, their resolve and their stand here was built on their earlier resolve, in chapter 1, not to eat the king’s meat. In what was a smaller issue, which they could have also rationalized away, they obeyed God’s dietary laws and maintained their holiness. Will you be able to stand in the day of Antichrist’s persecution? That’s really the wrong question. The question is, Are you standing today against temptation?

Second, in their resolve, they stood together. God, wonderfully and providentially, gave them each other for strength and support in the hour of temptation and persecution. We are not called, as Christians, to stand in solitude outside of the communion of the saints, but we are called by Christ into the solidarity of his body, the church, and with others we stand. This is the point of Jesus’ own words in Matthew 5:12b, “for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you”. Even when in our experience we stand alone, we are never alone, but stand in solidarity and identity with the people of God from all ages and all places of the earth. This is the beauty of believing that the church is “universal”.

Third, and most importantly, their confession and stand before the king comes from the work of the Holy Spirit of God. In Hebrews 11 we read of these three, that “by faith they quenched the violence of fire”. Faith is always the result of the work of God’s Spirit, and is the gift of God to His elect (Act. 13:48; Eph. 2:8, Phil. 1:29). Just as God was with them later in the fiery furnace, so He was already with them by His Spirit in the loneliness of their confession. We are never alone!

And fourth, their boldness of faith is to be explained also from the content of their confession. Their distinctive confession is that their God is the Sovereign of heaven and earth. They say, “Our God is able to deliver us out of the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thy hand, O king” (vv. 17-18). He “is able”, that is, he is Almighty. “His power is greater than yours, O king. What you do cannot over rule what He does. What you demand, O king, we can in know way follow, for it is against the command of the Sovereign God.” The sovereignty of God is his absolute power as well as his right to rule over all. Confessing this, they were able to withstand the pressures of the typical anti-Christ. Remember, when the Antichrist comes, his power will be limited by the sovereign power of King Jesus (2 Thess. 2:12; Rev. 13:5, 7 – “given unto him…”).

In the end, this is the confession that will, by God’s grace, sustain us in the face of persecution. Who is on the throne? Believing that God is on the throne, they said, “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter,” that is, “we are not anxious or full of cares as we answer”. They are saying to the king, “We do not need to reconsider our position, we are sure in our confession, because we trust that our God is sovereign.” They did not know God’s will, whether He would deliver them from the flames or no, but they did know His power and were confident that He would be with them.

And He was!

In a remarkable and special way, in the presence of the typical Antichrist, Christ Himself came and stood with them in the fiery furnace. This was the “fourth man” in the furnace. A Christophany. “The Angel of Jehovah” came and was with them. The ropes melted away from their hands, but not a hair of their head is singed, nor even the smell of smoke on their clothing. In the fire, they are seen, unharmed, walking, and “Christ in the midst of them”. He sees their suffering and He comes to them, according to His own promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20).

And the cause of God is vindicated. All the glory goes to God through this. This is God’s purpose with all of history, including the coming day of Antichrist and the great tribulation. God will be vindicated in the end. The challenge here is not against these three who will not bow to the king, but the challenge of Nebuchadnezzar is against God Himself. Ultimately, he is forced to confess that Jehovah alone is the true God. Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).

And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows (Luk. 12:4-7).

Written by: Rev. Rodney Kleyn | Issue 46

Book Review: Side By Side

Another year is coming to a close, and a closing year for most students brings much free time. Before you, my readers, conclude that this is a boring nag to read intellectually heavy books on Reformed theology, please hold back your judgment and realize that the book we review here is on practice—godly living based on sound doctrine.

Side by Side, by Edward T. Welch, is the book.

Those of us who have read this book would have recognized that it is not doctrinally sound. Before speaking of the depravity of our hearts, the author claims there is “good” (12) and that man still bears the image of God (88). In addition to the lack of soundness, we do not appreciate the author’s use of the NIV, which is known to be an unfaithful translation of the Bible.

Yet, the book is not wholly founded upon its doctrinal errors. There is doctrine with which we can heartily agree; in it, we will find the author promotes edifying conversations leading to spiritual counseling that all of us in the church need from each other.

Two themes struck me as I read the book, and I hope an open reflection of those themes will encourage you, my brethren, to pick this book up.

One recurring theme in this short book is fellowship in the church.

The author, in a way, forces us to examine what characterises our conversations in our church. What are our conversations like? Are they made up of laughs and banter only? Are they circled around earthly matters, without any Scriptural insight? Let everyone judge himself; but I know I have missed too many opportunities to steer a conversation for the spiritual edification of my brethren. And the author assumes that that is the case for most Christians.

The author assumes so on the basis of two experiences. As the ones speaking, we are often “afraid of what people will think” when we share about our struggles (p. 11). Hence, to run away from our fear, we avoid such conversations. As the ones listening, when it comes to helping others, “we feel unqualified” (p. 12).

Identifying these common experiences, the author offers encouragement to overcome them. We must not, he writes, be afraid about sharing our “neediness” in life (pp. 60, 63-64). As needy people, we naturally need others to help us; and as the Lord uses us to be a helper to others, we must know that the Spirit qualifies us to have such spiritual conversations and be of help to others in those conversations (pp. 68-71).

The author also realizes that these experiences   paralyze   our   speech; we do not know how to start and maintain spiritual conversations. So he briefly goes through the process of a conversation: Greeting others (pp. 73-77), finding topics to start off with (pp. 79-84), leading the conversation into speaking about the heart (pp. 87-93), etc. Through his suggestions, the author clearly does not intend to teach that every conversation must be aimed at talking about others’ problems. The intent, rather, is that one creates a rapport that, in God’s providence, may be used to help. Not all the suggestions in these pages must be used in every conversation; but they are worth our attempts. Perhaps, through our attempts, we will find better ways to start and maintain edifying conversations.

The second recurring theme in this book is sympathy. Again, the author leads us to examine our sympathy towards our brethren in Christ. Do we show sympathy? Or is there, instead, a   cold—perhaps   harsh—response to the needs of our brethren? Or, in response to the weaknesses of our brethren, do we jump straight in to a scolding? Again, let every one judge himself; but I know I have not shown sympathy to those who were in need of it. And, once more, the author assumes that that is the case for most. What does the author have to say about sympathy? Our words must express our sympathy for our brethren (p. 103). Even the words of our rebuke must be marked with that sympathy. One cannot go to the brother or sister without sympathy, and the author shows the need for sympathy by devoting an entire chapter on it (pp. 101-110).

Having    established    the    need    to show sympathy, the author points out specific words that do express sympathy, and others that hinder that expression (pp. 104-107). Once again, the author understands how often we lack the wisdom to choose the best words to use, so he offers concrete suggestions for our consideration. Having spiritual talk and sympathy— but overarching them is the one truth that the church is the body of Christ. Having  spiritual  fellowship, and in  such fellowship having true sympathy, is part and parcel of the body of Christ. “We were meant to walk side by side, an interdependent body of weak people…. That is how life in the church works” (p. 12). Why? Because Christ our Head did so with us! He walked on this earth with us—to experience the weaknesses of our earthly bodies, and even the temptations in our hearts— to save us from these weaknesses and temptations (p. 13).

To this truth we give our hearty consent. Discern and disagree with the doctrinal errors of the book; but receive its instruction from cover to cover!

But…perhaps something still bugs you. What good does this book do for us, Reformed Christians?

Certainly, reading a wavering view of total depravity does not add to our knowledge of Reformed doctrine positively. However, what does help is that we discern these doctrinal errors and, in our minds, replace them with right doctrine as we read the book.

Yet, what seems to be of greatest help is to keep our confessions in mind as we read the book. What do our confessions say about helping one another in the church? The Belgic Confession has strong language for this: “…all men are in duty bound…” To what? Join the church? Absolutely. To stand for right doctrine in the church? Definitely. But also, “… as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren.” We are duty bound to serve—to help—one another! Certainly, then, we are interested in learning how to counsel one another. With that interest, read the book!

Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 46

Wise Farmers

I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. –Proverbs 24:30-31

King Solomon is out on a walk, taking time off palace business to tour the byways of his kingdom. As he passes the fields, people come out of their farms to greet him reverently along the way.

At some length, he walks by a farm that catches his eye. The farm is encircled by a stone wall – examining it more closely, Solomon perceives and appreciates its fine workmanship. The king remarks how each stone was carefully cut to size, diligently laid in place and set upon the best mortar. The wall might have been built by the owner of the field in earlier days, or perhaps the land and its accompanying wall was inherited from a thorough and hardworking ancestor.

On the occasion of the king’s inspection today however, the wall is in bad shape. Thick, messy ivy covers much of it so that its excellent original construction is all but obscured. The wall has holes in some places, in others it is completely broken down. It is derelict and useless for its intended purpose of protecting the farmland. The fields within the wall are no better, lying fallow; most of the land is overgrown with thorns and weeds. Solomon does not need to meet the farmer to know what manner of man he is; the forlorn state of the property testifies to his character. Solomon records his findings; the farmer is a lazy man, one dispossessed of any earthly and spiritual understanding.

The book of Proverbs has much to say about the exercise of wisdom in our personal and church lives. The question is this: how ought we to live wisely and as individuals and members of our church? This is a really broad question, but the record of Solomon in Proverbs 24 offers some important and specific insights.

Let us take a closer look at the ruined farm Solomon came across, from the perspective of the farmer himself. As was mentioned, the wall was a fine edifice, and perhaps it was even well-maintained for generations. The fields were once fruitful and productive. How came the farm to its present state? Could it be that the farmer was down with a temporary illness, or was on a journey, soon to be back to restore things to rights? Perhaps an enemy had battered down the walls, and driven the farmer and his family away? However, Solomon indicates that these are not the explanations. The run-down state of the farm was not due to a sudden unexpected event or a temporary absence of attention, but due to years of gradual neglect. The fine stone wall was worn down by the heat and the frost, exposed to the elements season after season, and little was done to maintain it. The farm was within the realm of Solomon, which had enjoyed lasting peace, free from raiders and roaming bands, so the sudden work of an enemy could be ruled out as well. No, what had happened was a slow and steady surrender, a quiet degeneration and a serene abdication of crucial responsibilities.

Contemplating Solomon’s verdict, this is how I imagine the story behind the ruined farm unfolded.

Maybe, the decline began once upon a time amidst the farm’s original prosperity, almost imperceptibly. Perhaps one day, the farmer arose from his bed, having just completed the back-breaking work of bringing in the season’s harvest the week before. There was much to rejoice and be thankful for in the farmer’s household. The harvest had been bountiful and had made the farmer’s family rich. They had enough to eat for subsequent months and some more besides. They could afford to give the tithe comfortably and still have left over for the poor, and perhaps even to buy some new things. As respectable Israelites, they gave thanks to God for this prosperity (outwardly, at least) and celebrated with their neighbours. They hoped for many more of such good years to come.

It was in such a time that the farmer awoke that morning and looked out his window – something caught his eye. Along the farm’s well-kept wall, there seemed to be a small hole. A single stone had fallen out of its place.

On another day, the farmer might have made fixing the hole the first priority of the morning. The wall was an important installation, for it served many crucial purposes. It kept out the weeds from the surrounding forest and plains, as well as the rabbits and deer away from the juicy crop. It would prevent a wild boar from wandering in and goring the farmer’s children as they played in the fields. It marked the boundaries of the property clearly, and in less secure times, served as a defence against bandits, thieves and wolves. It would be a vital routine of the farm to maintain the wall regularly.

Not today however, the farmer thought. It was only a small hole, and he deserved a break. Today would be a holiday. The harvest was safely in the barn. Perhaps he would wait till a few more stones fell out before repairing them all at once, for it took some effort to mix the mortar and cut the stones. No repairing today.

Several months elapsed, and now it was time to begin planting again. As the farmer had decided, the wall’s accumulation of damage was allowed to build up a little. The eventual repair job became considerably larger however, and took more effort than planned. The eradication of weeds and vermin was an unending job, but this year it seemed more pronounced. Before the wall had been repaired, hungry conies had climbed through and had made their burrows in the farmer’s fields. Evicting them was necessary but took valuable manpower away from other important activities.

Not long after, the farmer made another decision: he would not plough all the fields this year, but allow a plot or two to lie unplanted. It was, he felt, too difficult to cultivate all of them continually as he had in years past. There was other work that needed doing on the farm. He was himself getting by in years and did not feel as energetic as before – the harvest last year had been more than plentiful enough anyway.

Next harvest therefore, the crop yield was somewhat smaller than the previous year. The farm’s quiet process of decline had begun, and continued inexorably and fatally until the day Solomon passed by on his royal tour.

Was a hole in the wall that to blame for the farm’s eventual ruin, the precipitant of an unstoppable chain of events? Was the farmer trapped by a cycle of unfortunate circumstance? We might be inclined to think so; but the judgment of Solomon tells us otherwise. However the farm’s visible decay began, its origin was spiritual and had its roots in the farmer’s heart.

This same rot is in our own hearts too, and the discerning soul will see how this text in Proverbs personally convicts us all. Decline often begins not from a position of poverty but from abundance, just as the otherwise faithful church in Ephesus was in danger of fatally losing her first love. A little folding of the hands – and the ruin begins.

It might come in the form of “little” sins, almost imperceptible to ourselves and to others around us – however little, no crack in the armour goes unnoticed by Satan and these are rapidly exploited. “Small” little sins, personal sins that we commit every minute of the day, some unconsciously, others presumptuously – yet each is ultimately fatal to the farm, a single stone out of place; a clump of weeds; a little hungry, wandering rabbit. Except we get down to the hard task of restoring the farm, by running constantly to the cross with our sins and turning from them, begging God for strength to do so – our sins and weaknesses will all enlarge and multiply. Small secret sins turn inevitably into bigger, unmanageable and public ones. Satan enters in and sows more weeds. Our once-fertile plots begin to lie fallow. Our vineyards that have the God-given capacity to produce fruit a hundred-fold, now produce fifty or thirty, or less. I am frequently conscious of where these holes appear in my wall, even if I often choose to suppress them from my own conscience. After all, they are so insignificant that no one else notices; or maybe if they do, they won’t say anything. The farm is doing well. No repairing today – maybe tomorrow, and so my wicked old nature deceives my heart and lulls it into spiritual slumber.

In the faithful church however, it can look like this. Members, cherishing secret sins unrepented of, quietly lose their zeal and first love. A strain of worldliness creeps into the lives of the members, and this is reflected in the fervency of worship. A false doctrine is tolerated – perhaps a committee is drawn up to “study” it, from which there is no position taken after long deliberations. “Good” biblical hymns and other uninspired songs wriggle their way alongside the psalms in the worship – surely they do no harm? The Lord’s Supper is trivialized, members are often absent and no sincere examination is done on the part of those that partake. Members struggle to explain the doctrines. Perhaps they are taught, but they are not really interested. Involvement in the life of the church quietly becomes secondary to career, success and leisure. Public, chronic sins on the part of members go unrebuked by other members and by the consistory.

However, in other outward respects the church appears to remain strong. It bears the name “Reformed”. The creeds are mentioned every now and then. She expresses some energy for missions and evangelism. She appears orthodox, even if certain of the church’s fields lay fallow, growing only weeds – all faithful churches on this earth in any case are imperfect and possess weaknesses. But with weaknesses swept under the rug, never discussed to any reformative effect, covered up in the name of “love”, God has somewhat against her. Her works are ready to die, and soon Christ will remove the church’s candlestick and spew her out of His mouth.

What is to be done? There can only be the constant work of repairing the breaches, continually repenting and turning to the cross. This could be called the work of “reforming”, as individuals and as a church. This is hard work, much more easily said than done. It is work that requires endless prayer and tears. It is work, but not in our own strength or merits; it is the work of Christ alone who gives us both the ability and the will to do it.

Only then are we kept faithful and the church kept in strength, though often from a worldly perspective, she remains small and despised. What are the breaches in our own lives and our church? What must be done to repair them? How can we encourage and pray for each other? Perhaps these are questions that will be profitable for us to discuss further in our spiritual conversations and in the societies.

Having received from the Lord a spiritual inheritance, through the Reformation, through godly parents, through our conversion by the Spirit – we possess an inheritance that we must daily cry for God to preserve. Our sins against this inheritance, our farm, are not insignificant – let not Satan deceive us – but all of them fatal, and we must run to the cross for forgiveness and reformation constantly. There is no other way. Let not a church that is strong take its ease, even for a moment, and let not one that has slid, decline further or despair, but let both return again and again to the Lord.

Break up your fallow ground”, the prophet cries. “Sow not among thorns!” (Jer. 4:3) Let us pray for grace and encourage one another in this work, tirelessly repairing the walls of Christ’s beloved church and the walls of our own hearts. May Jehovah alone be our strength, and may we all, by His grace, be accounted wise farmers in the final reckoning – for the glory of our Lord and King.

Written by: Chua Lee Yang | Issue 46

The Sin of Silence

Ezekiel 3:17 Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.

18 When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.

19 Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

20 Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling-block before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand.

21 Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul.

Dear Covenant Youth,

Although this passage concerns the calling of the watchman or the minister of God’s flock, it is not contrary to the principles of God’s Word that I apply this Word of God to your lives, for all of God’s people are called to be “watchmen” over the lives of our brethren or to be our brother’s keepers (Gen. 4:9), and even to admonish them if we see that he is overtaken in a fault (Gal. 5:1-2).

Whenever I come across this passage of God’s Word, it never fails to bring a chill to my spine, and I am sure you will have the same reaction. This is perhaps one of the most serious, frightening, awesome word of God in the whole of Scripture. This text together with the title of the article has to do with our awesome responsibility in the sight of God.

What is it about this text that causes one to sit up and pay attention to the message? It is this: we are responsible for the blood of our brethren if we do not bring the Word of God to warn them when we know they are walking in sin.

God does not allow us any excuse for not bringing a word of warning from His Word to them. Perhaps, we say in our hearts, “oh, they ought to know – no need for me to remind them”, or “I don’t wish to rock the boat and cause my brethren to dislike me”. This Word of God does not allow us to be delinquent in our duty.

There is not a more straightforward and direct word of God than this text. What does this text teach me? First, it is our solemn responsibility to warn those who belong to the instituted church of God who sin against Him. In it, there are both the wicked and the righteous – who have departed from the way of God and live a wicked life outwardly. Then, there are those who seem to be righteous but have been overtaken in sin. Both of these groups belong to the household of God. To both groups, we must warn them of their sins and waywardness. Then, it is a fearful thing that God in sovereignty places a stumbling block in the lives of the wicked. Such a stumbling block causes one to fall and sin. It is the result of God’s judgment upon the person who has hardened his heart and refuses to turn from his sins.

Whatever is the situation, our calling is to warn him of his sins, and if he repents from his sins, we have not only saved a sinning soul from death but also our own soul. But, second, if we do turn a blind eye to his sin and fail to warn him of his sin, then when he dies in his impenitence, we are responsible for his sin, simply because we have failed in our duty to warn of his sin. Third, if we warn him of his sin, and he ignores the warning, then our soul is saved but the one who refuses to listen to our admonition will be damned.

Now, practically, what are the sins of our brethren? Let me name a few: not keeping the Lord’s Day holy, failure to attend to the chief means of grace in the preaching of God’s Word and partaking of the Lord’s Supper, living a double life, worldliness, materialism, spiritual adultery and others. It is important that our brethren turn from their sins because they will incur God’s hottest wrath and displeasure. God will not wink His eye at sin and let the sinner go. Our motivation to warn them is the love of our brethren and our desire for their eternal good and blessings to come upon them. Their good that we seek is greater than their displeasure and anger that we may experience from them as a result of pointing out their sin. Ultimately, our greatest motivation is to please God, to conform to His law, and to see to it that His creatures abide by His Word and reflect His glory.

The positive teaching means that in our lives we are always testifying about God – His honour, name, good pleasure, sovereignty, and will. However, whenever we see God robbed of His glory, we cannot be silent but must speak up. This is the reason why silence is sin when sin is committed, especially when we have witnessed it. If we could prevent sin being committed, we will by warning against it. But most of the time, we cannot not prevent it and are witnesses of the sin. Then, our calling is to call the sinning brethren to repent and turn from his wicked ways.

But, we must never admonish our brother is a haughty way, as if we are higher and know better. We could be the ones who have been overtaken in our faults. Thus, we come in the spirit of humility, realising that we could have fallen in the same sins. Furthermore, the timing of that admonition is also very important. We must pray that God give us the grace, wisdom and the humility to confront our brother with love.

Dear Father in heaven, forgive me for being silent when I ought to speak – to speak of your goodness, beauty, grace, and love. Forgive me of the fear of men – what they think of me but not concerned what thou wouldst think of me. Forgive me for the sake of Jesus, who died for my sins on the cross. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Written by: Paul Goh | Issue 42

Dare to Stand: Reproach and Reward – Moses’ Choice

Hebrews 11:24-26 Moses’ Choice

A Choice!

Choose. A man must choose. A man does choose. When the Reformed faith condemns the Arminian error that the natural man has a free will by which he is able to choose or to reject Jesus, the Reformed faith does not deny that man chooses. It does not even deny that man chooses about Jesus. God made man a rational, moral creature. As a rational, moral creature man has a will. With his will he chooses. With his will man chooses not only in things natural, but also in things spiritual. In those spiritual things the choice that man must make is stark: heaven or hell, life or death, God or sin, Christ or Satan, obedience or disobedience. The consequences of the choice are eternal. Man must choose. God demands in the gospel that man choose. Man will choose. God will judge man for his choice.

The terrible truth about the natural man is that when confronted with that choice he always chooses wrongly.

With his will he chooses sin, death, hell, Satan, and disobedience, and he chooses against God, Christ, heaven, and salvation. Choose. Man must choose. Man does choose. Man always chooses the evil.

Amazing choice!

Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Moses chose opposite of the natural man. Moses’ choice is the choice of faith. Moses’ choice is the choice that faith always makes otherwise that professed faith is no faith at all.

A choice is picking one among alternatives. If a man chooses a piece of property, then that choice was made between alternatives. If there is no alternative, there is no choice. In the choice the mind prefers one alternative over another. At its deepest level a choice is a matter of love. What a man loves he chooses. That preference involves the evaluation of the alternatives and the judgment that for some reason the one is preferable. What the mind prefers the will chooses.

There were alternatives for Moses. Moses saw the one alternative in the home of Pharaoh’s daughter. He was called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. This had not always been his lot. She drew him from the water where Amram and Jochebed had laid him in his ark among the reeds. Perhaps making fun of the deadly decree of her wicked father, she gave him his name, Moses, one drawn from the water. She adopted him. He became her son. She was his mother. Pharaoh was his grand-father. The whole court and the entire nation knew that.

The son of Pharaoh’s daughter came to years and became great in Egypt. He enjoyed all the advantages of his well- connected position. If not heir to the throne of Egypt he was at least brought up as one. He was learned in all the wisdom of Egypt and had access to all the opportunities for worldly pleasure, advancement, and success that Egypt provided.

But he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. With that refusal he also renounced all the pleasures and treasures of Egypt. He went out of her house. He renounced his family, his upbringing, his home, his present course of life, and his future in Egypt. He sealed his decision by killing an Egyptian. When Pharaoh heard this he sought to kill him.

Rather, he chose to suffer affliction with the people of God. Moses’ choice was the choice of God, Christ, obedience, and salvation. Do not misunderstand that. Moses chose God and Christ and salvation by choosing to be with God’s people. Moses was acquainted with them. His mother had him for a few years. No doubt she taught him about the people of God. A kingdom of God, where God dwells and where He bestows His grace, a kingdom of riches, life, salvation, and blessing. To be with those people is to be with God for God dwells with them. To be with God is salvation. To live apart from God is was death. No doubt he saw them—on his inspections of the kingdom, resplendent in his princely accoutrements, enjoying the wealth and privilege of Egypt—an enslaved, beaten, despised, and afflicted people of God.

Stark choice!

To be with Egypt was to have pleasure and success now, but to be without God. Friendship with the world is enmity against God. To be with the people of God was to have God, but affliction. One could not remain with Egypt and have God. One could not join the people of God and avoid affliction. Moses chose to be with the people of God and to suffer affliction with them rather than to enjoy the pleasures of Egypt.

Believing choice!

The unbelieving, natural man makes a choice too. With his mind he weighs the alternatives and judges one better than the other. With his will he chooses what his mind prefers. But his mind is dark and his will in bondage because of sin.   With his darkened mind he evaluates: church or the world, pleasures or affliction. By the measure and the thinking of the sinful mind the world and pleasure weighs very heavy, and the people of God and affliction are esteemed very lightly. With his mind he loves sin. With his will bound under the power of sin he chooses what his mind prefers: Egypt, pleasure, and death. The natural man cannot, he will not, and he cannot will to make Moses’ choice.

Not the Arminians’ proud choice. Do not confuse Moses’ choice with theirs. See how different Moses’ choice is. The Arminian choice is a choice to believe. Moses’ choice was a choice of faith. He had the faith already and by it he chose.

That faith was God’s gift to him in fulfilment of His promise to be the God of Abraham and to his seed. That faith was union with Christ. That faith was the certain knowledge of all that God promised as true and the assurance that it was for Moses. God gave him the power to believe and the act of believing also. By that faith alone he was justified and saved apart from his choice. In that choice his faith was revealed as true faith.

By that faith he made his choice because by faith he considered and judged the relative worth of the alternatives. By faith he could make that choice because of what faith did in him. Faith illuminated his mind so that he saw clearly and evaluated properly. Faith renewed his will so that he chose what the illuminated mind preferred. By faith he became a spiritual man who judged all things spiritually. At its most profound level it was a change of love. He loved God, Christ, and his people. Faith chooses what faith loves—Christ—just as the natural man chooses what he loves—the world and sin.

In his choice by faith he considered this: He esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures in Egypt and he considered the pleasures of Egypt sin.

All the treasures Egypt that he could have staying aloof from the people of God, he judged as the pleasures of sin. When he saw Egypt, he saw sin. Egypt was representative of the world of sin and darkness as that world is under the power of Satan, as it wars against God, exists under the curse of God, and will be destroyed by God. He rejected Egypt and its sin when he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.

By faith he chose the people of God because he reckoned their sufferings the reproach of Christ. The reproach of Christ is the reproach that Christ suffered when He came into the world. He was laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn. They tried to kill Him as a baby. They tempted Him or flattered Him to trap Him in His words. They tried to push Him over a cliff. They tried to stone Him. They came out against Him with swords and staves. They forsook Him and fled. They bound Him. They tried Him. They condemned Him. They put a crown of thrones on His head and a sceptre in His hand, and they beat Him with His sceptre and cut Him with His crown. They took His clothes. They nailed Him to the tree. Still they burned in enmity against Him and the whole mob mocked and ridiculed His shame. With an insatiable hatred they spoke evil of the dead, called Him a deceiver, and posted a guard at His tomb.

When Moses saw their affliction he saw Christ’s reproach. He saw Christ there among the people of God. That is why he joined. There is no other and can be no other reason to join a church than the truth—which is Christ—is there. Because Christ was there their affliction was Christ’s reproach. The Old Testament church had Him in promise and so shared His reproach. Christ left behind some of His reproach for the New Testament church too.

Believing Israel’s affliction to be the reproach of Christ, Moses valued that reproach greater treasure than any treasure of Egypt, indeed eternal riches. There is nothing more precious to God than the suffering of His son.

Clear Choice!

Moses had respect unto the recompense of the reward. He saw clearly the rich reward that God gives Christ’s reproach. Not blind faith. Faith sees. Faith chooses differently because faith sees differently. The natural man can only see with the physical eyes, or worse still, with spiritual eyes of unbelief, blind with hatred toward God. The eyes of faith are able to see unseen and eternal things. It is like having two pieces of land. One is obviously lush and good to make a man rich now. The other is barren but full of gold beneath its surface. Whether you are able to perceive what lies beneath the surface will affect your choice. Faith chooses differently because it sees differently.

When Christ came and suffered His reproach, He earned and merited an eternal reward for the people of God in their affliction. Moses saw that reward.

He saw Egypt’s reward too. He saw clearly that Egypt’s pleasure was only for a season. They had their reward in the form of eternity in hell.

The affliction of the people of God has its reward: suffering now for an eternity of joy and pleasure forevermore at God’s right hand.

The reproach of Christ brings its own reward. The believer’s suffering does not earn that reward. Neither does his choice merit that reward. Jesus Christ earned the reward through His suffering on the cross. God appointed the reward to His elect for all eternity. The sufferings of the child of God for which the reward is given are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.

If a man will stand aloof from the people of God for the sake of his life, his comfort, his education, his business, family, name, standing, or reputation, then he will lose everything in the world that is to come. In that choice, his professed faith is also revealed to be no faith at all. He gains his life in this world, only to lose his soul in the next.

If a man chooses to be with the people of God, he chooses Christ and His reproach, and he will have an eternal reward. His choice is the clear choice of faith. By that faith he is saved now and in eternity. That is always faith’s choice: affliction with the people of God, rather than the pleasures of sin for a season. Choose. A man must choose. A man will choose. His choice will have its reward now and eternally.

Written by: Rev. Nathan Langerak | Issue 42

Honouring God in our Vocational Choices

Have you been to a career fair before?

If you have, you would be familiar with the many booths and attractive selling points that companies boast of, like a large pay package, opportunities for overseas travel and working in new environment. A vocation is one’s main occupation and in a rapidly progressive society like Singapore, there is pressure on students to decide what their interests are. The most concrete choice would possibly be whether they would prefer to be in a “science stream” or “arts stream”. There are also options of pursuing education in less conventional routes like homeschooling, Lasalle College of the Arts, and the Singapore Sports School which provide differing career paths.

The issue we discuss today is this: as Christians, what are we to do with our lives? How will we know if we are meant for one job or another?

In Japan, there is a concept of Ikigai which states that the purpose of one’s living is an intersection between what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for and what the world needs. Others would say that you can simply “follow your heart” when it comes to these decisions. While these models seem to break down large concepts simply, they do not mention God.

We must never forget that the sovereign God is the Giver of our abilities and the Sustainer of our lives. He creates us fearfully and wonderfully (Ps. 139:14) and forms our brain, heart, limbs and sets in motion our bodily functions so that our intellect, our motor function are all determined by Him. Has not the Potter power over the clay? This is to God’s glory and to His child’s comfort, that “he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:21-23). Since He has prepared His people for glory and eternal life, He will surely provide for us in this life which is but a short sojourn!

The Bible says the following about work:

  1. We should work hard. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,

do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest” (Ecc. 9:10).

In this life, the ability and opportunity to work are God-given and we should be thankful for them. God works by giving us personalities and interests, flaws and strengths that make us able or unable to work at each time in our lives. While we hem and haw about having to go to work while other matters of life trouble us, we must always give thanks for the ability to use our lives and gifts to serve others and treasure the opportunity to do so for it can be swiftly taken away from us.

  1. We should seek first the kingdom of God.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).

 

What   are   “these   things”   that   will be added? They are food, drink and clothing, the daily necessities of life. Proverbs   30:8-9   records   a   special prayer, a request to “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the LORD? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” As a child of God, we trust that God will provide for our daily necessities, and acknowledge that the other pursuits of life are not essential. These other pursuits including wealth and status are instead ‘vanity’ as Ecclesiastes 5:10 reads: “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.” Help us realise that God’s provision and anointing is sufficient for our cup to run over.

As a lady myself I feel compelled to add that Titus 2 gives instruction that older women should teach younger women to be sober, to love their husbands and children, to be discreet, chaste, and keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Although women in the workplace do not fall within the scope of this article, these words are clear regarding the occupation of married child-bearing women. From my mother’s example, serving at home as a full-time mother definitely keeps one very occupied!

What can we do to prepare now?

Other than much prayer for God to lead and make one’s path clear, let me offer a few simple ways for preparation:

  1. Find out about the vocation. “Every purpose is established by counsel:

and with good advice make war” (Pro. 20:18).

Speak to older Christians who have been in the vocation previously, who can identify the struggles that Christians may have in the field and also continue to mentor you should you embark on the similar path. Proverbs 20:18 says that every purpose is established by counsel, and the wise Old Testament kings did likewise before heading to war. Try out the job if you can too! It may seem like a completely different experience compared to what you see from a third person’s point of view.

  1. Understand that every job has its difficulties.

Just as we have difficulties in our family life, our physical health and even our spiritual life, each vocation will have days of utter weariness. As difficult as it may be, and perhaps after a period of rest, we must continue to be thankful for our jobs, for God has given them to us. A clear situation to watch out for would be a job that clearly conflicts with the life of a Christian, one which contradicts the teachings of the Bible. Then, it may be wise to seek counsel and leave the job.

  1. Get prepared for changes in your life.

Prepare thy work without,and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house” (Pro. 24:27).

Unlike school, work will not end just after lunch and there is usually more hierarchy in the workplace. Organise your time with room for church activities, exercise and your own interests. When you start the job, give yourself time to adjust to a different environment (e.g. standing all day long, a new route to get to work) and people with different belief systems and working styles.

What is the blessedness of honouring God in our lives?

Honouring God through our lives will allow us to savour all the promises in His word. He will add “all these things” unto us and we will be pleased to live out His will as “vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.”

Written by: Julia Koh | Issue 41