Growing in Assurance of Faith

I have recently finished reading Joel Beeke’s fantastic little book titled “Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith.”  The book has been a tremendous blessing to me, and I cannot recommend it enough.  If you’ve ever wondered if you are genuinely a Christian, or if the doubts and struggles you’re facing seem overwhelming, this book offers treasures from the Scriptures and the Puritans on resting in and trusting God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

Just before the conclusion of the book, Beeke addresses some questions that he often hears, and I thought I would share the first question and his response as encouragement to you.

Question: I cannot deny that I am a believer, but what should I do when I don’t feel close to God and don’t feel very assured that I am saved?

Be persuaded that God wants you to find assurance by resting in Christ by faith; He does not want you to be forever searching for assurance like a hamster on a hamster wheel. Here are eleven suggestions that may assist you:

  1. Pray to God that He will grant you the light of His Spirit and show you that you belong to God and are saved.
  2. Read some of the promises of Scripture – particularly those, but not only those, that have been precious to you in the past – and rest your soul upon them… Pray for faith to believe that all the promises in Scripture belong to you, including those promises that have not been made powerfully sweet in your past.
  3. Flee to the basics of the gospel that Jesus Christ came to save sinners just like you, and all the precious truths that accompany the gospel.  Meditate on these grand truths, such as the stability of God’s enteral election, God’s constant care over you, your union with  Christ through His atonement, and Christ’s continual and effectual intercession over you. And then rest in Christ by faith.
  4. In dependency on the Spirit, examine yourself by some basic inward evidences of grace, such as: Have I learned to mourn over sin? Do I know what it means to truly hunger and thirst after Christ’s righteousness? If you cannot deny that these and other similar marks of grace are your portion, then conclude that you must be a child of God since neither the devil nor yourself can teach you to experience these things in truth; it must be the Holy Spirit working them in you.
  5. As the Spirit to bear witness with your conscience through the Word that you are indeed a true believer.
  6. Use the means of grace diligently, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer.
  7. Resolve to turn from your ungodly belief, to flee all lusts of the eyes and of the flesh and all worldliness and known sin, and to run the race set before you by laying aside sin and looking to Jesus.
  8. Remember that your identity is found in Christ, by reckoning yourself dead to sin and alive to Him.
  9. Consider the solemnity of what the Puritans called ‘the four last things’: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Live more for eternity than for time.
  10. Be comforted by God’s faithful track record to you for years and decades.
  11. Pray again that the Lord will bless all the above efforts to regain the stability of your personal assurance of salvation.

 

Beeke, Joel R. Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith (Christian Focus Publications, 2017) Pg 177-178.
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Have You Been With Jesus Today?

In Acts 4, we read how the priests and the Sadducees  strongly warned Peter and John not to preach Christ publicly.  They were astonished that these uneducated, common men could be so bold and speak so passionately.  Then we are told, “And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). I know I’ve read that passage hundreds of times, but lately it has jumped off the page.

How did they recognize that Peter and John had been with Jesus?

They spoke of Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Everywhere Peter and John went, they were speaking of salvation in Jesus Christ.  When they were asked to give money, they gave the name of Jesus. When they healed, they healed in the name of Jesus. When they were questioned about their beliefs, they proclaimed the name of Jesus. Everywhere they went, and everything they said, they gave glory to the name of Jesus.  Regardless of the threats and warnings they received, they fear and honored the name of the Lord, and made it perfectly clear that they knew and loved Jesus.

They trusted in the power of Jesus to save.  Several times Peter and John were arrested for preaching the name of Jesus unto Salvation.  And every time, through the power of the Lord, they were set free from their prison cells and would return to preach the gospel.  They never doubted God’s ability to save.  They did not question his power to heal.  Resting in the promises of Jesus, they acted boldly and faithfully.  Jesus had promised that he would always be with his people, and trusting in this promise, it was clear that they had been with Jesus.

They were not ashamed to suffer for the sake of Jesus. When all of the apostles were arrested in Acts 6, through Gamaliel’s advise they were all beaten and charged not to speak in the name of Jesus, then they were set free.  Even this did not deter them.  We read in Acts 6:41, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”  It was abundantly clear to all that the apostles had been with Jesus because they counted it an honor to suffer for him.

The question we must ask ourselves today is this, “when the world looks at me, do they recognize that I have been with Jesus?”  

By God’s grace, and through the ministry of His Holy Spirit, we have the privilege of knowing Jesus and spending time with Him in His Word.  1 Peter 1:8-9 teaches us that “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory…” We may not see Him face to face now, but we can be with Him, and He has promised to be with us (Matt. 28:20).

Would the rest of the world know that you have been with Jesus?  Do you speak of Him often, telling others of how He has loved and saved you, of the difference He has made in your life?  Do you trust in His power to save, and urge others to trust Him as well? Does the way you handle adversity and suffering point others to your faith in Jesus’ abiding presence.

Friends, I pray that you would know Jesus, and every day spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer.  The more you are with Him, the more the world will know and wonder at it.

SDG

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Apps for the Christian’s Smartphone

I must confess, I have always been a technophile.  From the old Atari my brother and I played as children, to the ubiquitous tablets and smartphones, I’ve always got my eye on the last trends and topics in gadgetry and software.

While these gizmos can easily become black holes of time, motivation, and creativity (it is disturbing to learn how many hours one spends on social media or games), they can also be convenient tools of productivity and enlightenment.

For example, just today I was having a conversation with someone about the nefarious “chigger” that likes to eat at the legs of residents of South Dakota, and a quick Google Search brought me instantly more information than I could have ever wanted (note – you really don’t want to read this at the dinner table).

I thought that I’d let you know of some of the most helpful apps that are currently on your Pastor’s smart phone.  I am an iPhone/iPad user, so all of these are currently available in the Apple app store on your phone or tablet.  I don’t know about their availability on Android devices – sorry.

Logos – Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 2.35.53 PMI use the Logos Bible Study Software for my Sermon prep, daily bible reading, prayer journaling, just about everything that’s Bible study related.  I have this on my laptop (a paid version), and everything I do there is instantly updated on my tablet and phone.  The app provides customizable Bible reading plans, easy to use word studies, and even a version of the  audio Bible, so that you can listen to the Bible while on the road or working around the house.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 2.39.42 PMVyrso/Kindle/iBooks – While I still love holding a real paper book in my hand, I cannot dismiss the convenience and volume of resources available on an e-reader.  The Vyrso reader is connected to the Logos library, and anything I highlight, underline, or any resource connected to scripture, is instantly searchable and available to copy and paste (with the citation of the quote provided, too).  Kindle and iBooks are great readers as well, and offer tremendous deals from time to time on great literature and scholarly works.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 2.52.19 PMFighter Verses – This is created by Desiring God ministries, and is a great tool for helping you memorize scripture.  It has quizzes, games, songs, just about anything to help you hide God’s word in your heart.  The app automatically brings up a new verse each week, and offers commentary, studies, and other resources to help you grow in understanding the Scriptures.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 2.57.08 PMCatechisms – This is another memory tool, but specifically for learning the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  It also offers memorization tools for the Larger Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Geneva Catechism.  You can set this at your own tempo, either learning a question a day, or moving on only when you’re ready.

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 3.00.36 PMRefNet – This is basically Ligonier Ministry radio online.  RefNet (Reformation Network) is 24-hour Christian internet radio featuring biblical preaching and teaching.  Listen in for free and be enriched by the ministries of Alistair Begg, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, and many more.

There are, of course, a lot of other apps on the phone, but these are ones that I have found particularly helpful in ministry, and just in my own Christian walk.  Other notables, but not specifically ministry related are: Spotify (streaming music), Evernote (a note taking app that is great for sermon prep), and AccuWeather (for reliable updates on weather in the area).  I’m sorry I haven’t included links to all of the apps, but as I mentioned they are all available in the App Store on your phone, or tablet.

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We Stand in Christ’s Triumph

In preparation for my sermon this Sunday from Deuteronomy 8, a warning against spiritual complacency, I came across this reading from A.W. Tozer’s book entitled, The Root of the Righteous.  I thought it worth sharing. 

Among evangelicals it is a commonplace to say that the superiority of Christianity to every other religion lies in the fact that in Christianity a Person is present, active, filling, upholding and supporting all. That person, of course, is Jesus Christ.

That is what we say, and say truthfully, by my experience has shown how difficult it is to make this belief a practical force in my own life. And a little observation reveals that my fellow evangelicals for the most part are not doing much better. This mighty world-beating truth gets lost under a multitude of lesser truths and is allowed to lie forgotten while we struggle, mostly unsuccessfully, with the world, the flesh and the devil.

The unique thing about the early Christians was their radiant relation to a Person. “The Lord,” they called Him tenderly, and when they used the term they gave it its own New Testament meaning. It meant Jesus Christ, who a short while before had been among them but was now gone into the heavens as their High Priest and Advocate.

It was this engrossment with a victorious Person that gave verve and vibrancy to their lives and conviction to their testimony. They bore witness joyously to the One who had lived as a true Man among men. Their testimony was not weakened by the pale cast of metaphysical thought. They knew that Jesus was very Man and very God, and He had died, had been raised from the dead and had ascended into heaven. They accepted literally His claim to be invested with authority over everything in heaven, earth and hell.  How it could be they never stopped to inquire.  They trusted Him absolutely and left the details to their triumphant Lord.

Another marked characteristic of the witness of those first Christians was their insistence that Jesus was Lord and mover in a long-range plan to restore the earth and to bring it again under divine control. He is now sovereign Head of His body the Church, they declared, and will extend His rule to include the earth and the world in His own good time. Hence they never presented Him as Savior merely. It never occurred to them to invite people to receive “peace of mind” or “peace of soul.” Nor did they stop at forgiveness or joy or happiness. They gathered up all these benefits into one Person and preached that Person as the last and highest sum of every good possible to be known and enjoyed in this world or that which is to come. “The same Lord over all,” they said, “is rich unto all that call upon him.” The seeker must own Him Lord triumphant, not a meek-eyed Lover of their souls only, but Lord above all question or doubt.

Today we hold the same views, but our emphasis is not the same. The meek and lowly Jesus has displaced the high and holy Jesus in the minds of millions. The vibrant note of triumph is missing in our witness. A sad weeping Jesus offers us His quiet sympathy in our griefs and temptations, but He appears to be as helpless as we are when the pressure is on.  His pale feminine face looks at us from the “holy picture” of the Catholic and the Easter card of the Protestant.  We give Him our sympathy, but scarcely our confidence. The helpless Christ of that crucifix and the vacuous-countenanced Christ that looks out in sweet innocence from the walls of our evangelical homes is all one and the same. The Catholics rescue Him by bringing a Queen of Heaven to His aid. But we Protestants have no helper. So we sing pop choruses to cheer our drooping spirits and hold panel discussions in the plaintive hope that someone will come up with the answer to our scarce-spoken complaint.

Well, we already have the answer if we but had the faith and wisdom to turn to it. The answer is Christ Victorious, high over all. He lives forever above the reaches of His foes. He has but to speak and it is done; He need but command and heaven and earth obey Him. Within the broad framework of His far-looking plans He tolerates for a time the wild outlawry of a fallen world, but He holds the earth in His hand and can call the nation to judgment whenever He wills.

Yes, Christian pilgrim, we are better off than the sad Church we can see. We stand in Christ’s triumph. Because He lives we live also. Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tozer, A. W. The Root of the Righteous. (Christian Publications, Inc; Harrisburg, PA, 1955) pg. 70-73.
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Update from General Assembly

As I logged into my blog to write this update, I realized my last post was from back in April.  My apologies! I know I have had several new subscribers to the blog and no new content.  All I can say is I hope to do better, but life has been a whirlwind as of late.

The 45th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America is officially concluded, and early at that, so as I have an entire day in the airport waiting for my flight home, I thought I’d give you an update on the events of GA.  In a nutshell I’ll say this: This General Assembly is why I joined the PCA!  The worship was God-centered, the preaching Biblical, informative, Spirit-filled, and convicting, the deliberation passionate yet collegial, and the results were encouraging.  My first two experiences at General Assembly left me frustrated and dismayed, but this year there seemed to be a different attitude among the commissioners, and I believe God was glorified in the work of His church.

The greatest concern of this Assembly was the very low turn out of Ruling Elders.  In a congregation that was established with the understanding of a plurality of elders, a shared authority of Ruling and Teaching Elders, there is not a staggering disparity in the Assembly.  There were 1,400 commissioners this year, but only 300 were Ruling Elders.  We need to pray and work for a way to include more Ruling Elder in the Assembly in coming years.

The biggest and most profound outcome of the Assembly is the decision to give a portion of the Directory of Worship’s instruction on Marriage full constitutional status.  In case you are unfamiliar with the government of the PCA, our Book of Church Order includes a Directory of Worship, that is given as an “approved guide” but without the force of law (except for the chapters on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper).  Leading up to the Assembly, there were several overtures to give the chapter on marriage full constitutional authority. Their reasoning was, among other items, 1) in a culture that is currently redefining marriage, the church needs a clear, constitutional definition of marriage, and 2) giving constitutional status to the chapter on marriage would provide clarity and protection for our military chaplains.

As is our procedure with all overtures, these overtures were sent to the Overtures Committee who for review and recommendations to the Assembly.  Surprisingly, the committee recommended that the Assembly answer in the negative, essentially denying the changes.  Now please understand, this would not have meant that the PCA was changing it’s position on marriage, only that the chapter on marriage would not be given full constitutional authority.  Again, there were a variety of reasons why they recommended answering in the negative, most having to do with the finer details in procedures and records of marriage in the chapter, none having to do with the actual definition of marriage.

When the Committee presented their report and recommendation to the Assembly, there was also a minority report, that sought to refine the original overtures. What came out on the floor, then, was the reality that there was a third way.  The Assembly recommitted the overture to the committee, who then met and came back with the following recommended overture:

“Marriage is only to be between one man and one woman (Gen 2:24, 25; Matt 19:4-6; 1 Cor 7:2), in accordance with the Word of God. Therefore ministers in the Presbyterian Church in America who solemnize marriages shall only solemnize marriages between one man and one woman.”

This paragraph was approved by the Assembly and given full constitutional status.  The vote was an overwhelming 764-12.  The next step will be for all of the Presbyteries to vote on this overture, and if it passes a supermajority of Presbyteries, it will be voted upon again at the next Assembly.  This is really good news!

In other business, there were several overtures that sought to give organizations in the PCA, such as RidgeHaven, Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary and others, the ability to open a minority of seats on their boards of directors to unordained men and women.  Currently, those boards are comprised of Teaching and Ruling Elders or Deacons of the Church, and are seen as extensions of the Church in ministry.  These overtures were an avenue to allowing women to serve in official capacities on the Boards.  While it was made clear that there are many ways that women give advice and counsel to these boards, the church maintains that these ministries are extensions of the Church, and as such, under the leadership of ordained officers of the Church.  The committee recommended the overtures be answer in the negative, and the Assembly agreed.

The other major discussion on the floor of the Assembly had to do with the review of Presbytery records, particularly one Presbytery that had examined a minister, heard his differences with the Westminster Standards, ruled that his differences did not “strike to the heart of the religion,” but then ruled that, while he could hold his views, he was not allowed to teach them.  While I cannot say that I understand the full ramifications of the action or discussion, I did find it concerning that the Assembly would seek to make a judicial ruling on an action of a Presbytery without any process. In the end, the Committee of Review received their minutes with an exception on this matter, which requires the Presbytery to give a response explaining their decision.

Overall, it was a very encouraging week in Atlanta.  New friendships were formed, and old ones renewed.  I was particularly moved by the worship service on Thursday evening and the preaching of Joe Novenson, I’ll be ordering a copy for those who are interested in checking out and listening to it. I thank you for your prayers, especially those of my congregation who have graciously provided me the opportunity to attend and be a part of such a great experience in the Church.

Pray for a safe flight home!

Grace and Peace

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Sins Seldom Confessed

Two notes before I begin:

  1. My usual “MidWeek Message” (this blog post) was delayed yesterday due to a mid-April snow storm leaving 8 inches of snow that had to be removed before our youth programs met that evening.  Combined with a slew of unexpected calls and pressing demands, there was little time to actually sit and write.
  2. I have noticed that recently my blog posts have been highlights from what I have been reading.  I hope you are “okay” with that, because I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and rather than try to summarize, I thought it best to just share what I’ve come across.  Today’s article follows in that channel.

I’ve been reading Murray Brett’s Growing Up in Grace,* and was powerfully affected by the chapter entitled “A Catalogue of Sins Seldom Confessed or Repented Of.”  I have, over the past few months, felt the cutting touch of God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12), exposing my own sinfulness and teaching me to hate those sins that cling so closely to me, and flee to Christ for His cleansing grace.  This chapter was one of those tools, a scalpel, used in the hand our Great Physician, to cut away at my sin and to bring healing and righteousness.

I thought I would share with you here the introduction to the chapter, and a few (not all) of the sins mentioned.

In his book, Words to Winners of Souls, Horatius Bonar writes,

In the year 1651 the Church of Scotland, feeling in regard to her ministers “how deep their hand was in transgression, and that ministers had no small accession to the drawing on of the judgments that were upon the land,” drew up what they called a humble acknowledgment of the sins of the ministry.

I have drawn upon their work in cataloging various sins which we as Christians frequently commit, and I encourage you to add particular sins which you commit and of which you need to confess and repent.

  1. Sins related to know ordering my life according to the gospel
    • seeking a name for self rather than the honor of God.
    • great inconsistency in our walk with God.
    • neglect of acknowledging God in all our ways
    • trusting in natural abilities or past successes rather than depending upon the Spirit
    • fears of persecutions, hazard of loss, loss of esteem, and the fear of man
    • not preaching the gospel to myself daily nor taking delight in it for my own holiness
  2. Sins related to not feeding my soul devotionally
    • lack of nearness with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit
    • studying more to learn the language of holiness than the exercise of holiness
    • not improving prayer and fellowship with God and not mourning over these neglects
    • seldom in secret prayer with God, except to fit ourselves for public performance
    • great neglect of reading Scriptures and other good Christian literature
    • using entertainment that hinders my communion with God
    • speaking of Christ more by hearsay than from personal knowledge and experience
  3. Sins related to not actively putting remaining sin to death
    • not watching over my heart nor the things my mind most often goes to when in neutral
    • seeking our own pleasure when the Lord calls for self-denial
    • abusing time in frequent recreation and pastimes and loving our pleasures more than God
    • hasty anger and passion in our own families or with others
    • being taken up for the most part with the things of the world
    • artificial confession of sin without repentance
    • more ready to search and censure faults in others than to see or deal with them in ourselves
  4. Sins related to the misuse of the Lord’s Day
    • neglecting the preparation of my heart and mind for the Lord’s Day
    • using the Lord’s Day for recreation and entertainment
    • not taking to heart sermons or thinking on them with due care
  5. Sins related to not caring for the souls of other believers
    • not taking measures to lead or order our family spiritually
    • negligent or inconsistent in daily family worship
    • being content with, if not rejoicing at, other’s faults
    • lightness and profanity in conversation unsuitable to a holy calling
    • not knowing how to speak a word in season to the weary
  6. Sins related to not participating in the progress of the Gospel
    • not being concerned that the kingdom of Jesus Christ is not thriving
    • not praying for the work of the revival of true religion
    • neglect of faithful prayer for the lost in my community and neighborhood
    • neglect in proclaiming the law and the Gospel to unbelievers and believers alike
    • neglect in praying for pastors and missionaries
*Excerpt from: Brett, Murray. Growing Up in Grace, The use of means for communion with God. (Reformation Heritage Books: Grand Rapids, MI. 2009) pages 113-119.
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Standing on the Promises

I have, by strong recommendation, been reading Joel Beeke’s book, “Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith.” It is a wonderful treatise on the blessing of assurance of faith, where this assurance comes from, and how we can grow in it.  And it’s short, sweet, and to the point.  At only 200 pages, it is written in a manageable and easily understood manner; this book was written to be read.  (Available for only $14.99 here at Amazon).

After first laying out the importance of Assurance and why so many lack it, including false assurances, the book then begins to show what is the basis for genuine assurance of faith.  Leaning heavily on the Reformers and Puritans, Beeke draws the foundation for Assurance of Faith straight from the Westminster Confession, specifically, 18.2:

“This certainty is not a bare conjecture and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnesses with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.”

The first foundation, then, for our assurance of faith, is not in any experience or feeling or mood, but is wholly grounded in the promises of God.  I thought I’d share here some of the highlights from the chapter:

“First, we do not gain assurance by looking at ourselves or anything we have produced apart from God’s promises, but first of all by looking to God’s faithfulness in Christ as He is revealed in the promises of the gospel.” (77)

“Believers in Christ are assured of salvation in the very first place because their God and their salvation are true, sure, perfect, and unchangeable in Jesus Christ forever.” (79)

“God’s promises are the pathways on which Christ meets the soul.” (81)

“Finally, though subjective phenomena may sometimes feel more real than faith in God’s promises, such experiences give less glory to God than divine promises apprehended directly by faith. Burgess (one of the writers of the Westminster Confession) said, ‘Trusting in God and in Christ when we feel nothing but guilt and destruction in ourselves is the greatest honor we can give to God. Therefore, though living by signs is more comfortable to us, living by faith is a greater honor to God.'” (84)

“The smallest degree of saving faith in God’s promises will prove as effectual as full assurance of faith in God’s promises. Though a spider’s thread connected to a rock is much weaker than a strong anchor connected to that rock, the rock is equally strong. So a weak faith that casts itself on Christ and His promises shall find that the Lord Jesus Christ is just as much the rock of salvation for that trembling soul as He is for one who has full assurance of faith.” (85)

Quoting Michael Barrett, “Assurance of salvation does not result from the power of positive thinking; it flows from the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (86)

All quotes from: Beeke, Joel R. Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith. (Christians Focus Pub; Tain, UK, 2017).

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