Category Archives: Faith

Welcome to work!

If you work for a large corporate company you will have probably started work with an induction session on your first day. You sit there getting told lots of things that you will forget a few hours later. Where the company is headquartered, who the CEO is, how the company grew to its current size…lots of great information but much of it of little use to your daily work. You sit there as a group of strangers wondering who among you will be still here in 5 years, who will leave first, and who will be promoted.

For many of us our first day marks the start of our sink or swim aquathon – our daily challenge to keep our head above water while we swim against the tide of work. Some of us find that swim easier than we expected as we discover that work can be interesting and fulfilling. For many of us however the current of repetitive mundane work threatens to emotionally drown us.

At what feels like annual intervals the busyness of work pauses momentarily and we ask ourselves some deep probing questions: is there a deeper purpose to my work? Am I a meaningless cog in a giant monolithic machine? Should I quit my city job in order to do something more meaningful?

If you have found yourself asking these deeper questions about life, the universe and the mysteries of excel macros then we would love you to join us as we unpack God’s big picture for our workplace. The Thrive Conference is designed to help you explore these issues through a reinvigorating training session containing great teaching, personal reflection and the encouragement of fellow swimmers. We look forward to having you join the Thrive swim lane!

For more details head to your favourite platform:

Web: https://thebusinessconnection.org/thrive/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheBusinessConnection.org/

Twitter: @TBCAberdeen

Linkedin: The Business Connection Aberdeen

Losing my religion and finding my faith (#1 Decay and Decline)

Losing my religion and finding my faith: Part 1

Decay and decline

boar-war-memorialAs I walked around Melbourne last night I came across a memorial to those Australians who lost their lives during the Boer war. Inscribed on the plaque were these words: “Fighting for the unity of the Empire, which is our strength and common heritage“. It struck me that the reason Australia sent its men and women to a foreign country to fight and die was to protect the unity of the British Empire. The Empire was considered worth fighting for, for it was the foundation they stood upon and common bond they had inherited.

How different the world is now. The Empire has dissolved and many are glad it is so. The idea that the British Empire was  a source of help and support in difficult times is anathema to many, all they see is the failings and corruption of power. The world has found a new strength, not in mutual dependence and sacrificial duty between countries, but in individual freedom of expression and unrelenting pursuit of self-interest.

The parallels to the decline of Western Christianity are obvious. In our generation we are living through the decay and decline of a Christian heritage that shaped our society so profoundly in earlier centuries. If we have eyes to see it, the planks of Christian values are being removed one by one. Many would say this is for the better given the scandals and abuse of power of the past.

Yes there was a day when the church wielded a measure of power, when the state allowed the church influence over state affairs. However, it should not be overlooked that much good was done in these times, with the spread of education, commerce and common law. Often it was churches and missionaries that started the first schools and taught people how to read. But the good has been airbrushed out by modern sceptics and cynics, to leave only the bad. Yes, we made mistakes, yes, there were abuses of power and corruption, yes, we look back now in horror at much of what done in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. But are we accountable for the sins of our fathers? Are we to hang our heads in shame and hold our tongues in silence when malicious powers are seeking to destroy the genuine good Christianity brings every society it encounters? No! This guilt by association is what insidiously saps our confidence to speak out today.

We are shackled by the real and perceived failures of past generations when they were given the opportunity to rule. We need a new humility to recognise and repent for things done in the past that we can see from the hindsight of history were not right. But we also need a new resolve to not be ashamed of who we are and what we believe. In the midst of a decaying religious tradition we must allow God to rebirth us through his cleansing fire.

Losing my religionWhat does that Christian jargon mean in practice? It means we must be ready to lose our religion in order to find our faith. We need to reassess our lives in every part in the light of the fact that we are now in exile. We may not have moved country, but our country has moved. The introspection and doubt of earlier times has been replaced with a brash confidence. Back in 1991 REM may have said “That’s me in the corner, That’s me in the spotlight, Losing my religion, Trying to keep up with you, And I don’t know if I can do it, Oh no, I’ve said too much, I haven’t said enough”, but modern secular humanists have no such insecurity.

We are in a foreign land that is not just neutral, but increasingly hostile to our faith. We must start with our personal life, setting our foundations of personal holiness and complete abandonment to Christ. We must raise our children with the ability to survive as aliens and outcasts in their schools and universities. We must review our church activities to remove any barrier that prevents us from forming meaningful connections with the communities we live in. We must seek to reintegrate ourselves back into society. The church is no longer the centre of the community, we must find out where the new centres are, and how we can get involved. We must be ready to sacrifice, if need be, some of our comfortable fellowship with each other, if this is what is preventing us from being immersed in people’s lives outside the church’s walls.

The vestiges of our tradition are crumbling from constant attack. Christian values are being excluded from the public square. However, the irony is that nobody can stop us from being immersed in grass-roots public square discussions. Society will be changed one conversation at a time, if it is ever to be changed. Are we in a Christian ghetto, quivering from the angry world outside or are we picking each other up and sending each other out with fresh energy? Only when we have the conviction that our greatest ministry calling, after our own family, is to the people and places we visit everyday, will we make a meaningful and lasting impact.

It is a truism of every age that each one perceives its own wisdom, but not it’s faults just as accurately as it sees the faults but not the wisdom of the preceding ages. We have lost the British Empire and we are losing our national religion. Do we recognise what wisdom is being lost in this process? As Christians we know that the knowledge of God is the beginning of true wisdom, and only an intimate understanding of him can help us to rescue the good and hold back the bad in a confused and anchor-less nation.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9.10)

Indestructible Faith

This has been a crazy week…if there was ever a time when my message impacted my life and my life spoke into my message this is it.

My faith has been severely tested and yet I have been blessed because of the free gift that God has given me. And he offers it to each of us. If you don’t have faith, can I encourage you to listen to this message? It’s just 34 minutes of your life…what harm could it do? God gave me the blessing of Psalm 46 for this time and I share it with you as a gift. For those at Carnoustie Community Church on Sunday thank you for a special day.

So, the fourth message in my series of Characteristics of A Genuine Faith: #4 “Indestructible Faith” from Psalm 46. You can download the mp3 file here.

faith

Why do I write?

writingFour years after starting this blog I ask myself: Why do I write? What am I trying to achieve? What do I want to communicate?

Ultimately I write because I have to, I am driven to by my burden for truth and people. I want to write pieces that will stand the test of time. As a part of my life, I want my writing to demonstrate that it is possible to be a reasonable, logical person, and have a genuine faith that unites heart, mind and will. I am driven by a desire to build a biblically faithful worldview from first principles through understanding the bible and then communicate these truths in a relevant way to contemporary society.

Dialectic devotional analysis is how I would sum up my writing. To seek to strip out the emotion from the arguments and the rhetoric from our reasonings and then understand the underlying strength of the logic on each side. But to also see the limitations of reason and logic, for these guides can only give us the glimpse of truth, they cannot bring us to it’s door. For this we need the mystery of faith, the faith that says:

I desire more than I can know, I feel more than I can touch, I understand more than I can see.

I have a very busy secular job, a long commute, and a young family, so don’t expect an update every day. But when I do get time to think, I seek to drink from the deep wells and use the same analysis and insight that I use in my day job to analyse my faith. I have written series of posts on John Calvin’s Institutes, Augustine’s City of God, Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great, Eric Metaxas’ Dietrich Bonheoffer biography Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and David Wells’ God In The Wasteland. I have also written a number of posts on bi-vocational ministry, work-life balance and cultural engagement.

If you’re wondering what topics I might cover in the future, I am passionate about contemporary culture, classic theology, philosophy, science, holistic discipleship, corporate strategy and community engagement. When I have the opportunity to share with churches, I seek to craft sermons that combine exposition & apologetics; precision & passion; relevance & transcendence. Examples of some talks over the last couple of years can be found here.

The War of the Worldviews

22There is a seismic change  happening in the UK right now. For many years there have been significant cultural shifts that have occurred, many of them under the radar of society watchers. But now the results of these changes are evident everywhere. Two camps have been formed, each pitted against the other. Each seemly unable to understand the other side’s view, or give ground and work out a compromise.

The dividing line is not political or ideological, it cares not whether you are on the right or left, or centre. The dividing line in the UK is not between the haves and the have-nots, or between different social classes. It is not between the north and south or between public or private schools. It is not that these divisions no longer exist, but that this divide runs deeper than any social distinction, to the very thought processes of our minds. It goes so deep that many are even unaware that they have imbibed the assumptions, views and attitudes of the group they find themselves in.

Importantly, the dividing line is not even between those who claim an allegiance to God and those who do not. For it even splits right through the middle of the church. The most significant differences lie not between the various denominations of Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal or Presbyterian, but rather within each, for it divides each of these denomination in two.

However, despite the differences between the camps being so profound, there are very few external indicators of membership in each camp.  From the outside it is virtually impossible to recognise members of each camp, as the differences between the two groups are not easily articulated, or visibly displayed. In his book God In The Wasteland David Wells speaks of this dividing line. Read the following slowly and carefully:

“There are, then, two opposing ways of thinking about the world that can be found in the West today. The one belongs to those who have narrowed their perception solely to what is natural; the other belongs to those whose understanding of the natural is framed by the supernatural.

The one takes in no more than what the senses can glean; the other allows this accumulation of information to be informed by the reality of the transcendent. The one indiscriminately celebrates diversity; the other seeks to understand life’s diversity in the light of its unity. The one can go no further than intuition; the other pierces through to truth.

The one presumes that everything changes and that change is the only constant; the other measures the things that change by the standard of things that are changeless. The one looks only to the shifting contents of human consciousness, which differ from one individual to the next; the other holds the individual consciousness up for comparison to the larger realms of meaning in which are rooted those things that are common to all human nature.

The one acknowledges no ultimate certainties; the other places the highest value on ultimate certainties. All of these differences arise from the simple fact that the one perspective receives its meaning from God and the other does not.”

Of course those who are in the “no absolutes” camp will deny that anything like certainty is ever possible and that we are wishing on fairy stories that we want to be true. Only an encounter with the living God can convince anyone of anything different. We believe that God has, and does, and will, break through into our finite world to communicate his unchanging truth. However, we must seek him, if we are to find him: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek for me with all your heart” Jeremiah 29.13.

The question for those of us who have met the one who is Truth, is, “how to live as a marginalised minority in the light of this knowledge?” We can and should try to explain why we hold to the beliefs we do, we should try to understand why we will, on the whole, not be heard. We should give a reason for our faith; gently and lovingly. But ultimately we must recognise that we are powerless to change anyone else’s mind. Only God can do this, we must pray for a spiritual revival in our land, for God to reveal himself in power.

Because the differences are below the surface, and originate in our different views of the world, the leaders of the other camp often make the mistake of questioning our motives. They assume that we believe what we do because we don’t like the people in their camp. We are prejudiced and bigoted and that’s why we hold to the things we do. This is a mistaken view based on a superficial understanding of our position. Unfortunately very few people take the time to dig deeper before making their judgement.

In one of the moving final scenes of The Last Battle, CS Lewis describes a small group of dwarfs who are in Paradise, but believe they are in a small, smelly, dirty, pitch black stable. The children try to convince them otherwise, but are unable to help them due to their cynicism. Chillingly, Aslan tells the children that the dwarfs are “so scared of being taken in, they cannot be taken out“. My prayer is that it is not too late for many in our nation.

My challenge for those of you who are sceptical about God and do not find the arguments for his existence convincing – “are you willing to open your mind and heart to him just a fraction?” Are we more scared of being considered gullible and naive by our peers or more scared of being wrong? Jesus said that we would know if he spoke the truth by following him (John 7.17). My challenge to you is to begin to follow Jesus of Nazareth. Then you will find out which of these worldviews is really true.

14 Lessons from the Crucible

 14 Lessons from the crucible – walking with the Lord in the furnace of secular employment

Warning: I have written this in the pressure of intense work situation and am still working through some of the issues raised. It’s pretty raw, be patient with me if you are further along the path my brother or sister, I am just a beginner on this path asking questions. Also, forgive me if it’s more personal than my usual reflections, I believe we need to debate some of the issues I raise in a mature and godly manner, I am seeking to do just that in this piece. I welcome your comments and additions.

Let me cut to the chase: in my early 20s I thought I was going to be a missionary, in my late 20s and early 30s I became convinced I was being called to ministry of the word, thinking that the pastorate was ahead. In my mid to late 30s I have finally realised that God is wanting me to stop planning my future, but instead be his slave in the present, in this place, for his purpose. Whatever might happen in the future it is up to him to use me as he decides, whatever and wherever that might be.

As I grew up I imbibed the unspoken assumption that full-time vocational Christian ministry was God’s best for me, and for anyone else for that matter. I subconsciously, and sometimes consciously, sought to direct my life towards that goal. It was not hard to seek this path, as I have found this principle to be assumed and encouraged by the vast majority of our Christian books, sermons and teachers. However, at each stage of my life I have experienced the various means of God’s guidance to pull me back to the workplace.  Sometimes it was circumstances, sometimes it was a growing inner conviction that this was where God wanted me, sometimes it was the conversation with godly Christian friends and family. Yet, through it all, as I spent year after year in the workplace I still had the underlying assumption (and hope!) that one day, in some way, God would finally release me to serve him “fully” and glorify him more completely by devoting some, if not all, of my time to Christian ministry. This was particularly the case as I didn’t “feel” called to the workplace, rather the opposite, I felt called to ministry.

However, over the last 18 months the more I have tried to serve God the less time he has given me to do it. Or so I thought. I had to step back from responsibilities at church, reduce my preaching commitments and dedicate myself more fully, completely to my work. The little time I had left was given to trying to protect time for my wife and young family. I have not been there for friends, I have not been there for the prayer meetings nor the bible studies nor the evening service. I am only at church on Sunday mornings and I wait for them as an oasis of Shalom; the beauty and peace of fully dedicated time to be in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people. These times have become ever more precious to me.

So, last year I wrote what I was learning about ministry of the word within a mundane job.  How things have changed in 12 months! Now I am at the opposite extreme –responsibility, pressure, flat out and exhausted. I have finally started to realise that God has made me a certain way, for a certain purpose and that this is to do strategy and to preach the word. For these two things I exist on this planet.

Slowly, imperceptibly, God has broken this assumption in me. No longer do I see a spiritual vocational hierarchy when I look through God’s eyes. I see people, made in his image, with his variety of gifting and capability, made to serve him in a multitude of ways, across every vocation and discipline. I see those that have searched their heart and fulfilled their calling and those that are yet to find it. I now see that the most menial of tasks, done for the glory of God and in obedience to his call, can be the highest form of service that you or I can offer him (if that is his will for us). I know we say we believe this, but in reality do we?

Obedience is the key, it is the secret jewel of Christian usefulness and confidence. It is better to obey than sacrifice the ancients said and Jesus repeated. It is most blessed to obey – the most blessed path possible, wherever that obedience leads you.

Here are 14 things I have learnt and am continuing to learn, but before you read them please consider what I am not saying. I am not saying that “it doesn’t matter what you do, because all activity is equally worthy”. Neither am I saying that full-time Christian vocational ministry is not valid, needed, necessary and absolutely God’s best for many of us. I have too many pastors, pioneer missionaries and evangelists for friends to be unaware of the mighty responsibility and urgent need of this awesome calling. Don’t think I am wanting to swing the pendulum the other way and say we don’t need anyone full-time. What I am challenging is the assumption that this is always the best way for all of us (particularly those involved in word ministry) to serve him and other paths are second best. Perhaps you never had this assumption – praise God!

  1. Obedience is more important than any perceived increase or decrease in ministry effectiveness. For some the calling of God can actually mean they move away from opportunities for direct Christian service, for others it will be the opposite. We should not automatically equate either direction with increasing faithfulness, sacrifice or obedience. The meanest and most mundane work can be our most glorifying service when done as an offering to the Lord.
  2. For the many Christians, their highest calling will be the workplace and home. This should be recognised, affirmed and encouraged. They are as much called to their jobs and homes as the mission field. But it is not a competition between vocations – each in its uniqueness and splendour is treasured by God.
  3. The calling to the workplace is as valid, important and God-honouring as the calling to the pastorate or mission field. For some their highest calling will be to guard the theological strongholds, translate tribal languages and protect the flock from continuous attacks from without and within. But the calling to the workplace is not a lesser calling, or God’s second best. The workplace can lead to incredible usefulness in God’s hands – e.g. the construction supervisor Nehemiah, the civil servant and administrator Joseph, the beautician and model Esther, the government official Daniel, the politician William Wilberforce, among many others…
  4. My cross-cultural ministry begins on Monday morning and finishes on Friday evening. I am immersed in a pagan society all day every day, seeking to live counter-culturally without retreating into a ghetto or being weird in order to be noticed. Every religious habit or sacred ritual needs to be examined to see if its  essential or a cultural barrier. Every character trait is laid bare, examined and tested in real time by a watching world.
  5. The best way to glorify God with your life is whatever he has gifted and called us to do. For some this will be vocational Christian mission and ministry, for others it will be the workplace and home. Are we willing to spread wide the application of the challenge to glorify God with our lives? Are we prepared to affirm the calling of those who have little time to give to church meetings?
  6. The desire and gifting to do Christian ministry do not constitute, in themselves, a call.  I believe the internal call of God must be married with an external call from without. Both a calling to be his vessel and a calling to a location, resulting from the right doors opening at the right time.
  7. There is no spiritual vocation hierarchy. It is perhaps not said outright, but there is no doubting its presence – there are those in our churches who do ministry with a capital “M”, and then there are the rest of us. What does our definition of “ministry” include? Is it restricted to word ministry (preaching, teaching and evangelism) or maybe we also include service to the poor, sick and suffering (pastoral)? Yes, we also include those who serve as professionals abroad in some distant land. But, what if you see yourself as a professional in a cross-cultural, anti-Christian community in your homeland? Is that really ministry? Yes, some vocations require greater sacrifice and others bring greater earthly rewards, but through it all it is the obedience that is important not the activity. However, the majority of the application from Christian books and sermons gives the impression that working for the church or missions (either paid or voluntarily) is superior in God’s sight to working in secular employment. The impression is that service to God begins when one engages on church work in the evenings or weekends.
  8. Post-Christian countries like the UK will only be reached when this truth is finally believed by the church and impacts how it trains, equips and supports those in the workplace. This generation will only be reached when we intentionally present and affirm the workplace as a valid, important and glorifying to God vocation to our best young men and women – our most promising leaders. We will only affirm it if we really believe, not just say we believe it.
  9. For secular, anti-Christian cultures, bivocational ministry may actually the best possible model to reach society. I believe that being in full-time secular employment gives greater opportunity for cultural interpretation, insight and engagement than being in full-time Christian employment. New models for ministry training and church leadership are needed to reach, train and commission the next generation of church planters and leaders from those within the workplace.
  10. There is no such thing as “lay” ministry, no sacred / secular divide, no clergy / laity division. Yes, there is such a thing as people being appointed to a particular role and function within church leadership, nevertheless, uniting everyone is the priesthood of all believers and each believer is a holy temple called to their own role and place of influence.
  11. The role of a pastor is the absolute highest calling for pastors. The role of a teacher is the absolute highest calling for Christian teachers. The vital thing is to know for sure in our hearts that we are in the calling we are meant to be in.
  12. There has never been more expected of employees, more asked by employers and more penetration of people’s private lives by the pressure to always be “online”. The training, equipping and encouraging of leaders in the workplace has never been more difficult, with long hours, long commutes and little spare time. Yet few churches really see this as a vital ministry ground or are set up to support and affirm those in this position.
  13. The prayerful assessment of our true calling and our purposeful obedience no matter what the cost would overwhelm our mission agencies and pulpits with new candidates. There is a desperate need in our nation for the next generation of pastors. There remains an ever-present black abyss of millions of people who have never even heard the name Jesus all over the world. I am convinced that so few really examine their own calling that a wholehearted affirmation of the importance of all our callings would lead to a great increase in those stepping forward for pioneer missionary and pastoral leadership.
  14. We do not choose our calling – we only choose to fulfil it or not. Our calling may be a fulfilment of our (God-given) desires or it may be a restraining force on our desires – compelling us to submit to the Lord and follow him despite what we would like to do. Like David who desired to build God’s temple,  we can have good desires to serve God, but they don’t always mean we will see them fulfilled.

I say all this, not as a dispassionate observer, but as someone who has wrestled with their own calling for so many years. It was CT Studd, that great missionary who said: “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” What does our inner mind say to ourselves when we hear this? Is it only preaching, bible translating, pastoral visits, bible studies and evangelism that CT is talking about here? “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not men” was what the apostle Paul said. Are we brave enough to really believe that this includes ALL of life?

I have been a reluctant servant for so many years, wishing God would free me up to preach, when my time was being soaked up by work. I now see that I must obey his plans for me no matter how much my heart yearns for another path. I am serving him as he wants right now. I can either serve him fully where I am now, or continually fight against it.  I do believe one day that things will change, but I am no longer seeing the present as (only) “preparation” or a means to an end. I am resigned, submitted, my will is defeated, whatever path I am led on…I am his slave in the present, in this place, for his purpose.

Father, help us know the path you have for each one of your children, lead us on those straight paths and use us in whatever way you deem fit – not our will but your will be done. Remove our stubborness and pride and self-sufficiency. Make us truly humble and submissive to your Soverign will, for we know it is the best possible journey and leads to the most blessed destination – unity with our maker now and forever,  Amen.

You asked: how can I know I am elect?

Reader Question: From a Reformed perspective (I am relatively new to this thinking in many ways), assuming the Doctrine of Election is true (I believe this to be true myself), what is the role of parenting? Knowing that there is no way to know whether or not your children are “elect”, how can a loving parent subject his children to Biblical teaching – assuming that teaching could some day be held against them on judgement day? (wouldn’t it be better for Sodom and Gomorrah than those who know the Gospel and don’t respond?). If they are elect anyway, perhaps telling them once and seeing how they respond is better than consistent training?

Again, I am not being facetious or devious- but really struggling through this. I grew up in a church and always assumed I was a Christian. Lately, I have doubted that as I have not seen the Spirit’s activity in my life, nor fully reflect the fruit of the Spirit, nor am I sure that I have fully repented from my sin. You may say to just repent and believe, but I am finding it more difficult than that and wondering whether or not I could possibly not be “elect”. Having sat through countless sermons and podcasts and books, am I more accountable?

Then, I take that to my children and wonder if I teach them the Gospel and they don’t respond, are they destined for a much more difficult eternity? Wouldn’t love for them wish for them to find Christ, yet not subject them to countless hours of instruction knowing that they may not choose that?

I am really confused, discouraged and honestly disheartened. I feel like my efforts to find God or grow closer to Christ or even to repent are “works” of my own and can’t any longer separate the true work of the Spirit from my own efforts.

I guess I am not looking for a counselling session, rather perhaps a perspective on what my responsibility is as a parent from the Reformed perspective. Thanks for your time and consideration on this (you can pray for me as well if you desire- I would not pass on that!).

Dear reader,

Many thanks for your questions, these are real heart-felt issues that we all sometimes struggle with as we seek to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. I will try and provide some help on the issue of election before then turning to how this impacts our parenting.

As an opening comment I would say that election can be a very controversial subject and, not rightly handled, thinking deeply about it over a prolonged time can get us tied in knots. In some ways I would compare it to a person’s life assurance policy – it needs to be understood and applied, but then put in the back drawer and not obsessed over. Similarly with election, if not rightly understood and applied, rather than confirming and assuring our faith, it can actually have the opposite effect and undermine and make us doubt our faith. But once, in God’s mercy, we are granted a true understanding of the doctrine, we should allow it to support our devotion and growth, without being the test of it.

It might help to think of election as God’s side of the salvation story. Our side is the call to repent and believe and live a life of obedience in thankful response. From God’s side there are the eternal decrees determining each day of his children’s lives, from our side it is the moment by moment experience of living in this world and responding to his word. From God’s side there is ultimate and supreme sovereignty and freedom of will, from our side there is the wrestling with the sinful nature and the secret work of the Spirit in the inner life. No one can understand both sides of these things. We can see our side, and God has revealed some of his side through the scriptures. But much remains hidden and we must eventually reach a place of trust and submission if we would ever achieve assurance of our faith and peace of conscience.

It’s also important to realise that an assurance of our own faith is something that must be nurtured. Like a flower that will eventually bloom under the right conditions of soil, water and sun, so too our faith will be confirmed if we nurture the means to grow that faith. We will come to hear his Spirit confirming with our spirit that we are the children of God (Romans 8.16). At the moment of first confession we may have been told that we are saved, and some may feel assurance based on this their entire lives, but most of us will question it at some point in our lives. You certainly are at the moment, and this is a healthy thing if done for a season.

I’m sure you have heard and read many sermons and books on assurance of faith, so I’ll not go into that in detail. I just want to outline a few practical thoughts that I have found helpful:

1. The danger of relying on our feelings (and ignoring them completely) – do we feel elect when times are good and doubt our election when times are hard and we sin? The question we need to ask is what do we really believe to be true? Do we really truly believe that Jesus died for my sin – and if we do believe have we honestly asked him to forgive us. If so then we have planted the seed of the word in our hearts – we must then examine ourselves to see if the word is bearing fruit. But what is the fruit that we look for? If we seek perfection then we will be disappointed, if we seek love, joy, peace etc, then we will only see partial fruit, for we all are a pale reflection when it comes to these attributes. Perhaps a better indicator is how our desires, motivations, even feelings are being renewed. Do we grieve for sin when once we could have sinned without a second thought? Do we wish we were a better disciple and become frustrated when we fail? Good – so we should, for our desires are sometimes a better indicators than our characters, for character takes years to cultivate and while desires come and go, the fact that they do come sometimes should encourage us that God is at work.

2. The danger of self-deception – the false disciples of Matthew 7 thought they knew Christ when they only knew about him. Many people in churches will realise on the last day that this is true of them. The key question here is – have I personally appropriated the salvation which is freely given? I preached on this topic last year (click here).

3. The danger of despair – we should recognise that our minds are not infallible and are a battle ground for spiritual warfare – the helmet of salvation as Paul describes it, protects our minds. We should guard against entertaining every doubt, and emulate David in preaching God’s truth to ourselves. Don’t let our insecurities trump the truths of God’s word – for example, God has said “Never will I leave you never will I forsake you” – if we have addressed the first two items above then even though we might not feel in our experience the presence of the Lord, if doesn’t mean it is not true. The same can be said about forgiveness of sin – 1 John 1.9 promises complete and utter forgiveness of confessed sin – even if we don’t feel guiltless, or like we have been forgiven.

4. Sin, doubt or fear does not mean you are unelect – each of us face periods of failure and darkness, but like a life jacket that is pressed under the water, we are inevitably brought back to the surface again by the inner workings of the Spirit. The time to worry is when this no longer happens are we are content to wallow in our sin – then we are in danger of having our consciences seared and proving our profession to be false. If we have (as honestly as we are consciously able to) repented of our sins and confessed Jesus as our Lord, then it comes down to trusting in the promises that God has made to us – not the other way around. The promise is clear – “if you repent in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved” (Romans 10.10). If we do this and then doubt it, it doesn’t render the promise void – “for if we are faith-less, God will remain faithful” (2 Timothy 2.13).

5. The doctrine of election does not necessarily lead to complacency – unfortunately some who have misunderstood election have thought that this gives them a carte blanche to behave how they want. Like those objectors in Romans 6.1 who, after hearing that where sin abounds, grace abounds more said “well lets keep on sinning so that God’s forgiveness looks even better.” Election should be viewed holistically – not just in relation to salvation, but also sanctification and glorification (Romans 8.30). God has elected that we will be those who not only begin the Christian walk, but finish it and we will surely finish it more like Christ than when we began. Moreover, he has elected us to one day be glorified in his presence. God has not only ordained (or elected) the end (Christ-likeness in his presence), but also the means (life by the Spirit through our active obediance Galatians 5.16ff).

6. Works are not all bad – at one point Jesus was asked “what are the works that God requires” and he answered “to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6.28-29). So we see belief is a work of God. Not all works are to be despised, spiritual disciplines are works that can greatly help us in our daily obedience. The works that are condemned are the reliance on these things for acceptance with God. We should, we must, be a people of (godly) works – abundant in our labour of love, but these are in response to the mercy and grace of God, not a way to gain that favour, or even as a means to confirm our election.

Consider this illustration – election is like the engines of a plane, in the same way that the engines power the uplift and flight of the plane and enable it to make progress towards its destination, so our election is the secret working that enables us to believe, preserve and overcome. But if during the flight the pilot decided to stop the engines while he inspected whether they were really working as efficiently as possible, or if they were needing a service, the result would be disastrous. So too with election – our object and goal in life should be a close walk with the Lord Jesus, filled with His Spirit and obeying his commands, not always scrutinising the reality of our faith.

Once we get diverted off this focus, we risk becoming introspective and our focus shifts to ourselves rather than away from ourselves. Yes, there is a time for examination and personal reflection, but constant examination and persistent introspection is more likely to lead to you coming to a complete stop. The Spirit will guide you as you seek God’s face what is required of you at this point in your spiritual journey.

Finally, all this plays itself out in our parenting. In the same way that we cannot fully see God’s side of the salvation story for ourselves, so we cannot see it for our children. We must allow only God to know his ultimate decrees for their lives. We do not have any guarantees for them. Rather we must see that we are seeking to follow our side of the story – doing the things that we have been commanded by God to do – instruct them in the fear and knowledge of the Lord (Deut 6.7-9, Proverbs 22.6, Matthew 19.4). We must use the means God has given us, if we would have the ends that we desire for them. Again I say that I cannot see any guarantee that God has given Christian parents, and as a father of three beautiful, precious children this scares me. But I believe that God is a good God and that as he used the means of Grace in my life to save my at 9 years old, so he is able to bring my children to himself.

But we must seek to move beyond simply indoctrinating them with abstract truths, to demonstrating the reality of our own faith in the life that we live. We must open our hearts to them that they would see our vulnerability and honest struggles. They must see that it is more than a tradition or a culture for us – that it is our lifeblood. We must exhibit the graces and character that we want them to grow towards, to make room for their questions and doubts, to have spontaneous times of prayer and thanksgiving. Oh that God would grant us the immeasurable blessing of believing children and the grace to love them (and him) no matter what happens.

I hope this is of some help for you in your struggles. I pray that the God of all compassion would make himself known to you in such a powerful and real way that your faith is confirmed, your hope renewed and love deepened. In His name, Martyn

PS You can read my four posts on Calvin’s chapters on election and predestination here:

Faith – the final frontier

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 11.55.28Book 3 Chapter 2 Section 1-43

Last week I was at a seminar about convergent technologies in science and one talk described a new technology that allows ground telescopes to see through disturbances in the earth’s atmosphere. The result is that they can produce images with as good a resolution as those taken from telescopes in space. The same technology can also be used to image individual cells on the retina of the eye by correcting for the disturbances within the eyeball. It struck me this last week that society has become so advanced that we have almost conquered every last frontier. Maybe its also because I watched the Star Trek film last week, but I wondered whether the real final frontier for our society is not space, or the intricate working of our bodies, but faith. For it seems to me that this is the last mystery that society is yet to discover.

In this epic chapter on faith Calvin looks at the nature and power of faith and the various understandings of what faith that are presented in the scriptures and church history. Calvin defines faith as “a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favour toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.” Hence we can see that faith must:

1. Be grounded in knowledge. Calvin’s first topic is “implicit faith”, which describes those individuals who differ to the church in all matters of salvation and allow the church to determine what is true even though they may not understand it. Calvin is directly countering those who believe that blind acceptance of anything the priests proclaim is enough to save them. Calvin argues that although we cannot know everything, our faith must be based on a knowledge of divine truth revealed in scripture. We may not know all truth but we can truly understand and know what is sufficient for salvation.

Indeed, Calvin considers this attitude to be nothing else than a preparation for faith – real saving faith. He gives examples of those in scripture, such as the nobleman (John 4.53) and the Samaritans (John 4,42) as those who had pious feelings without the substance of saving faith. On issues of secondary importance that we cannot understand fully he agrees that we should “suspend our judgement, and resolve to maintain unity with the church.” Moreover, we should “endeavour in a calm and teachable spirit to make further progress.”

2. Assure of us the divine favour. But knowledge in itself is not enough, as Calvin explains “faith includes not merely the knowledge that God is, but chiefly, a perception of His will toward us.” How do we come to know what God’s attitude towards us is? Through His word. Indeed, “it were presumptuous of us to hold that God is propitious to us, had we not His own testimony.” Here we see that faith is closely related to assurance, for as we believe in the promises of God to us, the Spirit confirms His work in us with a feeling of acceptance in the family of God.

3. Rest on a confidence in the word. Thus it follows that our assurance of His favour toward us will be in proportion to our persuasion of the truth of this word. For “so long as your mind entertains any misgivings as to the certainty of the word, its authority will be weak and dubious, or rather it will have no authority at all. Nor is it sufficient to believe that God is true, and cannot lie or deceive, unless you feel firmly persuaded that every word which proceeds from Him is sacred, inviolable truth.”

4. Be confirmed through testing. While it is easy to confess we believe when everything is going well, it is only when our faith is tested that we know whether it is real or not. Only after it has been refined in the fire of suffering can we attain to a “sure and firm” faith. There is much life experience wrapped into Calvin’s assessment of how we grow in faith: “So deeply routed in our hearts is unbelief, so prone are we to it, that while all confess with the lips that God is faithful, no man ever believes it without an arduous struggle.”

Response

I found this chapter on faith to be very thought-provoking. Regarding point 3, how many problems have been caused by the undermining of the truth of the scriptures? When once we allow this citidel to be breached and allow doubts to undermine our confidence in the absolute truth of God’s word, it is no suprise that our assurance of our salvation and His favour toward us are shaken to the core. We seem to think that we can edit our bibles to fit our contempory scruples and not suffer any consequences. But if we cut the staps of the parachute before putting it on we shouldn’t be suprised that it doesn’t slow us down when we pull the cord.

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10.22+23

Father, grow this assurance within us – both in the truth of your word and your paternal favour toward us. Enable many others to discover this faith, not blind, unthinking, wishing-for-the-best faith, but the trust that comes from meeting and knowing the risen Saviour, for His sake, Amen.