Tag Archives: Old Testament

Ruthless Rehoboam

This post is a summary of my message on Week 14 of The Story. Today we are looking at the events immediately after the death of Solomon. From now on it will be a steady downward path towards apostasy, spiritual decline, military defeat and eventual exile to a foreign land. This is not a happy story – the glory days stand behind us now. Hope you enjoyed them!

imageReverse Referendum
In a referendum the people are given a choice – they answer yes or no to a specific question. In our passage today, we see the reverse, the people come to the new king with a specific question that requires a yes or no answer. Will he say yes and ease their labour conditions, or say no? He decides to phone some friends, in fact two groups of counsellors. But he chooses the wrong advice – the old and wise heads urge caution and prudence, the young guns advise boldness, dominance and ruthlessness. Clearly the people had been dissatisfied with their forced labour under Solomon but had been reluctant to challenge the status quo. Rehoboam goes for bravado over brotherly kindness and machoism over mercy. And what would you know, there just happens to be an enterprising young man ready (Jeroboam) to mobilise the resistance. The mighty Kingdom of Israel is split over a single decision on employment terms and conditions.

All this was from the Lord – 1 Kings 12.15 states it clearly, Rehoboam’s pride and arrogance are the means whereby God brings his previously declared judgement upon Solomon. Jeroboam loses no time in establishing himself as a rival king in the northern tribes – fortifying cities, creating a counterfeit worship system and installing his own priesthood, so the people don’t need to go to Jerusalem. But he also opens the door for all the other idols around them.

While God had purposed that Jeroboam be the means of splitting the kingdom in two, he had not wanted them to worship other gods. From now on Israel would edge steadily towards spiritual disaster. As king after king continued and deepened the sinful practices and habits.

Repeated Rejection
We almost always think of warnings as being negative things, but warnings can be wonderful. The fire alarm that wakes you up in the middle of the night and saves your life will seem a wonderful invention when you are stood outside in the dark. The flashing light on your dashboard warning you of your fuel filter is boring, but if you don’t have it you can end up losing power on the motorway. Warnings can be wonderful things when they are genuinely aimed at protecting us from harm.

Throughout this period in Israel’s history we see God actively and intimately involved in the key events. We see in these passages is a God who passionately cares about his people, and the decisions they make, the people they hurt and the desires they hold, especially those that they put above him. Unfortunately it is a story of repeated rejection of God (all references are to 1 Kings):

Ruthless Rehoboam pic1

Remnant Remain
In the midst of all the warnings, the judgements, the destruction of the kingdom, there is a jewel. Living for God in those times must have been very tough…everything that you had enjoyed about being the people of God was being dismantled. What hope is there? 1 Chronicles 11.13-17 – these five verses give us a ray of hope that the light has not been totally extinguished. The Levites see what is happening and turn their backs on the land that was rightfully there’s and leave for Judah.

They were rejected by Jeroboam and in some ways you might say they had no choice. But in 16 we read about the people, the faithful remnant who had set their heart on seeking the Lord, they also left their homeland and came to Judah and strengthened it and supported Rehoboam as God’s anointed king. It is a spiritual exodus from unfaithful Israel to faithful Judah.

In all the darkness of these days God had not left himself without a witness. These had not bowed the knee to Jeroboam, or his false religions. Their love for God cost them their homes and land, they left all for the sake of their God. So a remnant remained – and this will be the case throughout the rest of Israel’s history. The faithful few who sought the Lord and swam against the prevailing spiritual decay and backsliding.

Conclusion
Finally a few words on what this means for us today, how do we understand what is going on here?

Each warning was sent in love – to restrain an evil intention or rebellious act. But each warning went unheeded. The key thing is that they are written for our encouragement Paul says in Romans 15.4: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

A key text is 1 Corinthians 10.1-13: all received the blessings, but not all were pleasing to God. God was making a point with the Old Testament events, an example for all time, that we might learn and not repeat the lessons of history. So what are we to learn? God wants our hearts! At the heart of what He desires, is His desire for our hearts.

Have you ever watched a sailing boat tack across a lake to try and sail upwind? One minute it is heading towards its destination, the next it is heading in what seems like the opposite direction. If you didn’t know anything about sailing you might question the sailor at the rudder, but all the while the boat is slowly making its way upwind and upriver. So it is with this passage, it is like a moral maze that we find ourselves in with this passage. The question we need to ask is, what is God doing in these verses? Is he for Israel or against them? Why is he so strict with his own people?

The answer, I believe lies in 3 deep truths…firstly the impartiality of God, secondly the divine, righteous jealousy of God, and thirdly the progressive, deepening, revelation of God seen in scripture.

  1. God shows no partiality – he is a holy God and a loving father who knows what is best for us and does not want us to be satisfied with lesser loves – whatever they may be. His love drives him to intervene, sometimes requesting, sometimes allowing, sometimes restraining and sometimes judging. We must have a holy fear – of ourselves and our weakness, fear of God and his righteousness, fear of starting well, but not finishing the race. Do our lives please God?
  2. God is jealous for our love – we almost always view jealousy as a bad thing. But in its pure form, striped right back to its essentials jealousy can be beautiful thing. It says: “I know what is the best thing for you, and it is me, not anybody, or anything else, but me”.
  3. God has established a covenant of grace with us not a covenant of works; not of obedience, but faith, a righteousness apart from the law. We stand on a foundation of unconditional love. Our experience of this love in our daily life is conditional upon our obedience. The covenant of law is not good for sinners, Rehoboam, Jeroboam, Solomon, the Man of God – all discovered this the hard way. The covenant of grace is the only refuge for the sinful person.

This is the referendum choice we all face – do you believe that I am the Son of God? This is the complete obedience to every warning, the blameless lamb of God, who is yet rejected for us. This is the king who has rescued a remnant, do you know you are one of his children today?

When SAS came to church

I recently did an all-age service at church, for both the adults and kids, from week 10 of The Story. I used 7 words to spell out the message, the kids opened up envelopes and had to figure out what each word was – this is a summary of my message:

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28: Daniel Sturridge (R) of Liverpool is congratulated by teammate Luis Suarez (L) after scoring his team's third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on January 28, 2014 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Many people are fascinated by the SAS – no I don’t mean the Special Air Service, but they are pretty exciting, neither do I mean Suarez and Sturridge – Liverpool’s goal machine last season…no I am talking about Samuel and Saul. These two are two of the biggest characters in this period of the Old Testament. Their lives are intertwined and their different personalities and spiritual devotion provide the light and shade of the books of Samuel and Kings.

One word to summarise Samuel? Devotion – learnt from his mother, he was 100% committed to his God. One word for Saul? Impulsive – evidence throughout his life he made pragmatic decisions on the spur of the moment that often got him into trouble. The immovable Samuel and the impulsive Saul…they had some memorable meetings! Samuel is driven by faithfulness and loyalty, Saul by fear and jealousy. Open the envelope, break the seal…

1. SAM 

Let’s look at Samuel first, or Sam as we have called him here. Samuel was the son of Hannah – a son of prayer and promise. Samuel grew up at the feet of the priests in the temple of God. From his earliest days he learnt the ways of God – he even heard God speak directly to him. Remember what happened? He thought it was Eli, three time he went to Eli, until eventually the old man realised God was speaking to him. As he grew up God guided him and protected his words, so that he was respected by all as a prophet and priest for the nation – to provide spiritual leadership to the nation.

2. SAD

But as Sam grew older it became clear that things were not right in Israel. This chosen nation that had been taken out of Egypt and planted in the promised land was withering. The people were tired of being told what to do by the judges, they wanted someone more impressive to lead them than old Sam, whose sons were not of the same character as him. They looked around and saw  the other nations had something they thought they did not – a king. God had been their king, leading them into battle, fighting for them, protecting them, and Samuel was their priest and prophet. Now they were rejecting God as their king and so they asked Samuel to give them a king like the rest of the tribes. This made Samuel very sad, but it was really God their king they were rejecting. 

3. ANOINT

So God let the people break the kingly bond between them and him – he warned them what a king would require of them and how a king would trade their best land and sons and daughters…but they still wanted him. The sign of a king was the anointing oil poured over his head, this signified the blessing of God being poured out onto the person and the setting aside of their life for a special purpose. It was Samuel’s job to anoint the new king. God tells Sam to anoint the person he points to – someone who would look like the other kings around them.

4. SAUL

Head and shoulders above the rest, Saul was an impressive young man. Although initially shy and reluctant, Saul finds his boldness when one of the cities is threatened. So, a promising start for the new king. But as is often the case power goes to our heads and things quickly fall apart and under pressure Saul makes some bad impulsive decisions. But worse than that, not just bad decisions, but sinful decisions. Decisions that reveal where his heart really lies – and show that selfishness and pride lie at the heart of this man. Saul was impressive on the outside but weak inside…he obeyed as long as it was comfortable.

5. SIN

On two occasions Saul disobeys God – first in offering an unauthorised sacrifice when he got fed up waiting for Samuel to come and offer them before his battle with the Philistines. And then by keeping alive the King of the Amalekites and the best cattle and sheep when God had ordered it all to be destroyed. In the first incident Saul oversteps his rightful authority to encroach on Samuel’s Territory – driven by the fear of man, rather than the fear of God. In the second he allows his pride to decide what bits of God’s law he should obey. He sets his own will above that of God, and he pays the price. 

Here Saul is a picture of all of mankind – doing what we think is right, editing out the bits of God’s law we don’t find convenient, obeying him as long as we don’t look foolish in front of people. This king cannot help us, because he is just like us.

6. TORN

Finally Sam confronts Saul and tells him that God has rejected him as king – that he cannot continue under the blessing of God and his sons will not continue the monarchy. In his haste Saul grabs Samuel’s coat and as Sam turns away he tears it – this is what God has done to his anointing – torn it up! You see Saul had been torn between the fear of man and the fear of God, he had been torn between convenience and obedience…and had made the wrong choice each time. His heart was torn between the love of the world and the love of God, now his kingly reign on this world was torn away by God.

So the kingdom is taken away from Saul – not right then, he still remained king for many years, desperately holding onto his throne against the young upstart called David, who we will meet next week. And Saul is very sad by how popular David becomes – jealousy and hatred overwhelm Saul in his later years. He lived from a place of fear…fear of losing his position, of being exposed and replaced, the seed of destruction had been sown and time was running out. Saul would eventually run out of options and desperately seek Sam out even after he had died, and find that the end was nigh. More than that his beloved Jonathan would also die with him and the kingly line be extinguished. 

So for us the consequences of our sin take time to appear, right back in the garden Adam and Eve were told they would die if they disobeyed, but they ate and nothing happened…immediately. But the egg timer had started to pour and their death was certain.

7. RETURN (of the king)

What would God do? The people had rejected God as their king and Saul had failed God. He would find a king who would be someone with his character, a man after God’s own heart. But even this king would fail. Ultimately He would take back that kingly role to himself, one day…one day another king would come, one who would honour God above all else, who would not fear the disapproval of man, or the suffering of obedience. 

God would unite the role of prophet, priest and king in one person, one man. The king would arrive in Israel while they were sleeping and he would return the union between God and his people. He would rescue and redeem them, not through war as Saul did, but through sacrificing himself. King Jesus, the true king, never flinching, never wavering, never compromising. 

You see not only did the Israelites reject God as their king, we too rejected God as our rightful king. We by nature rebelled against his rule over our hearts and said…”we will not have this man to rule over us”. If you are a Christian this morning you have bowed the knee willingly to this king, and pledged allegiance to him. We have given him our hearts, lives, everything we have, and found that he is a king we can trust, a king we can exalt and worship. Will you worship him today? Will you let him restore what has been torn and remove the sin in our hearts?

Wilderness Wandering revisited

family board gameOur church is going through The Story we are at week 6 and I was tasked with covering the Wandering chapter for the kids and adults this morning…here is the kids talk. We played the short “Teens” video clip for week 6 first for the whole church.

“This week we are learning about the wilderness wanderings…when I was little my Dad used to have a board game that we played on a Sunday called Wilderness Wandering. It was a game that moved you through the different events that happened in the wilderness as the Israelites journey from Egypt to Canaan. In fact I have found a picture of the board game and also a picture of us all playing it…my Dad didn’t have his moustache back then! You ask them about it after the service (maybe it wasn’t exactly like this!).

What are your favourite board games? Monopoly, kids of Carcasson, junior Cluedo? One of the best loved is Snakes & Ladders – what happens when at bottom of ladder? What happens when land on a snake? Go back to where you started from that’s what. How long does it take to get back to where you were?

The Israelites had been prisoners for years and been miraculously delivered from Egypt. Now they are on the edge of the promised land, but instead of going up a ladder they go down a snake. They take another 40 years to get back to where they were. Then they finally make it through. The ones who went in were just kids when they stood there the first time.

One day God will bring you to a decision point just like the Israelites on the edge of the promised land – he wants to know what is in our hearts, do we trust and love him, but only when times are easy? When we are in the desert we find out whether we are willing to follow him. Whether kids or adults what we decide determines whether we go on with God, or go backwards. One thing you never get in snakes and ladders is a snake and a ladder on the same square – but that was the challenge for the 12 spies. Only Joshua and Caleb trusted God, 10 spies went down the snake. You can trust God no matter what.”

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

The Prophet, the Parchment and the People

A Call to Cultural Re-engagement Part 5.

If you have been following my previous posts on cultural re-engagement, I expect there is one question that is at the forefront of your minds and that is: “it’s all very well saying that the church should affirm, then connect, then challenge, but most of the time church leaders don’t have the luxury of the time required to build engagement before needing to challenge. What do you do then?”

Those of us who work or live amongst those outside the reach of the church do, on the whole, have the time required (if we choose to use it) to develop meaningful, real relationships that are the foundation for cultural engagement. Those who are in positions of leadership in the church often do not. They are required to stand for truth at the risk of being misunderstood, misrepresented and misinterpreted. Their’s is the prophetic call to the nation to turn back to the living God, to hear what he says to a lost generation and warn them of the consequences of their rebellion. Can these two approaches be reconciled? Should they be reconciled? Importantly, is one more faithful to biblical principles than the other?

h-richard-niebuhr2I have come across many theories that seek to provide a universal approach to cultural engagement for the church. One of the most famous theorists is Richard Niebuhr, who outlined the following categories in his 1951 book Christ and Culture. In it he proposed five models for understanding our approach to culture:

  1. “Christ against Culture. For the exclusive Christian, history is the story of a rising church or Christian culture and a dying pagan civilization.
  2. Christ of Culture. For the cultural Christian, history is the story of the Spirit’s encounter with nature.
  3. Christ above Culture. For the synthesist, history is a period of preparation under law, reason, gospel, and church for an ultimate communion of the soul with God.
  4. Christ and Culture in Paradox. For the dualist, history is the time of struggle between faith and unbelief, a period between the giving of the promise of life and its fulfillment.
  5. Christ Transforming Culture. For the conversionist, history is the story of God’s mighty deeds and humanity’s response to them (Source: Wikipedia)”

There are other ways of categorising the approaches but they can be broadly put into one or more of these categories. Church leaders are taking their churches down one or two of these approaches, depending on their denominational roots, church tradition and individual perspective. My question to the church is this – “is it possible that God would have different (biblical) roles for his leaders and his people?”

Could God have purposed that there would be some individual Christians who would stand against the culture as a prophetic voice? Could God have purposed that others would be so immersed in society that their work would transform their town, community or nation? Of course he could. A clear example of this is seen in Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Jeremiah 29.1-7. In this passage Jeremiah, a prophet of God, is in defeated Israel writing to those who had been taken captive to Babylon.

As the tearful prophet sits down to write on this piece of parchment his manifesto to the people of Israel in foreign lands, here is the perfect opportunity to call the people to rise up against the unbelieving, sinful country they were living in and call them to account for their pagan living. Is that what Jeremiah does? No, instead, under the inspiration of God, he commands them to settle in their country, build, plant, prosper, seek its welfare and work for the good of the land they are living in.  Here is God telling his punished people to work for the good of their culture – to cultural engagement in Babylon.

And yet, only a few short chapters later Jeremiah (in chapter 50.1-5) strikes up this judgement of Babylon, again at the command of God. Here is the prophet pronouncing judgement and standing against the culture and land of Babylon. So we see that it is not either / or, but rather both/ and. We need to stop trying to shoehorn everyone into one, or only two ways of approaching culture as if God only ever worked through one means.

We need to recognise that God can, has and will raise up leaders like Joseph (to lead culture), Daniel (to transform culture) Noah (to stand against culture). George Muller,  William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, respectively, are modern day examples.  Today we, equally, need those who will speak a clear voice of biblical truth against our godless culture, we also need those who will get stuck in to working alongside our society to make it a genuinely better place. And we need to recognise the importance, value and God-honouring vocation of all these callings.

es-rock-climbing-01What strikes me is that God commanded the Israelites in Babylon to work for the welfare of the city, even while there was a coming judgement against the city. Amazingly, Jeremiah was the means of providing both the mandate to renew the city, and the message leading to the razing of the city. God cannot be put in a nice easy category, his purposes are too diverse, his means too manifold. All we can ask is “what would you have me do Lord, with this small life that I give to you wholeheartedly?” Obedience is of utmost importance, for few of these people, when they set out on their journey could have ever imagined how God was going to use them.

Finally, this passage in Jeremiah 29 is just before that famous verse where God says “I know the plans I have for you…” which we love to apply to ourselves. But before we do that we must remember the primary application of these verses is to the exiled Israelites, struggling to know the will of God in a foreign land. Not knowing whether to acclimatise or resist, to fight it or fit in. Remember this – God’s plans to bless us are for an alien people in a hostile land, working for the good of this land. Why? Because God has called us to it and promised to be with us and bless us. This is my call to people and prophet alike – fulfil your unique role in this desperate land before it is too late. What are we waiting for?

Running on Empty

Yesterday I spoke at my home church, Central Baptist Church, Dundee in my series of Postcards from the Prophets on Elijah at Mount Horeb from 1 Kings 19 titled “Running on Empty”. In it I sought to outline Elijah’s external persecution and internal despair along with his encounter with the whispering God. Through it all I sought to understand what Elijah’s experience can teach us in our trials and challenges in the UK today.

The slides are available here and sermon online here or to download here. During the service I also read out an article I wrote last year called “We need the tears of the prophets for a broken nation” – available here.

The God Who Is There

I recently spoke at my church on the next in my series on Elijah. This time Elijah is facing the prophets of Baal, King Ahab and the people of Israel at the top of Mount Carmel. Its a classic passage from Israel’s history and I focussed on 1) A guilty silence (ie the people who refused to respond to Eljah’s challenge for faithfulness), 2) An impotent enemy (the prophets of Baal who couldn’t get their God to show up) and finally 3) The testifying God. On this final point I spoke about how God used the method of fire from heaven to testify to his presence throughout Israel’s history, but challenged us to whether we allowed God to change his methods? I gave a brief apologetic to explain how the UK has no place for supernatural events and why believing in miracles such as these is so hard for people today. I explained how Francis Schaeffer sought to understand and explain these changes back in 1968 in his book The God Who Is There, and what that means for us today. I finished by looking at 1 Timothy 2.5+6 as Jesus is presented here as God’s final testimony – better than fire from heaven, for as God’s character is revealed so his testimony is refined. The sermon is available here as a download, or online here, and slides here.

An Empty Jar and a Broken Heart

Last Sunday I preached on Elijah meeting the widow of Zarepheth from 1 Kings. It was the third in my series of Postcards from the Prophets. The sermon is available here and the slides here.

A Donkey in Trouble

Here is the first in a series of children’s talks on animals in the bible – #1 a donkey in trouble.

Using the slides (here) ask the children “Who can guess what animal is this is?” That’s right its a donkey, who knows of donkeys in the bible? Do you remember Balaam’s Donkey? Well, Balaam’s donkey was in trouble – just like the donkey in this picture.

Balaam was a kind of prophet who was going to say bad things about God’s people and God sent an angel to stop him. As he was riding on his donkey, the donkey saw the angel standing ready to kill Balaam and moved away. This happened three times unil finally Balaam had had enough and started beating the donkey for being so stubborn. God opened the donkey’s mouth to ask if he normally behaved in this way? When Balaam admitted that he did not, the donkey explained about the angel. Then God opened Balaam’s eyes to see the angel and he realised the donkey had saved him. So, the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth and also Balaam’s eyes.

This reminded me of the passage in Acts when God opened Lydia’s heart (Acts 16.14) and I thought about how this is a picture of what it means to be a Christian.

  1. Firstly God opens our eyes so that we can see ourselves are we truly are and not as we think we are, we can also see Jesus as he is – in his majesty and power.
  2. Secondly, God opens our hearts so that we love him and love the things that he loves and hate the things that he hates.
  3. Thirdly, God opens our mouths so that we can praise and thank him and tell other people what he has done for us.

“Has God opened your eyes, your heart and your mouth?” I asked the children – lets ask God to do just that if he hasn’t already.

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: