Working Salvation with Your Own Hand

Gospel is found all throughout the Old Testament. We see clear pointers to Jesus in the tabernacle, in the Passover, in Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, or in Noah’s ark. But we can also find pictures of the gospel in places we do not expect as well.

I found myself thinking of the more subtle presence of the gospel when reading about three strange yet similar incidents in the life of David in 1 Samuel 24-26. In 1 Samuel 24, David has the chance to kill King Saul in a cave. David nearly does, but instead cuts off a corner of the king’s robe. And David feels guilt for stretching out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and repents. In 1 Samuel 25, David straps on his sword and moves to kill Nabal, a foolish man who insulted him. Abigail, a godly woman, intercedes with David and prevents him from killing the unworthy Nabal. In 1 Samuel 26, David will not allow Abishai to strike Saul down when they sneaked into the camp of Israel and took Saul’s spear and water pitcher.

Where do I see gospel in these incidents? Look at David’s response to Abigail.

1 Samuel 25:32-33 – 32 And David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! 33 Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand!

David thanked Abigail for keeping him from working salvation with his own hand. Tie that thought back to the incident with Saul in the cave or in the camp, and you will see that, in those incidents too, David did not use his own strength to accomplish his own physical salvation. And there is where I think the gospel pointer is found. In our salvation, the one thing that we cannot do is accomplish our own salvation by the strength of our own hands.

When we are lost, we have no hope of saving ourselves. The offense we have committed in sinning against the Lord is infinitely great. We could never pay the penalty for our own sin without spending eternity in hell. Also, the gap between our own righteousness and that required by God for us to be welcome in his presence is infinite. Thus, we cannot behave well enough, even were we to be perfect from today forward, to earn entrance into the presence of the Lord. No, we cannot accomplish our own salvation by our own hands. We must instead trust in the Lord to accomplish our salvation for us.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus, God the Son, has in fact accomplished our salvation for us. Jesus pays our penalty, a debt we could never repay. The Lord imputes to us Christ’s righteousness, granting us the ability to stand in God’s presence which we could never earn. And all of this comes to us, not by our works, but by God’s grace through faith in Christ.

The temptation to earn your way into God’s favor is a large one. And it is an anti-gospel. Thus, we should praise God for every picture he gives us to remind us that we are not to seek to work our own salvation.

Unequal Yoking is About More Than Marriage

Do not be unequally yoked. When Christians today hear those words, we immediately take a mental leap to the issue of marriage. The Bible has been clear, from Old Testament to New, that it is against the command of God for a follower of the Lord to unite in marriage to someone who is not a follower of the Lord. This was partly why God told Israel not to intermarry with the nations around them (preserving the line of Messiah also was involved here). And it is why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7 that a widow is free to marry whom she wishes, but only in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39). And this is certainly a fair application of 2 Corinthians 6:14, that a believer must not yoke himself in marriage to a non-believer.

But the context of 2 Corinthians 6 is not matrimonial at its heart. Rather, the context is one of deep and treasured relationships. Early in the chapter, Paul talked about how he and his fellow servants of the Lord were commending themselves to the Corinthians through suffering, godly character, and the faithful proclamation of the word. This would be in comparison to the false teachers who were attempting to lead the Corinthian church away from being faithful followers of the Lord.

2 Corinthians 6:11-13 – 11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.

Paul is clearly saddened by the fact that, though he and his ministry cohorts love the church in Corinth, the Corinthians have been reserved in returning that love. The Corinthians have been divided in their affection between those who love the Lord and those who are preaching something other than the gospel.

Now, read the 2 Corinthians passage with more than marriage in mind. Read it with friendship and other bonds of relationship in mind as well.

2 Corinthians 6:14-18 – 14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

I believe that God is wanting us to think about more than marriage here. Our chief relationships, our most valued and treasured friendships, are to be with those who follow the Lord. Yes, this has to apply to marriage. But it also must apply in all sorts of human affection. It applies to who are your friends. It applies to who are your business partners. It applies to in whom you delight.

I am reminded of David’s words on this subject.

Psalm 16:3-4

3 As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.

David said that the saints, those who follow the Lord, have his delight. David will not delight in those who oppose the Lord.

Now, Christian, ask yourself if your delight is in the people of God. Be clear that I’m not merely talking about family and marriage. With whom would you most like to spend an afternoon? Whose life most interests you? Who would you most delight to meet? When you have free time, with whom do you want to just hang out? Are your answers people who are the saints of God, those who know and love the Lord?

It is wise that the people of God delight in the people of God. This is not to say that we do not develop kind relationships with those who do not know the Lord. But our delight, our soul-refreshing relationships, must be our relationships with people who are going the same direction we are. We must not be unequally yoked together with those who do not love our God. Ask yourself how this might impact your thinking and your actions regarding your local church. Pray that the Lord give you a primary delight in him and the people who love him.

Unwillingness to Compromise

What are you willing to do to add people to your local church? To what lengths are you willing to go? How clever are you willing to be? Are there limits?

If one were to examine the broad swath of churches in the United States, I think that one would conclude that there are indeed no limits to the lengths to which people will go to attempt to bring people into their churches. Some are publicly renouncing the Old Testament, suggesting that to disconnect from those old and hard stories will be more appealing to the modern mindset. Others are compromising God’s word when it comes to standards of sexuality or gender in order to appear more appealing, more open-minded, to a lost world. Others have gone to lengths of showmanship only rivaled by Disneyland as they seek to draw in a crowd hungry for entertainment.

But, if we look to the word of God, we should remember that, though we desperately long for the lost to be saved and the church to be strengthened, there are means that are unavailable to the faithful. There are lengths to which we dare not go. This is not for fear of our own personal loss, but it is out of a passionate commitment not to dishonor the Lord.

2 Corinthians 4:1-4 – 1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

In the letter of Second Corinthians, Paul is clear that he will not compromise the word of God in order to attempt to reach people for Christ. Paul will not use cunning. He will not tamper with Scripture. No, Paul’s practice is one that is committed to faithful, open, clear proclamation of the word of god.

What about those who do not believe? Paul is clear in this paragraph that he knows that not all will believe. But Paul does not attribute their unbelief to his unwillingness to compromise Scripture. Instead, Paul understands, inspired by the Lord, that the unbelief of the lost is due to the blindness of their minds, the deadness of their hearts, rather than to Paul’s unwillingness to play fast and loose with the Bible.

May we have a deep desire to see the lost saved. May we be eager to communicate the word of God to every ear we can reach. But may we, like Paul, renounce underhanded ways. May we turn from cunning strategies. And may we honor the Lord by clearly and simply proclaiming his word for all to hear.

God Gives New Hearts

One of the beliefs essential to the mind of the believer is that of God’s ability to transform the human heart. As we study Scripture, we find that the human heart is so corrupted by original sin that, apart from a supernatural act of God, we would oppose the Lord for all of our days. This is why Ephesians 2:1 declares that we, in our former, lost state were dead in our sins. But then Ephesians 2:4 declares that God made us alive.

This picture was in my mind when I read another account of God giving a young man a new heart. When the young Saul first met Samuel the prophet, Samuel let Saul know that he would be the first chosen king over Israel. As you might imagine, this concept would have been hard for any man to believe. So Samuel gave Saul a set of three signs that would attest to the truthfulness of his prediction.

As Saul left Samuel, something quite special happened. God changed Saul in an instant.

1 Samuel 10:9 – When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day.

God gave Saul a new heart. In a moment, in the turning, at the first step, apart from any belief or action on Saul’s part, God changed Saul’s heart.

Christians, it is vital that we understand that the Lord is able to give new hearts to people. If we assume that this is not a thing that the Lord can do, we must necessarily assume that all evangelism is useless and destined to be fruitless. But with the knowledge that the Lord transforms hearts in a moment, supernaturally, we can preach the gospel to the most hardened of sinners with confident hope that the Lord will continue to save for himself a people out of every nation.

No, the story of Saul is not telling me about Christian evangelism. But the story of Saul’s new heart at this moment tells me that God is sovereign over the human heart. What God did with Saul was not a spiritual conversion so much as it was a character transformation. But it shows me that the Lord is over all, and I can hope in the same Lord to do in the important matters of salvation what we see him do in the less important matters of government.

Living in Tents

Watching television as a child, I noticed the strangeness of shows about armies in the field. People lived in tents, and they hated it. For sure, they valued their tents while they needed them. But one never watched one of those shows and saw army captains dreading having to go home to solid houses. They might protect their tents from damage in the field. But once they went home, those tents were only part of their lives as a memory or as a thing to bring out for a short camping trip.

People do not want to live in tents. We want to live in houses. We want solid walls and clean floors. We want our beds, not a cot on the floor. We want chairs and tables and genuine protection from the elements.

All this came to my mind as I read what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5 about this life and the next. Paul gives us an image of living in the now versus living in the eternal state. And Paul compares this present life to living in a tent but longing for a home. He also compares this life to living nearly naked and longing to be clothed.

2 Corinthians 5:1-9

1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.

Our lives at present are the forerunners of our eternal reality. Our present state, even our present bodies are merely tents compared to houses. We live today lives that are real and which matter. But the lives we live are awaiting the eternal state. We long to be clothed. We long to be housed. We, if we know the Lord rightly, long for the eternal and sinless state of joy in his presence in resurrection bodies.

This concept is important at all times. But how much more is it important now. Today we live during a time of pandemic. Many are afraid. Some fear the disease. Some fear the social and political consequences of this time.

Christian, ask yourself how thinking as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5 might change your attitude during this season. We are away from home. We are living in our temporary shelters. We long for home. We long for the presence of the Lord. We are not those who fear death. We are those who look toward eternity with joy, toward life forever with the Lord as home.

No, I am not suggesting that government does not matter. Nor am I suggesting that you should be careless with your body. You are living in this tent at the present, and you do not want it falling apart on you. However, I am suggesting that you and I ought to be quick to remember that this world is not our home. To be absent from the body is to be in the presence of the Lord. Let that call you to live without fear. Let that call you to live for the glory of the Lord. Let it call you to obey God’s commands, desiring more to please the Lord than to protect a tent. Love the Lord. Live without fear. Long for eternity. And do all that you do for the honor of the God who made you.

Don’t Be Selfish with Your Suffering

Our lives in this sinful and fallen world are going to include times of sorrow and pain. It is unavoidable. All who desire to love and follow Jesus will face persecution as Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12. Children of God are not immune to sickness, to sorrow, or to the other evils that mankind faces.

What we must remember is that the Lord has a purpose, perhaps many purposes, for what we walk through. And if we are to walk through our suffering to its proper purpose, we must look to how that hardship might lead us to glorify God and bring grace to others.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 – 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

As Paul opens the letter of 2 Corinthians, he is praising God for comfort in affliction. And if you will go and read that first couple of paragraphs, you will see that Paul is repeatedly clear about a couple of important things. We suffer. God comforts us in our suffering. And both our hardships and our comforts are for the good of others as well as for our own spiritual growth.

Suffering in life is a thing that is designed to make us rely on the Lord and look forward to eternity. Comfort from the Lord in our times of suffering is to make us worship the Lord in joy and gratitude. And, comfort in times of pain is something God gives to us so that we can help others who face similar pains. We comfort others with the comfort with which we were comforted.

What do you suffer? I am sure it is real and painful. It is also a thing that should drive you toward the Lord, toward longing for eternal life in his presence. I hope that God is also providing you with a means of comfort. Perhaps it is comfort in Christ and in the hope of eternity. Perhaps it is comfort in teaching you to cope with hardship. Perhaps it is comfort in an escape from your pain.

No matter what the comfort, the Lord wants you to find godly comfort in him and then to help others with your comfort. Your suffering is not merely for you. Neither is your comfort. If we are to live out the Christian life rightly, we must be in genuine communication with one another. We must be comforting each other in times of sorrow with the very comfort we have received from the Lord in our times of sorrow.

What does this mean for your life? If you have suffered, don’t waste it. Where did the Lord comfort you? How can you bring that comfort to bear for others?

Are you suffering? Don’t waste it. God wants you to let others in the body know. Do not keep it to yourself. Do not hide your sorrow out of a foolish pride or some silly notion that you would dishonor the Lord if people saw that you could face hardship. Do not whine and complain in self-pity. But, tell others and pray with others. Allow them to comfort you with the comfort they have received from the Lord.

The Powerful Principle of Ownership

In Genesis 1:1, we find in the word of god that, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Later, in verse 27, we discover that the Lord created humanity in his image. God, by his will, by his power, for his glory, made all that is out of nothing. God borrowed nobody’s material. God used nobody’s ingenuity, insight, or power.

One of the principles that we ought to take from this truth is the fact that all creation belongs to the Lord. If you make it, it is yours. You may use it as you wish. No one has the right to take it from you. No one has the right to do with it something beyond your design.

This concept has powerful implications for our understanding of our own lives. God made us. We are his. All that we possess is actually not ours. All that is ours is a loan from God. We are, at best, stewards of the Lord’s property. This is true with our money. This is true with our time. It is true with our thoughts, and it is true with our bodies.

Greg Koukl wrote about this principle in chapter 6 of his book, The Story of Reality, and I found his words helpful:

The basic principle is a commonsense one: If you make it, it’s yours. When someone invests labor and personal creativity to fashion something of value, then that valuable thing belongs to them and should not be taken from them. The way the Story puts it is this: It’s wrong to steal. It’s wrong to take something that is not yours. The concept of private property, then, is an important one in the Story; otherwise the command not to steal would make no sense.
Since God made everything out of nothing, it all belongs to him. He has proper authority to rule over all because none of it would exist without him. That includes you and me, by the way. We don’t own ourselves—God does. Let that sink in too. When we claim absolute ownership over anything without the understanding that God holds the ultimate title, it’s very much like stealing.

Here is why this last point is so important. Nowadays, when certain ethical issues come up, it’s common to hear someone say, “I have a right to do whatever I want with my own body.” It’s a popular point, but it isn’t quite accurate, is it? First, no one can do whatever he wants with his own body, not in a civilized society anyway. Second, if God made us, then our bodies are not our own, strictly speaking. We inhabit them, of course, and have an important connection with them. But if God is God, then we are not completely free to do as we wish with our bodies. In the end, the Potter has the right over his own clay.*

Christians, may we remember the truth of God’s ultimate and total ownership of all that exists. We do not have the right to do whatever we want with our bodies. We do not have the right to think however we want. We are the creation of the Lord. For us to take ourselves to a place outside of his design is for us to attempt to steal from the almighty God who made us.

* Koukl, Gregory, The Story of Reality (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2017), Chapter 6.

The Joy and Pain of Proclamation

How does it feel to proclaim the word of God to the people around you? How should it feel? I think, if you get an honest answer from a faithful pastor, bitter-sweet will be the most likely answer. It is a joy to be used of God to speak truth. But it hurts. Truth is not always pretty. Some things that we must say in order to be faithful to the Lord are things that are uncomfortable, things we know will wound, things we know will be rejected.

If it seems strange that I would say this about the role of the preacher, or in fact the role of any believer speaking the word to family or friends, remember that this is the view seen in Scripture.

Revelation 10:8-11 – 8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” 9 So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” 10 And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. 11 And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

The image of John eating a scroll in Revelation 10 is a picture that borrows from a similar picture in Ezekiel 2-3. In both instances, a man of God is given by God a scroll with the word of God for those around him. In both cases, the prophet is to eat the scroll and then prophesy. In both instances, the prophet acknowledges the sweetness of that scroll when he consumes it. And there is an accompanying bitterness in John’s case, a sourness to the stomach that the words cause. In Ezekiel, the Lord simply follows the eating of the scroll with a reminder that the people will not listen.

Let me suggest two things to learn here. First, the proclamation of the word of God will not be without joy or pain. There is joy in preaching. There is joy in the truth of the word. There is joy in the God whose word we proclaim. But there is also sorrow. There is sorrow in the ugliness of sin. There is sorrow in the judgment many face. There is sorrow in the rejection of the word of God by sinful people who will not hear. This is to be expected.

The other thing that I want to suggest that we need to learn is that this pairing of joy and sorrow should be for us a check of our hearts and attitudes. There are some among us who find no joy in the word. That should make you wonder if your heart is really open to the word and the working of God. There are some who find great joy in proclaiming the word, but who feel no sourness, no sorrow in the proclamation of the word. What would that mean? I fear that, for some, it means that the heart of the preacher or Internet expert is hard. If you love to proclaim with boldness where others are wrong, where others are failing, where others are destined for judgment, yet if you have no feeling of sorrow for the lost or for those in error, if you lack compassion, there is something dreadfully wrong with your heart.

Christians, here is truth. Proclaiming God’s word will carry with it sweetness and bitterness. There will be both blessing and judgment in the word you must proclaim. You will both encourage others and you will call others to repentance. Some will hear you and some will face the judgment of Almighty God. And I would suggest that, if your heart does not feel either the joy of the Lord or a heavy compassion for sinners, something is amiss. Examine yourself. Ask, which of the two emotions do you more lack when you proclaim truth? Do you lack joy? Do you not love the word? Or do you perhaps lack sorrow? Do you lack kindness and compassion toward those you must correct? Do you too easily want to run from proclaiming hard truth? Do you too easily run to judgment without sorrow, kindness, or understanding?

I think what John experienced when he ate the scroll is what we all should have in our mouths and in our bellies when we speak the word of God to a church in need of correction or to a world in need of a Savior. May our hearts feel sorrow for those who face judgment. May we not gloat in making others look foolish or in pronouncing their doom. And may we shine with the joy of the Lord and embrace the sweetness that the word of God is the true and loving revelation of the Lord for his glory and our good.

A Picture of Worship

In my study for Ruth 2, I ran across an interesting scene that has something to teach us about what the word worship means. I probably will not have time to put this into the sermon, so I’ll write it here.

In this scene, Boaz has just shown great kindness and godly character in protecting and providing for ruth. Watch how she responds.

Ruth 2:10 – Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”

Ruth is humble and amazed. She prostrates herself before Boaz as a sign of respect and gratitude. And that is the focus of what we are to see in her action. But the language that is used will teach us a truth about worship.

The Hebrew word for bowed there actually is often translated worship. Ruth is not worshipping Boaz as we think of religious worship. ?She is giving him honor as a response to his character and actions.

The reason I point out that the word for worship is used here is that this is precisely what we do when we worship. When we see the character of God revealed in Scripture, we perform actions to honor God. We show that God is great and that we are submitted to him. We bow before God and demonstrate that he is our Lord. That is worship. We perform acts to honor God, to show that we surrender to God. We sing, pray, give, respond to sermons, participate in Lord’s Supper, and all the rest in order to show that God is our King and we are grateful to be under his rule.

Why We Sing

Psalm 89:1-4

1 I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
2 For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever;
in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.”
3 You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn to David my servant:
4 ‘I will establish your offspring forever,
and build your throne for all generations.’ ” Selah

Why do Christians sing? There are really two good answers. Of course we sing to worship our Lord. WE honor him in an act of religious obedience. He commanded it, it pleases him, and we do it.

But there is another reason that we often miss.

Colossians 3:16 – Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

We sing to teach. We teach one another truth as we sing songs full of truth.

In Psalm 89:1-4, the psalmist says that he will sing of God’s steadfast love and his faithfulness. The psalmist is going to sing lyrics that teach of the chesed, the covenant-making, promise-keeping, never-ending love of God.

Why put this at the beginning? If we do not remember that God’s promising love lasts forever, if we forget that God is always faithful, always true to his promises, we will not be able to handle what comes later in the psalm. We will give up and lose hope when it looks like his promises are too far away to come to pass.

In verse 2, we see that God has established his faithfulness in the heavens. The angels know that God is faithful. The sun, moon, and stars are testimonies to God’s power and consistency. The heavens declare his glory, and part of that declaration is their constant reminder that God is in control and does all he says he will do.

And then in verses 3-4, the psalmist tells us of one promise of God’s. The Lord made a covenant with David. And if God is faithful to his word, he will, he must, keep that promise too.

2 Samuel 7:16 – And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ”

God promised David that a son of his would build the temple. Solomon did. But God also promised that someone from David’s line, his house, will be established as king forever. A never-ending kingdom will come from David’s line. A king will come who will be king over all. That, of course, is the promise that Messiah, the Christ, will come from David’s family line.

Christians, sing and learn of God’s glory and God’s faithfulness. Sing truth. Sing of the fact that God is always true to his word. Sing and make the Lord known to others. Sing of the kingdom of God and the grace of a God who saves sinners like us. Sing that God fulfilled his promise when he sent his Son. Sing that his promises are still true today.