Jeff Johnson is the founding pastor of Grace Bible Church, the Owner/Operator of Free Grace Press and a graduate of Veritas Theological Seminary. He serves as the Director of Academics at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. Jeff is the author of several books including The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism, Behind the Bible: Introduction to Textual Criticism, The Church: Why Bother?, The Kingdom of God, The Absurdity of Unbelief, The Pursuit of Glory, and He Died for Me.
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By Tom Ascol — 3 months ago
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
— Lamentations 3:22-23
There is a vital relationship between your memory and your anticipation. Memory provides the foundation for expectation. What you remember powerfully influences what you expect. What you know and can recall inevitably fuels what you anticipate.
My favorite restaurant is a local place called The Blue Dog. I have always enjoyed wonderful meals served by friendly staff there. My past dining experiences make me anticipate another excellent meal the next time I eat there.
The same thing is true of gathered worship. The sweet memories of meeting with and hearing from God that believers share together on the Lord’s Day cause them to look forward with great anticipation to the next opportunity to meet.
But it works the other way, too. If you remember bad experiences in a restaurant then it will be difficult to have high expectations when you are invited there for another meal.
What you remember necessarily influences what you anticipate. Because this is true your memory can either work FOR you or AGAINST you when it comes to your spiritual life.
Are you ever haunted by memories? David was: “My sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3). The sons of Korah also were plagued by difficult memories: “All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face” (Psalm 44:15).
Remembering your past failures and sins can keep you locked in the dungeon of despair.
John Bunyan graphically portrays this in Pilgrim’s Progress. Giant Despair captures Christian and Hopeful and locks them in Doubting Castle, where they are beaten and tormented for four days. What kept them in that sad condition? It was their memory of their past failures! They had left the right road—despite having been warned of that danger. They also took their ease in by-path meadow and fell asleep when they should have been watching. It was the memory of their many sins that kept them in despair.
Has that ever happened to you? One of my favorite hymns expresses it well:
When I look all around me
And all I can see
Are my mountains of failure and sin
When I’m standing accused
And I’m guilty as charged
And I’ve nothing that I can defend
Those times when you are facing hardships, and you know that they are the result of your own sin and foolish choices. Or the times you look back on opportunities squandered and your mind begins to play the “what if” game.
• What if I had not married so hastily?
• What if I had not committed adultery?
• What if I had stayed in school?
• What if I had not cheated on the job?
• What if I had never smoked that first joint?
Memory can supply the club in Giant Despair’s hand to bludgeon you until you are almost spiritually senseless.
But memory can also be the chauffeur of peace, hope, and comfort to your soul, when, in addition to remembering your sins, it brings back to your mind the mercy and grace of God in Jesus Christ.
What finally delivered Christian and Hopeful from Doubting Castle? It was the memory that they had in their possession a key called promise! When that thought occurred to him, Christian said, “What a fool am I to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk in liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called Promise; that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.”
He was correct. The memory of God’s grace & of His mercy-filled promises in Christ set them free. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
The steadfast love of the Lord cannot ever cease because it has been given to us in Christ. By His life, death, and resurrection, He has sealed and secured it forever for all who trust in Him.
So, what do Christians do when all they can see is their sin? What do we do when we are justly accused with no defense to make for ourselves? We return to the One who has proven faithful throughout all of our life.
I will hope in the One
Crucified in my place
Jesus Christ the Redeemer of men
I will trust in the righteousness
Given to me
By Jesus my Savior and Friend
Trust and hope in our crucified, risen, reigning Savior. Remember Him. Remember His faithfulness in the past. He never forsakes His people. He never has let one of His promises fail. So, regardless of where you are or what you are going through, trust Him now. Trust Him for your future.
Remember His goodness, wisdom and power. And say with Jeremiah, “Great is Your faithfulness.”
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By Reagan Marsh — 1 month ago
“Forgiving myself” is common practice among Christians today, almost taken for granted as right, necessary, and biblical. The idea runs roughly like this: when I sin, I must confess my wrongdoing to God, accept his pardon, and then forgive myself. Poignantly reflecting the heavily psychologized world in which the Church walks, to witness how vigorously this historically-recent practice is advocated (and defended) bears testimony to just how much water the Old Ship of Zion is taking on.
Christians confess the sufficiency of Scripture for doctrine and practice (2 Pet 1:3; 2 Tim 3:16-17) – that is, the Bible contains all that is necessary for me to know who God is, what he requires of me, and how to do it. But forgiving myself draws from culture, not Canon; since Scripture is silent about this construct, it “goes beyond what is written” (1 Cor 4:6). The Bible tells us “a broken heart and a contrite spirit he will not despise” (Ps 51:17). “Return to me and I will return to you” (Ps 34:8). “…the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin…if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:7,9). Scripture highlights the all-sufficiency of God’s pardon by Christ’s work, calling me to rest in it – and nowhere else. My sin and guilt must be laid at the foot of the Cross alone.
The danger is subtle, but strikingly real. Consider what I’m telling myself in practicing self-forgiveness: I softly say that God’s absolution in Christ is insufficient for peace with him, that having my heart sprinkled to cleanse a guilty conscience (Heb 10:22) isn’t enough. I confess in it that his poured-out wrath on his only Son might pass muster for heaven’s judgment, but not for mine. To “forgive myself” is fundamentally an argument that the suffering and death of Jesus served for “peace with God” (Rom 5:1) – just not for peace within me. Jesus said “it is finished,” yet since I must forgive myself, his grace truly isn’t sufficient for me (2 Cor 12:9). Instead, I supplement the grace of the Cross, completing his pardon by adding my work to it.
Precisely here is the quiet shift from well-intentioned error to genuine heresy. To forgive myself is to substitute God’s standard with mine, to append my judgment and assessment of Christ’s work to Scripture’s, to exchange the Father’s mercy and approval for what I think is best. It’s a gentle replacement which “makes the Cross of none effect” (1 Cor 1:17; Mk 7:13), ultimately relying on “what is right in my own eyes” (Jdg 21:25), on my terms. It makes my sin out to be so great the Jesus couldn’t handle it, or so insignificant that Jesus couldn’t be bothered with it; but either way, I deify myself. In the name of faith in Christ, I put faith in me. At its core, forgiving myself is self-pardon, self-absolution, self-salvation.
I must learn rather to “set my heart at rest in his presence” (1 Jn 3:19-24) when conscience condemns me, by full confession and repentance before the only One who can forgive sins (Mk 2:5-11). I must “still and quiet my soul” by the mercy and merits of Jesus alone (Ps 131:2), for he “is faithful and just to forgive.” By the Spirit’s gracious help, I must learn to look solely to Christ, stricken for sinners like me, to know peace with God (Isa 53:4-6).
By Hannah Ascol — 2 years ago
In the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, Solomon brought focus to the importance of strict attention to the written wisdom given by God (12:9-14). Solomon, from the beginning of this book, stated his purpose to employ all the talent and experimental method at his disposal in writing this book (1:13, 17; 2:3, 9). This is generally true of all the writers of Scripture. They do research, they reason on the basis of divine providence, and seek proper interpretation of already-certified Scripture. They look to their own encounters with God and his truth. According to the nature of revelation, many of the things that they set forth as revealed truth utterly transcend both their experiences and their self-conscious gifts. At the same time, they knew that at no point were they merely unconscious amenuenses. Instead, they were being used by God as he employed their peculiar gifts and experiences. Note how Peter said, “I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:15). This statement came in the immediate context of his testimony that his words were giving greater clarity to the revelation that had come before (19). He himself, was, like the prophets “carried along by the Holy Spirit” even in the context of his “effort.” Solomon, in this task given him by God was “weighing and studying and arranging . . . with great care.” From a literary standpoint, he “sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth” (12:9, 10).
Though Solomon was engaged in the project as a conscientious literary artist, or closely reasoning philosopher, in the end he does not doubt that his product would be “words of truth.” He presented the image of goads and nails “firmly fixed” (12:11). This particular labor, though all others that he described were “chasing after the wind,” was of sober purpose and enduring value. These words, taken in the whole, embodied truth. Even as Paul before Agrippa and Festus, Solomon could use such language, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.” (Acts 26:25). The writers of inspiration were aware both of the use of their labors and capacity as well as the perfect truth and authority given their writing by the Spirit of God. See Luke 1:1-4; Romans 14:14-21; 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; Ephesians 3:1-13; 1 Peter 5:12; 2 Peter 3:1, 2; 1 John 1:1-4; Revelation 22:18, 19. In each of these scriptural testimonies, we engage both the transcendent character of revelation inscribed by inspiration and the writers’ consciousness that their own minds and perceptions stewarded that body of truth.
Solomon was also conscious that this book was superintended by God and that its teachings, understood correctly, are sure guides as part of a larger collection of inspired literature. The “collected sayings”(12:11) were given by one Shepherd. When combined with other inspired writings, this contemplation of Solomon as the Preacher gives depth and contour to the entire picture of the divine purpose of God in glorifying Himself through the wisdom of the plan of redemption. The “collected sayings” refer immediately to the accumulated argument of Solomon in this book and the conclusion toward which it drove him. By extension, this refers to the entirety of revelation, the “collected sayings,” at the end of the inspiration to record revelatory truth is final. Though many people will write books, one must make sure that the teaching of another does lead him away from the truths revealed in Scripture—“Beware of anything beyond these” (12:12).
Many, many books, and a virtually infinite presentation of opinions will flood the world as author after author desires an audience either for material gain or for philosophical or political fame. Seeking to grasp all these opinions and understand the nuances of the thought of so many varying and contradictory opinions is indeed a “weariness to the flesh.” If an infatuation with such vanities and the thoughts of persons with such limited scope of understanding drives us away from the fullness of truth contained in divine revelation, then the warning is intensified for us, “Beware of anything beyond these.” Paul labored to bring “every thought captive to obey Christ” by destroying “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5). For this reason Paul told Timothy, “Charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:3, 4).
Solomon concludes his writing with a final statement of its purpose and a concomitant warning. He has made observations about wisdom and foolishness, righteousness and unrighteousness, legitimate pleasure and dissolute living, this short life and the long home of death, authority and submission, freedom and judgment, divine sovereignty and human responsibility, time and eternity. Now he gives the conclusion that he has reached, under the guidance of the “One Shepherd.” All of these things, considering the final vanity of everything when viewed from the perspective of this life only, resolve into this infinitely important and compelling single duty: “Fear God and keep his commands.”
This is a confirmation of all the Law and the prophets, to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. To fear God includes viewing him with a sense of awe and wonder in light of his holiness, a holiness that is seen as the essence of beauty and loveliness. If holiness is the sum total of his attributes (or if holiness gives unity to each of his diverse attributes), it is eternal and immutable, never-changing, never diminishing, never augmenting. But to creatures, though God never changes, he is incomprehensible. Because incomprehensible, never will there be a time in eternity when there are not more expressions of beauty unfolding even though nothing can be added to his eternal infinite attributes. Both in unity and eternal diversity God will be displayed in eternally unfolding layers of beauty, joy, pleasure, and exuberant happiness. When viewed in this way, an accompanying affection is love, for one cannot look upon infinite holiness, impeccable righteousness, and condescending mercy with the proper sense of fear and wonder, without at the same time being engulfed with a complacent love for the perfection of the character of such a Being.
To fear God includes viewing him with a sense of awe and wonder in light of his holiness, a holiness that is seen as the essence of beauty and loveliness.
Solomon’s words, “Keep his commandments” (12:13) brings us immediately into the realm of the purpose of the Law. God requires an absolute obedience to his law for those that will enjoy eternal life in his presence. “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Deuteronomy 27:26 cited in Galatians 3:10) and “If a person does them, he shall live [achieve the goal of eternal life] by them” (Leviticus 18:5 cited in Galatians 3:12). Paul says “For it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be justified” (Romans 2:13).
Solomon also has established the fact that, though created in innocence and righteousness, the single great reality of the present human condition is his sinfulness. It is original, it is personal, it is progressive, it is destructive. (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ,29; 8:11ff ; 9:3) We are, therefore, in consistent violation of the supreme duty that is absolutely incumbent upon us. None of our actions, our thoughts, will be invisible to God in the day of final reckoning. “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:14) Though at times, Solomon’s language seemed to despair of any meaning to anything, he now sets forth this great truth, that, viewed from the standpoint of eternity and the perfection of God’s moral nature and the legitimacy of his law to his creature, nothing in the view of eternity is empty but all will come before him for commendation or blame. His perfect standard will not be compromised but will be the inflexible guide and will be viewed as holy and just so that every mouth is stopped and the whole world held guilty before God.
In this light, we again see that the Law is a schoolmaster, or guardian, to lead us to Christ in whom alone is that perfection of righteousness called for by the Law. The Law, this law approved by Solomon, holds before us both righteousness and judgment until “Christ came in order that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24) In his coming he accomplished righteousness and received our judgment so by submitting with perfect resignation to his atoning work, we are given union with him for both the removal of judgment and the imputation of righteousness.
Solomon’s solemn and thorough investigation of life here in the light of eternity pushes forward the design of God’s redemptive revelation. The revelation of how absurd and utterly vain all existence would be if viewed only from a temporal standpoint serves as a foundation for the clear revelation given to Paul, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:14),