Based on Psalm 92
Sweet is the work, my God, my King,
To praise Thy Name, give thanks and sing;
To show Thy love by morning light,
And talk of all Thy truth at night.
Sweet is the day of sacred rest,
No mortal cares disturb my breast;
O may my heart in tune be found,
Like David’s harp of solemn sound!
My heart shall triumph in the Lord,
And bless His works and bless His Word;
Thy works of grace, how bright they shine,
How deep Thy counsels, how divine!
And I shall share a glorious part
When grace has well refined my heart;
And fresh supplies of joy are shed,
Like holy oil, to cheer my heard.
Sin, my worst enemy before,
Shall vex my eyes and ears no more;
My inward foes shall all be slain,
Nor Satan break my peace again.
Then shall I see, and hear, and know
All I desired or wished below;
And every power find sweet employ
In that eternal world of joy.
–Isaac Watts, 1674–1748
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By Tom Hicks — 1 year ago
Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian faith. Christ died to forgive our sins and to reconcile us to God. And Jesus taught that His disciples must forgive those who sin against them. He said, “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:15). Forgiveness is not an option for believers. Jesus said, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mk 11:25). Christians must forgive because they have been forgiven (Matt 18:21-25).
But there is a difference between forgiving a person and reconciling your relationship with that person. Forgiveness is something Christ requires of you, no matter what the other person does. Forgiveness means that you sincerely, from the heart, cancel the other person’s debt against you personally. It involves repenting of any sinful anger and refusing to harbor bitterness against the person who has sinned against you. Forgiving means you promise to let go of the personal aspect of the offense and refuse to obsess over it.
To be clear, forgiving another person does not mean you release them from church discipline or criminal penalties. In some cases, faithfulness means that you have to personally forgive those who have sinned against you, even while filing charges against them for church discipline and seeking a legal penalty. If you’ve forgiven someone, then pursuing discipline and justice isn’t vindictive or vengeful. It’s done from a heart of love to Christ, love to the sinner, and love for others.
Forgiveness means that you sincerely, from the heart, cancel the other person’s debt against you personally.
While Christians must unilaterally extend forgiveness, it’s impossible to reconcile a relationship faithfully without mutual promises. Forgiveness is a unilateral promise, but reconciliation involves bilateral promises. In order for a relationship to be reconciled, not only must the offended party make the promises of forgiveness, but the offending party must repent of sin, promise to continue in repentance, and bear fruit in keeping with their professed repentance (Matt 3:8).
Within the church, reconciliation means that you are willing to accept the offending party as a brother or sister in Christ and to commune with them in the church. It also means that you are open to growing in your trust of this person over time, as they continue to walk faithfully in Christ, but it does not necessarily mean that you should receive them as a close companion, or that they should be restored to their former relationship with you. Christian reconciliation does not immediately imply that all trust is restored. It means that you receive them as a brother or sister in Christ.
So, when does forgiveness not lead to reconciliation?
1. When the sinning party clearly does not repent.
The Bible gives strong warnings against walking with impenitent sinners. God commands Christians to flee from the wicked. Psalm 1:1 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived, bad company ruins good morals.” The Lord does not want us to be companions with bad company. The Christian response to an impenitent sinner is to avoid them, not to reconcile with them.
Many object that Christ ate and drank with sinners (Matt 9:10-13). And He certainly did, but only to call them to Himself and to urge them to repent of their sins (Matt 9:13). He did not fellowship with the wicked. In fact, the Bible is clear that He didn’t trust the crowds of sinners who listened to His teaching (Jn 2:24). Trusting people is not a biblical virtue. It is foolish to trust those who are untrustworthy. Jesus says, “Beware of men” (Matt 10:17). Thus, as Christians, we must not reconcile with those who do not repent, but persist in their sins.
Christian reconciliation does not immediately imply that all trust is restored. It means that you receive them as a brother or sister in Christ.
Christ fled from the wicked. He avoided going to Jerusalem because He knew people meant Him harm (Jn 7:8). Christ frequently ran away when the Pharisees or the crowds sought to coerce Him or do Him harm (Jn 6:15; 8:59; 10:39; Matt 12:14-15). He only gave up His life at the time and place when He agreed to do so in the terms of the covenant of redemption. He was a willing sacrifice for sinners. But prior to the cross, Jesus protected Himself and did not offer Himself up to the ungodly.
2. When the sinning party only seems to repent.
Sometimes unrepentant sinners will claim to repent, but they don’t really repent. They may weep and confess their sins, but it’s only worldly sorrow (2 Cor 7:10). They may say all the right words, and appear to be godly (2 Tim 3:5), but their behaviors never fundamentally change. They may change for a short time, but soon enough, they return to their patterns of sin. They may hide their sin, and make a display of outwardly righteous behavior, but the pattern of sin remains. They may not seek accountability, or they may manipulate the people who are supposed to be holding them accountable. But they persist in their sin, even while claiming to repent.
The Bible is clear that we are to avoid those who only claim to repent. 2 Timothy 3:5 warns of those “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” Christians should not reconcile with people who pretend to repent, but whose lives are still enslaved to sin.
3. When the sin has caused great harm and offense.
It’s important to understand that some sins have such great consequences that they completely shatter the trust at a personal level, and the relationship can never be restored. For example, within a marriage, adultery can have such disastrous effects, and be such a betrayal of trust, that the spousal relationship can never be reconciled within the marriage covenant (sometimes called restoration). That’s why God says adultery is grounds for divorce, whether or not the adulterous spouse repents (Matt 6:31-32). Scripture nowhere requires spouses to reconcile within a marriage, when one spouse has biblical grounds for divorce, even if the offending spouse repents.
The Bible does require us to forgive those who have harmed us, and it requires us to reconcile as brothers and sisters in Christ, if the sinning party repents. But the Bible does not tell us to trust people, and receive them into close companionship, if they have utterly destroyed our trust. We must love them (Matt 5:44), but we are not required to trust them (Jn 2:24).
Finally, Christians need to be very careful not to demand that people reconcile. Too often, Christians are eager to see relationships restored. And while a restored relationship could be a beautiful thing, it may also be a terrible thing. Christians shouldn’t pressure other Christians to reconcile, when reconciliation is not biblically warranted.
This article was originally posted at PastorTomHicks.com and is posted here with permission.
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By David Schrock — 10 months ago
Solomon advises us that there is nothing new under the sun. Indeed, in the history of Christian thought, one would expect that under the Lordship of Christ and his church, the essentials of the gospel would remain consistent over time. Thus, while they need repeating in every generation because slippage is always a threat, there remains a kind of harmony that exists among theologians who make the Bible first order. Likewise, as one dives into reading pastors and theologians from different eras and different places, one can expect to find echoes. Sometimes these are organically related, sometime they are not but cause for curiosity how it is possible that two statements made by independent thinkers could be so similar.
George Smeaton on Christ’s Universal Reign
Such an occasion happened a few months ago as I read George Smeaton’s eminently helpful book, The Doctrine of the Atonement As Taught By Christ Himself (Edinburgh, 1871) now retitled and republished as Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement. In it, Smeaton gives his final exhortation from the text John 12:31, which reads, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” In his thorough exegesis, the nineteenth-century Scot shows how Satan’s overthrow means simply, that Christ is the sole possessor of all things. He has stripped the god of this age of his title to this world, and he now rightly possesses the earth (cf. Matt 28:18). Therefore he writes,
This text [John 12:31], important in many aspects, is capable of being viewed in many applications. It throws a steady light on the great and momentous doctrine, that the world is, in consequence of the vicarious work of Christ, no more Satan’s, and that Christ’s people are now to be far from the impression that they are only captives in an enemy’s territory, and unable warrantably to occupy a place in the world, either as citizens or magistrates.
Moving from Christ’s substitutionary cross to the the universal themes of victory and dominion, Smeaton makes this final, global and glorious statement,
On the contrary, this testimony shows that every foot of ground in the world belongs to Christ, that His followers can be loyal to Him in every position, and that in every country and corner where they may placed they have to act their part for their Lord. The world is judicially awarded to Christ as its owner and Lord (p. 300).
This is a glorious truth that deserves time for consideration and meditation. Yet, in first hearing it, I could not help but think of Abraham Kuyper, who said something almost identical. Yet, as it will be shown, Kuyper’s context is different than Smeaton, and Kuyper actually spoke his word’s later.
Abraham Kuyper on Christ’s Universal Reign
In his lecture on “Sphere Sovereignty” delivered on October 20, 1880, Kuyper uttered what is today his most famous quotation. It reads:
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: “Mine!“ (Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty,” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 488).
In context, Kuyper’s statement comes at the end of a long list of academic sciences–medicine, law, natural science, letters– which the great educator of the Netherlands argued should be brought underneath the rule of Christ. Since all wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ (Col 2:3), all mental disciplines should find their origin and telos in Christ. In full context, he states,
Man in his antithesis as fallen sinner or self-developing natural creature returns again as the ‘subject that thinks’ or ‘the object that prompts thought’ in every department, in every discipline, and with every investigator. Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’ (488).
This concluding statement has been repeated again and again. It is a favorite of Reformed thinkers and others too. It is wonderful thought to realize that all things have been and should be put in submission to Christ. But interestingly the application of Kuyper’s words (as I have used them and have heard others use them) are slightly out of context.
Often Kuyper’s turn of phrase is used in spatial, geographical ways, as if he was explaining Psalm 2 which says that all the nations have been given to the Son. Since the Lord possesses all the earth, he has a right to put his finger on it and exlaim “Mine!” However, in context, Kuyper’s statement is more specific. He is speaking more exactly of the “mental world,” not the spatial world. I doubt he would deny the broader application, but to read Kuyper closely, we find that his statement is more narrow. This point does not mean that we need to abandon the use of Kuyper’s quote, so much as perhaps we should include Smeaton’s, too.
In the next post, we will pick up how and why we should incorporate Smeaton’s quotation into the discussion of Christ’s universal reign.
By Allen S Nelson IV — 8 months ago
One of the joys of the reformed faith is its evangelistic pedigree. From Calvin’s Geneva to Judson’s love for Burma, those who embrace the doctrines of grace have a long history of commitment to sharing Christ with the nations.
When it comes to rural America, evangelism has its challenges. Today’s post focuses on 4 commitments we must have for biblical evangelism in small towns.
We begin with a non-negotiable presupposition: Christ is worthy to be preached in every place. From popular urban centers to remote villages, our Lord Jesus is worthy to be heralded to all creation.
It is statistically less likely for your church to see large numbers of persons converted in rural settings. For example, in a city with 100,000 people, if 1% responded positively to the gospel, you’d see 1,000 converts. If the math held true for a town with 1,000 people, you’d see 10 converts.
God is sovereign. He will save whom He will for His own glory. But this presupposition, the worthiness of Christ to be proclaimed in all places, will help you from any discouragement associated with lack of “success” in evangelism in small towns. When we preach Christ rightly, there is no lack of success! Christ is being proclaimed, and He is worthy.
Secondly, evangelism should not be separated from prayer. Paul asks the Colossian church to “pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…” (Col. 4:3).
Churches in small towns must be committed to praying for opportunities for evangelism. They must also be committed to pray specifically for lost souls in their community. Periodically, the church ought to gather to intentionally pray for the banner of Christ to be lifted high within the town that you are located.
God has placed your church in your rural community for a reason. And one of those reasons is that you would be concerned for the lost there and seek the Lord’s mercy on their behalf confident that God has “many in this city who are[His] people” (Acts 18:10).
We must remember that evangelism is not ultimately an event or program, but proclamation of the gospel, which includes telling sinners what they must do to be saved, namely, repent and believe the gospel (cf. Mark 1:15).
I’ve seen churches go wrong here in hosting well intentioned events that ultimately left out the gospel. Passing out water bottles with bible verses on them is certainly not a bad thing, but don’t confuse that with evangelism. In order to evangelize, we must communicate the gospel and a call to sinners to repent and trust it.
There are three primary ways our church has sought to do this. First, we have committed to going door to door once a month for the purpose of sharing the gospel. This can be uncomfortable and there is certainly prudence that must be exercised here in terms of time of day, number of people going to the home, safety, etc. However, it is our belief that the church must seek to get the gospel out rather than merely expecting lost persons to walk in our doors.
Is it not a shame that the heretical Jehovah Witnesses are the ones known for going door to door while too many of us with the true gospel of Christ stay at home? However this may look in your community, consider regularly and intentionally taking the gospel to the homes of your area.
Secondly, we try to preach at our local grocery store once a month. This too can seem uncomfortable, but I encourage churches to consider their own local community and see whether or not something like this would be feasible. For years I had convinced myself that street preaching was just for the big cities. But this goes back to our presupposition: Christ is worthy to be proclaimed even if the crowd is not the size of George Whitefield’s! Find a store, or gas station, or street corner, and proclaim the gospel. You may be surprised by what God does. One thing we’ve noticed is that other churches have reached out to us encouraged by our evangelism. What if your faithfulness inspires other churches to be more serious about evangelism too?
Finally, we like to flood our community with tracts. Tracts are not the be all end all of evangelism. They are really a low bar. You simply hand a tract to a cashier, or friend at the ball game, or man in line at the local donut shop. We make our own tracts and put our church website on them in hopes that some will check out more about the gospel and our local church.
The final encouragement I have for evangelism in small towns is don’t give up. Ecclesiastes 11:1 says, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” I once heard a pastor friend preach from that text exhorting us to sow many seeds when it comes to evangelism and to remember this important truth: “sow nothing, reap nothing.”
You can convince yourself that your evangelistic efforts are weak and pathetic and will never return any fruit. But can I encourage you that weak evangelistic efforts are always better than no evangelistic efforts? So, don’t give up!
You may hand out a tract, or preach on the corner, or knock on a door and no one come to Christ. Yet, I can assure you that it is 100% guaranteed that no one will come to Christ if we do not proclaim the gospel (cf. Rom. 10:14-17). So, do not be discouraged. Continue to sow seeds and trust God with the return.
Continue to look for opportunities that are unique to your area. For us, we’ve preached in our local Christmas and Fair Parades. We’ve preached at local festivals our town has hosted. We’ve gone to local events to pass out gospel tracts and talk with people. We’ve done some Christmas Caroling, which is not the same as evangelism, but we did use the opportunity to pass out gospel tracts. Last Christmas we also did “evangelistic letter writing” where we gathered one Sunday evening at our church, I shared the gospel, and then we wrote letters to lost persons in our community (and beyond) imploring them to understand what Christmas is about and to repent and believe the gospel.
Each rural area is going to look a little different. But this truth remains: Your community is in desperate need of the gospel. Will your church commit to having the presupposition, prayer, proclamation, and persistence necessary to make Christ known in your specific area?