The Unparalleled Hope of the New Covenant (Heb. 10:19-25)

We live in a world of soundbites and tweets. There is no escaping that reality. But, if we want to have a relationship with the Lord that stands firm in the midst of storms and trials, we cannot be satisfied with a surface-level understanding of God’s Word. We all face trials, difficulty, pain, uncertainty, and loss. At times we are the subject of slander, gossip, and attack, even in our own local church. What do you do in the face of such things? Well, for one thing, the object of your eternal hope sits on a throne in heaven and he will one day vindicate you. If you are the one slandering, gossiping, or attacking the good name of one of your fellow believers, “Do not be deceived God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7). In the meantime, be encouraged, the New Covenant provides you hope for today and for eternity. How do we know this is so?

The book of Hebrews encourages those in Christ with the hope of the New Covenant. Earlier in the letter, the author expounded on the Old Testament sacrificial system. The Levitical priests would stand to offer sacrifices daily to provide an outward, ceremonial cleansing for the Old Covenant people of God, the nation of Israel (Heb. 10:11). The daily sacrifices were required to cover the sins of the people, so they could approach God. The Old Covenant animal sacrifices were never able to provide inward cleansing or permanent heart change. They were commanded by God and offered by faith according to the Mosaic Law. As the people continually brought sacrifices, they were continually reminded of their sins (Heb. 10:2-5). They would need to return with more sacrifices.

The author of Hebrews exhorts believers to, “Draw near to the Lord with a sincere heart” (10:19-22). He begins by explaining why they can draw near (19-20). Jesus is the incarnate, sinless, Son of God. He came to do the Father’s will and the Father’s will was for Jesus to endure the wrath our sins deserved on the cross (Heb. 10:5-10). Jesus endured our punishment. Jesus died our death. By the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, we have been sanctified once for all (Heb. 10:10). Christ has provided inward cleansing and permanent change for those who repent and believe his gospel. Genuine believers have been set apart as God’s own possession (1 Pet. 2:9). Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant, the Mosaic Law, through his holy life and finished work on the cross. Furthermore, he established the New Covenant through his sacrifice, i.e. his blood (Heb. 10:9b; 1 Cor. 11:25b). Jesus’ sacrifice was offered once for all time and he has sat down at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Heb. 10:12). By Jesus’ one offering he has, “Perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14). There is no need for another sacrifice. It is finished (John 19:30). The Lord has judicially declared believers to be righteous, and positionally (our standing in Christ) before God we are holy. The Spirit of God is progressively sanctifying us so we are holy in our conduct. We are being transformed to be more like Christ (Rom. 8:28-30).

The New Covenant established by Jesus’ blood, includes the Lord putting his
Law on our hearts and minds (Heb. 10:16). The Old Covenant was written on
tablets of stone (Exod. 32:15-16). In addition, the New Covenant features
permanent forgiveness of sin. This hope was prophesied in the Old Testament,
which spoke of the New Covenant that would be established by God (Jer.
31:33-34; cf. Heb. 8:10-12).

  1. When someone repents and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, his or her
    sins are forgiven. God remembers them no more (Heb. 10:17b).
  2. Since divine forgiveness has been granted through the finished work of
    Christ, there is no longer any sacrifice offered (Heb. 10:18). The men of Israel would appear three times annually before the Lord in Jerusalem, where they would offer sacrifices (Exod. 23:14-17). Believers, you didn’t need to bring a blood-sacrifice to approach the Lord.

This brings us to verse 19 and drawing near to the Lord with a true/sincere heart
(19). We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus. This was impossible prior to Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Jesus, our Passover has been sacrificed (1 Cor. 5:7b). Jesus’ shed blood which established the New Covenant, has made it possible for us to approach God in the heavenly holy places. The Jewish High Priest would bring blood from an animal sacrifice into the holy of holies, for his own sins and also the unintentional sins of the people, on the Day of Atonement (Heb. 9:7). This was done once per year.

We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way. Our access is new, in that it didn’t exist prior to Christ’s sacrifice. It is living, in that Christ provides new life through his sacrifice. Jesus opened a new and living way, through the curtain, that is, through his flesh (20). The Jewish High Priest would pass through the veil separating the holy place from the holy of holies once per year to
appear before God. He represented the entire nation of Israel. Jesus has made it possible for us as believers to enter the heavenly holy of holies to approach the Father’s throne of grace, and he has done so through the sacrifice of his flesh on the cross. We pass through Christ alone to appear before God the Father. We enter the presence of God through Christ. His redemptive work has made it possible for us to be a part of the New
Covenant and have access to God.

We have confidence to draw near to God by the blood of Jesus. We have confidence to draw near to God because we have Jesus as our great priest (21). “Great priest “would be an alternate way of speaking of the Lord Jesus as our High Priest (cf. Heb. 4:14-16). Since Jesus is our High Priest we can, “Draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). The Jewish High Priest represented the Old Covenant people before God (Heb. 5:1-4). Jesus our great priest represents the New Covenant people before God (Heb. 4:14-5:10). Jesus represents every believer before the Father. He presented the offering, his own body, which has
provided forgiveness of all our sins and has sanctified us forever. He also intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father (Heb. 7:25), which provides us assurance of our salvation.

Jesus rules over God’s house (Heb. 3:4-6). We are God’s house, his redeemed, chosen people (Heb. 3:6). Since, Jesus is the one who redeemed us, represents us before God, and rules over us – we have confidence to approach the Father’s throne of grace.

The author now urges New Covenant Christians to draw near with a true/sincere heart
in full assurance of faith (22). Jesus redeemed us for the Father. Jesus represents us
before the Father. Jesus rules over us on behalf of the Father. Our hearts have been sprinkled clean and our bodies washed (22b). This is clearly New Covenant prophecy fulfilled. In Ezekiel 36 the Lord promises,

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek. 36:25–27). In this prophecy the Lord promised divine cleaning of his people via clean water, which would result in being made clean from all uncleannesses. The Spirit of
God would indwell his people and they would receive a new spirit (born again)
and a new heart. Hebrews 10:22 details the fulfillment of these New Covenant
promises.

Moses sprinkled Israel with the blood of an animal sacrifice to ratify the Old Covenant (Exod. 24:3-8; cf. Heb. 9:18-22). When you and I placed our faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ our hearts were sprinkled clean and our bodies were washed with pure water. The Holy Spirit affected this total cleansing (inward and outward), which is permanent. This is what Paul was speaking of in Ephesians 5:25-27,

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” When you believed the gospel, the Holy Spirit cleansed you (cf. 1 Cor. 6:11).

Notice the author of Hebrews doesn’t list who we should draw near to. But, the One we are to draw near to was made clear in the letter itself (Heb. 4:16; 7:25; 11:6). We are to draw to the Father with sincere hearts because been given new hearts, not of stone but of flesh (Ezek. 36:25-27; Jer. 31:33) through Christ and the New Covenant he has established in his blood (1 Cor. 11:25). We are to approach in full assurance of faith because of what Christ’s finished redemptive work has accomplished for us.

  1. Brothers and sisters, you have a new heart sprinkled clean from an evil
    conscience and you have been washed clean of your sin. You have a
    new spirit and the Holy Spirit dwelling within you.
  2. You may approach the Lord at any moment because Jesus has opened a
    new and living way for you through his sacrifice.
  3. When you feel as though you are unworthy to pray to God or as though
    he doesn’t want to be bothered with you, Christian, you are a part of
    the New Covenant and the grand, precious promises found in it.

The author of Hebrews urges believers to, “Hold fast to the confession of your hope without wavering” (23).Every believer will face trouble in this earthly life. The Lord Jesus has told the disciples, “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). He is omniscient. The Lord knows what we will face. But, hear the rest of verse 33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” This world system that is operating under the authority of Satan is opposed to God and to his people. There are continual attempts to discourage God’s people from obeying his commands and to malign them through direct and indirect attacks. God’s Word exhorts us as believers to hold fast to our faith in the gospel, which we confessed publicly before the church (Rom. 10:9; Col. 1:21-23; Matt. 28:19-20). True believers will hold fast to the confession of their hope in Christ, even in the face of troubles in this earthly life. In fact, God uses those things to produce Christ-like virtues and character in our lives (Rom. 5:1-5).

False teaching seeks to lead believers away from their confession of hope in Christ. Pastors are given the responsibility to exercise oversight in the church God has given
them to shepherd (1 Pet. 5:1-3; Acts 20:26-32). They are to protect the flock from false teachers/teaching and also to exhort their local church with sound doctrine (Titus 1:9). Believers are to know sound doctrine from God’s Word and reject false doctrine (Jude 3-4; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

Temptation to sin and immorality will also challenge a believer’s faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is an inward and outward battle. The sin nature that still resides within us craves what is contrary to God’s Word and will (Rom. 7:15-8:1). There are also the outward temptations found in the world (Eph. 2:1-3). We are to resist those temptations (Eph. 6:13-14; Jas. 4:7-8).

The author of Hebrews urges believers to, “Consider how to stir one another up to love and good works” (24-25). How do we encourage love and good works among our brothers and sisters in our local church (24)? The Greek word translated here, “Let us consider” has the sense according to BDAG, “to look at in a reflective manner, consider, contemplate.” This is another way of saying that we are to encourage biblical obedience and growth in Christian maturity (2 Thess. 2:13-14; 1 Thess. 1:2-7). How can we accomplish this? Prayer. Biblical accountability. Correction and rebuke.

  • Exhortation to biblical obedience. Notes of encouragement (email, texts, written
    notes/cards). You may wonder why I emphasized encouraging your brothers
    and sisters in your local church. Look at verse 25, “Do not neglect the assembling of yourselves together as some are in the habit of doing” (25).

    • Contextually and grammatically, not forsaking the assembling (a participle; NMP PAPtcp) of yourselves together supports the main idea of considering (main verb; 1P PAS) how to stir one another up to love and good works. You don’t forsake gathering together with your own local church because that is the body of believers you have covenanted together with to carry out the one-another commands of the New Testament. Your local church is who you are to consider how to stir up to love and good works.
    • You can’t consider how to stir up your fellow believers in your local church if you aren’t there consistently and they can’t do the same for you if you aren’t there consistently. Even in the first century AD, less than 60 years after the birth of the Church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), believers were neglecting the spiritually essential role of local church involvement. It was detrimental to them as it is to us. This is why he exhorts them:
      • Draw near to the Lord with a true/sincere heart.
      • Hold fast the confession of your hope.
      • Consider how to stir one another up to love and good works (cf. Heb.
        3:13).
  • In fact, as the return of Christ for his Church approaches, believers should meet together as a local church to encourage one another all the more (25b). Jesus is going to return (Heb. 9:28). His return is imminent; meaning there is no prophetic event that must occur prior to the return of Christ (cf. 1 Thess. 4:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:51-58; John 14:1-3).

So, don’t neglect the importance of consistent involvement in your local church. It is necessary for your spiritual well-being and theirs. Your local church is one of the primary means of God growing you spiritually. The body was created with members whose presence and ministry is necessary for the well-being of the rest of the body (Eph.
4:11-16).

Heartfelt Prayer

prayer

“In prayer it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart” (John Bunyan).

As pastors we are called upon to pray frequently. We pray to open and close services. We pray for the sick and bereaved. We pray for the lost and the saved. In the midst of these activities, we can be tempted to merely go through the motions. We must guard against the temptation at all costs. Prayer must not become a formality or empty ritual.

Anytime we read of Christians from history who were used of God in mighty ways, prayer has always been a foundational element of their lives. Spurgeon was, “ever a man of prayer. Not that he spent any long periods of time in prayer but he lived in the spirit of communion with God” (Arnold Dalimore).1 Prayer was such a priority in his life as evidenced by Dr. Wayland Hoyt’s description of one of Spurgeon’s impromptu prayers, “The prayer was no parenthesis interjected, it was something that belonged as much to the habit of his mind as breathing did to the habit of his body.”2 Brothers, what an example of communion with the Lord!

I am continually convicted of my natural inclination toward self-sufficiency in my own life and ministry. I should be fully aware of my lack of sufficiency because of repeated corroborating evidence. Why do we so frequently live as though we are the captains of our own destinies? An extensive list could be compiled, I suppose. Ultimately it boils down to our practical theology. How do we view God? Do we view Him accurately? Secondly, how do we view ourselves? Now, I recognize that the majority of us have formal theological training, but it is very possible to have theological knowledge that is not implemented in daily living. We can know things deeply and still fail to practice them. “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25a). But, this biblical truth does not negate our propensity to disobey truth we know cognitively.

Recently, there were a number of articles written on the recent firing of a prominent pastor. He was fired because of character issues. The Scriptural truth he knew was not being implemented in his everyday life. In writing about the situation, Barnabas Piper listed the following offenses, “Domineering over those in his charge,” “misuse of power/authority,” and “history of building his identity through ministry and media platforms.”3 Mike Leake commented, “If you look at some of the celebrity pastors who have recently fallen you can see a pattern. They have obvious talents and gifts and passion, but there were a few questions about character. But we let some of those character issues slide in the hopes that character would eventually catch up with the talents.”4

What if we preach inspiring messages, are people magnets, are visionary leaders, and our churches are outwardly growing, but we have not been communing with our God in prayer? How do we view prayerlessness? Most prayer takes place in silent moments apart from the ears of other people, but the question remains, are our hearts invested in our prayers? As ironic as it sounds, let us pray about our own prayer lives and the prayer lives of our brother pastors. By the grace of God, may we be men whose lives and ministries are saturated by consistent times of heartfelt prayer.

2Ibid.

Oversight

Brother pastors, carefully consider these words, “If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and the good teaching that you have followed” (1 Tim. 4:6). Paul exhorts Timothy to do something, which was necessary for him to faithfully to carry out his calling as a servant of Christ and apostolic delegate. He was to pass on the doctrinal truth and moral imperatives detailed in 1 Timothy. This charge is short in length but it is packed with weighty significance.

As Timothy taught these truths to the church, he would be a, “good servant of Christ Jesus.” This sounds very similar to what every believer should want to hear when he or she stands before the Lord Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Brothers, we must heed Paul’s instruction. The consistent teaching of God’s truth and exhortation of His people to obey His commands is crucial to faithful pastoral ministry. Faithfulness to this calling causes the Lord’s under-shepherd to be a, “good servant of Christ. Now as the verse clearly states, no man will faithfully communicate the truth of God’s Word unless he has first been, “Nourished by the words of the faith and the good teaching [he has] followed.” If we are not continually sustaining our souls with the Scriptures we will be incapable of being good servants of Christ. If we are being trained by the Word of God in our own lives, the Spirit of God will be working in our lives through the Word, and we will be equipped to herald the truth to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Brother, are you being nourished by the Word daily?

If our to-do-list overcomes our time with God in His Word and prayer, then we must alter our schedule. It won’t matter if people think we are intelligent, successful, or great leaders, if we aren’t good servants of Christ. Paul highlighted, “Pointing out these things to the brothers” as the reason for being, “a good servant of Christ Jesus.” How do we stack up against this criteria? Notice it says nothing about proficiency, capacity, or giftedness. It does heavily emphasize faithfulness to the Lord’s calling upon our lives. Shepherding is inherently spiritual in nature. Everything flows out of our personal relationship with Christ. But, the personal time with Christ is not an end in itself. The personal time we spend with the Savior is to be passed on to those we shepherd. How are carrying out this aspect of our calling?

Brothers, will we faithfully carry out this charge in our ministries? What if the truth we proclaim and the ministry we provide is not popular? What if the truth we proclaim becomes illegal? It would not be the first time in the history of the Church that the Scriptures would be outlawed. “Point out these things to the brothers, [so we] will be good servant[s] of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and the good teaching that [we] have followed.” By the grace of God, brothers, let’s point out all of God’s truth without apology, as we have been charged.

Shepherding Through Uncertain Times

Brothers, how often do we fall prey to the mentality that we must have the answers for everything? I lose track of the frequency of which it occurs in my own life. As Christian men who have been called to serve as shepherds of local churches, we are faced with questions and dilemmas on a continual basis. As men and leaders, we want to fix things and provide solutions. But, we know there are times when we don’t have any clue how to respond. There are scenarios that don’t fit with “textbook” answers. Our nation has been going through a cultural shift for some time. As mere men, we don’t know what things will look like in the years to come. How do we respond as Christ-followers and how do we guide the local church each of us has been appointed to oversee?

Sitting on my desk in front of me is a copy of the inspired Word of God. Do I trust it is sufficient as I face the uncertain times in the country in which I live? Do I believe it has answers to problems I face? Do I believe it provides the wisdom necessary to shepherd the local church of which I am overseer? The apostle Paul, believing his execution to be near, wrote Timothy to encourage him in the midst of uncertain times, saying, “Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:13–17). In the face of opposition from Jew and Gentile alike, a culture filled with rampant immorality and spiritual deception, a challenging local church ministry in Ephesus, and now Timothy learns that his spiritual mentor will be departing this world to enter the presence of Christ (2 Tim. 4:6-8). Paul would no longer visit or write to encourage and equip.

But, he left Timothy with the crucial reminder, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). No matter what Timothy would face in the ungodly world of the Roman empire or what unforeseen challenge would arise in the Ephesian church, the Scriptures would equip Timothy for ever good work. Despite the extremely trying circumstances, God’s Word would detail for him how to approach each issue in a wise, God-honoring way. This is exactly what Timothy needed to hear from his mentor to help him keep a proper perspective.

In the midst of uncertainty, the Scriptures give the servant of Christ encouragement, stability, and strength. Brothers, we may not always have the answers, but the Word of God does. We may not always have the resolve and courage to face the condition or opposition of the world but the Spirit of God is sufficient. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose” (Phil. 2:12–13). The indwelling Holy Spirit fills us with the desire to do God’s will and enables us to carry it out. The Spirit prays on our behalf when we don’t know how or for what to pray (Rom. 8:26-27). The Spirit strengthens us as believers to serve Him faithfully (Eph. 3:16). The need of believers to be strengthened by the unsurpassed strength of our God is an often repeated theme in the Scriptures (Ps. 28:8; 138:3). Paul prayed for the Colossian church, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy” (Col. 1:11). In fact, Paul testifies to the Lord’s sustaining strength, saying, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the proclamation might be fully made through me and all the Gentiles might hear. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth” (2 Tim. 4:17). What was the apostle’s sufficiency for life and ministry? He revealed it in his letter to Timothy – the Scriptures and the sustaining presence of the Lord. Paul wasn’t sharing some hypothetical, pithy statement by which to motivate Timothy in the face of great challenges. He shared what had been his hope and strength throughout his ministry. They remained his hope and strength in the face of death. Timothy would need the Scriptures and the Lord. Brothers, these are two precious and irreplaceable things that cannot ever be taken from us.

Before we ever get to the point of how we shepherd others through uncertainty, we must know how we personally are shepherded through these times. When we wake each day to reports of military aggression, human trafficking, sexual immorality, and varying expressions of rebellion against the one true God, where do we turn, brother pastors? Knowledge of human psychology, business, acumen, motivational speaking, and charm all fall flat when facing a world of uncertainty. Christ and His Word do not fall flat. R.A. Torrey once said, “The truly wise man is he who always believes the Bible against the opinion of any man.” Where are we looking for wisdom in these days? Where are we looking for strength? What are we trusting in to equip us for every good work? Let us continually look to and cry out to the risen Christ. Let us dive deep into His Word. These truly are the source of our vitality and our sufficiency.

“On the Brink: Grace for the burned out pastor” – a review

388987

As pastors we are continually aware of new books, articles, blog posts, etc… There is an information overload. We cannot stay up with everything that is out there. But, we can as brothers in Christ make each other aware of beneficial resources that we have read. One of the resources that I have read recently is, “On the Brink: Grace for the burned out pastor.” It was written by Clay Werner who pastors Lexington Presbyterian Church in Lexington, South Carolina. Clay has been in pastoral ministry for seven years, which resonated with me because I have served for about ten years. You may think it is somewhat odd that a pastor would write a book on ministry burnout after only seven years. Odd maybe? Out of the ordinary? Not at all.

The book itself is less than 140 pages but it packs a powerful punch. In the introduction Werner provides a thought-provoking contrast between a “theology of glory” and a “theology of the cross.” He writes, “To begin with, although many pastors profess a theology of the cross, they often function unconsciously with a theology of glory. A theology of glory maintains that we come from glory and are headed for glory, and in between we strive to stay on ‘the glory road.’ These leaders expect little suffering and many successes, and either run in fear or remain with bitterness and anger when things break down. Hardship, suffering, self-denial, and patience are all anathema to a heart driven by a theology of glory. A theology of the cross, however, accepts suffering as the lot of any Christian, realizing that just as Christ suffered and then entered into glory, so we must follow the same path” (p. 16). This quote truly resonated with me because of its truth and because of personal experience. How many of us have wanted to run? How many of us have stayed in bitterness and anger?

Werner begins in chapter one by discussing the importance of keeping our eyes on the Lord. As many other ministry books have touched on, we are in trouble when we focus on conflict, discouragement, and trials rather than keeping our focus on our great God. The author uses the example of Moses and concludes the chapter with Paul’s prayer for the Colossian church (Col. 1:11). Werner writes, “What Moses endured and what we endure, although painful, shouldn’t surprise us. We should rather expect it and be prepared for it by the grace of the gospel. This God-given strength to endure flows to us from the grace purchased for us on Calvary” (pp. 28-29). We should expect that suffering and difficulty will come our way as we serve Christ. The grace of God sustains us through all circumstances.

As the book progresses the author discusses idolatry, which greatly hinders our ministries. He discussed how unaware he was of how he derived his significance from how much his church grew (or didn’t grow) and how quickly people grew spiritually (or didn’t grow). Werner poses this question, “’What is the I’d be happier if…’ of your heart?” Our answers to this question could reveal the idols of our hearts. These idols, which distract us from Christ’s finished work and his sovereignty in building his church, are things which must be repudiated. The author does a fine job of pointing out examples of idolatry and providing questions to help us identify idolatry in our hearts. But, he doesn’t leave us stranded there, he points to the gospel and our identity in Christ.

Werner is the pastor of a Presbyterian church and therefore differs from me in his ecclesiology and eschatology. But, these are things that do not distract from the central message of the book. I have also read, “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome” by Kent and Barbara Hughes. The Hughes’ book was a very well done but I found Werner’s book more helpful, in my opinion. Werner delivers his message in fewer pages and gets to the heart of the matter in short order. Early in the book Werner confesses, “There was one thing I was missing, and it was the most important thing – the gospel. I had totally missed it. I had a blame-retardant heart coating my heart and refused to see the sin inside, yet I was relentless in pointing out the flaws of others. I identified myself as a leader, pastor, and shepherd, and had forgotten that I too was a hard-hearted, rebellious, idolatrous, angry, frustrated, slow-to-learn, impatient, prayerless sheep-disciple filled with self-righteous anger, fair-weather faith, and unrealistic and dangerous expectations of the sheep in the congregation I pastored” (p. 20). This paragraph highlights many of the heart issues that we struggle with continually. Werner doesn’t leave us stranded there. He provides biblical counsel that helps equip us to faithfully serve the Lord Christ.

I highly recommend this book. It was written by a pastor for pastors, but it would be highly beneficial for any Christian. It will help Christians identify destructive, unbiblical thinking in their lives, and how to change their thinking to become more biblical and Christlike.

Amazement

I am continually amazed at God’s sovereign grace being extended to me in Christ.  As I consider what God’s Word says about who and what I was apart from Christ, I am reminded that there is absolutely nothing in me that was good.  I did not deserve God’s grace, mercy, and favor.  The Bible says,

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:1-5 HCSB).

There are some really unflattering statements made about unregenerate individuals in this passage.  Such as, we were dead in our trespasses and sins (v. 1a).  We lived according to the world, according to the ways of Satan (v. 1b).  It is easy for us to see the religious leaders being “sons of the devil” as Jesus referred to them (John 8:44).

The pride within us downplays the depth of our guilt and corruption apart from Christ.  We begin to look around us and see other individuals who commit more grievous sins, and justify our own as being rather miniscule.  The mistake is seeking to understand these issues through our own reason, rather than understanding all of life as God views it.

Good Friday & Resurrection Sunday

“Good Friday” is the day we commemorate the Lord Jesus’ substitutionary death for sinful humanity on a Roman cross in the First Century AD. Many in our country are puzzled that we observe such a day. Some reject the mere historical existence of Jesus Christ. Others allow for his existence but reject his sinless nature and divinity. Scripture teaches that the divine, sinless Son of God died on a Friday and rose from the dead on a Sunday (Matt. 27:32-28:10; cf. Luke 23:53; 24:1). The apostle Paul shared this very message with all those he had the opportunity to share with during his Christian life (1 Cor. 15:1-8). He wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16 CSB). Apart from Christ’s death and resurrection, we would be dead in our sins and at enmity with God (Rom. 3:21-26; 1 Cor. 15:12-22).

So, we celebrate Christ’s death on our behalf and his victorious resurrection from the dead. But, remember that we don’t merely do that at this time of year. Each time you gather with a gospel-preaching, gospel-believing local church and you share in the Lord’s Supper, you celebrate Christ’s death on your behalf and his resurrection from the dead (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Every month is a reminder of the gospel. If we only celebrate Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we have missed its vital importance in our everyday lives.

Beyond the Lord’s Supper, our congregational songs and special music should contain reminders of the death and resurrection of Christ. Sermons and Sunday School lessons should contain the gospel as well. As we wake up and live each day, we should remember our standing and identity in Christ, if you are a Christian. If you know Christ as Lord and Savior, you can live in hope (Rom. 8:31-39; Eph. 1:3-10). You being in spiritual union with Christ, through faith in his death and resurrection (Rom. 6:1-14), makes the peace and joy of God available to you (Phil. 4:6-7; John 15:9-11). So, the gospel – the substitutionary death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the redemption of sinners – is something we should celebrate every day. Praise the Lord for a crucified and risen Savior! The gospel is great news on “Good Friday” and on “Resurrection Sunday.” It is good news every day because he is risen. He is risen indeed!

Value

Albert Einstein once said, “Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.” But, what does it mean to be a “man of value”? People place different levels of value upon things. So, what is our criteria? Do we poll people? To properly evaluate value, we must rise above culture and nationality. In doing so, we seek God’s perspective, which is found in the Bible. Psalm 147 states, “He is not impressed by the strength of a horse; He does not value the power of a man. The LORD values those who fear Him, those who put their hope in His faithful love” (vv. 10-11). Wow! This is what God values? It is different than what we are accustomed to in earthly life, isn’t it? This is the Creator’s criteria for assigning value.

God’s appreciation of value doesn’t have any relation to physical or mental ability. It doesn’t consist of material wealth or popularity. It relates to how people respond to Him! Do you fear God and hope in His faithful love? If you notice the construction of verse 11, the ones who fear God are those who trust in His faithful love. They are one and the same! A prerequisite for fearing God and hoping in His faithful love is being reconciled to Him. Being reconciled to God results from repenting and placing one’s faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what makes fear of God and trust in God possible.

For us to fear God and trust Him, we need a new heart and mind. We need a new nature (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 8:7-9). People need to be born again (John 3:3-8). When we become a new creation we are able to properly love and serve God (Rom. 6:1-14). So, let’s recap. First, you must repent and place your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ to save you from your sin. Second, repentance and faith results in you becoming a new creation, with new desires that will increasingly align with God’s Word. Third, being a new creation in Christ will result in you fearing (revering, respecting) God and trusting in His faithful love. Finally, God values such people, believers who fear Him and trust Him. As you consider your life, does it reflect what God values here in Psalm 147:10-11? Are fear of God and trusting Him a part of the fabric of who you are?  If they are, be encouraged and keep fighting the good fight (1 Tim. 6:12)!