Walking in Truth

Truth has always had a prominent place in the scriptures. Jesus presented Himself as “the way, the truth and the life.” The apostle John is called “the elder” in this instance, which may signify an officer in a New Testament church or signify a mature experience in the ministry. The focus in his message is his personal joy over what he discovered in this house church: “I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.” (II John 1:4)

We have the keys to understanding what John meant when he talked of “walking in truth” from two sources in his letter: (1) The idea of walking in the truth is similar to the phrase walk in the light from I John. Walking in truth leads to both joy and love, because the way of truth is the way of Jesus Christ, which is the way of discipleship. (2) Walking in truth is the essence of obeying “a commandment from the Father.” To fail to walk in truth is a disappointment to ourselves as well as others. “Walking in truth” is equal to “walking in the light.”

The truth of this joy is what inspired my brother-in-law with reference to his three daughters, to mention it on his tombstone: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”

John had experienced this joy because of His love for the truth which he shared with everybody that loved the truth. It is this love for the truth that motivates us to continually search the Scriptures. God’s plan for us is revealed in His Word which always contains the pursuit of truth. This is what we want to do when we have received Him who was the personification of truth. It is the love of the truth that inspires us to holy living.

To walk in truth involves a pursuit of truth. There is one place we should not go in our pursuit, and that is to anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. To do this it requires spiritual discernment which enables us by “testing the spirits,” because there are truly false prophets in every age.

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” I John 4

Only God Can Make a Tree

We have a beautiful tree in our front yard, and every time I look at it I am reminded of two things – the frequent mention of trees in the Bible and select words from Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree…

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;…

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

It is interesting and significant how God used trees to express man’s experience and to gather the history of the human race around them. I shall mention briefly several of these trees.

Tree of Condemnation

One of them I would call the Tree of Condemnation, which was intended as a tree of testing, but became a tree of condemnation. “The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the Lord God warned him, ‘You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.’” (Genesis 2:15-17)

In the early chapters of the Bible we have a creation that God pronounced as “good.” There was no sickness, sorrow, weakness or tears. There were no broken hearts until man sinned. In the last chapters of the Bible we have much the same world. We have a new heaven and a new earth. Sickness, sorrow and death have been forever banished. The sad story of sin throughout the human race describes all that goes on in between.

Tree of Despondency

Another interesting tree is the one I call The Tree of Despondency. The Juniper tree is known to us mainly for the discouragement on exhibit there. The first few Chapters of I Kings 19 relates the details of Elijah’s flight from Jezebel to the shade of the Juniper tree: “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.” (I Kings 19:4)

Tree of Fruitfulness

In Psalm One we have the Tree of Fruitfulness: “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” (Psalm 1:3) To be a fruitful Christian we must be deep-rooted Christians. Those deep roots come from “meditating on God’s laws day and night.”

Tree of Redemption

There is another very important tree which Peter describes: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (I Peter 2:24) This is the tree which I will call the Tree of Redemption. There Jesus died bearing the curse of the law: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13)

Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is yonder in the eternal ages. “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1,2) Then the flaming sword which kept open the Tree of Life is sheathed forever.

The Tree of Redemption is the most important one for your consideration at this time. Only as you realize the significance of Calvary will the Tree of Life mean anything to you.

Who Am I?

A “worm?”

Job 25:6 speaks of a man’s children as being worms. Remember, it is a so-called friend of Job that calls man a worm. His discourse did argue for us to speak very honorably of God and the great distance between the creator and the created. I remember when our hymn books spoke of man as a “worm,” just as Isaac Watts wrote it: “Alas! And did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovreign die, Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” Now the word “worm” has been changed to “sinner.”

Why the change? Was it thought to be theologically erroneous or because it was thought to be too harsh on church goers’ self esteem? Perhaps it was thought to be demeaning to all humanity. Only the regenerate could understand the spiritual significance of the figure.

Remember that God’s Word often uses different forms of figurative language which should not be taken literally. It is a means of saying one thing and meaning another. I believe that is what should be understood here.

Isaiah used the same word to describe Israel: “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah. 41:14)

A maggot?

That is the word used to describe man, the parents. “How much less is man, who is only a maggot, or a man’s children, who are only worms!” (Job 25:6 ISV) That word is even more offensive than “worm” if you have observed maggots at work in the flesh of man or animals. But remember it too is a figure or metaphor of the sinful condition of humanity.

Dust and ashes

These are the words used by Abraham to answer his question, “Who am I?” “And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes:” (Genesis 18:27) That is what he would return to but for the present he could not use that as an appeal to secure a concession from the Almighty.

Crown of creation?

“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.” (Psalm 8:4-8) The passage refers to man generally and is recited in Hebrews 2 where we find the complete fulfillment of the meaning of the psalm in Jesus Christ as He is identified with all humanity in the incarnation.

Moses asks this question of Jehovah when God was requiring him to do an unthinkable task. “And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) He was not a haughty leader but a man conscious of his own inadequacies.

David also asked the question “Who am I?” Saul was plotting to dispose of David because he was eaten up with jealousy of him. Saul had conceived of a strange way to get rid of David by first bringing him into the family: “And David said unto Saul, Who am I? And what is my life, or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son in law to the king?” (I Samuel 18:18) He did not conceive of himself as a worthy or suitable candidate for son in law to the king.

You may be asking “Who am I?” when God is asking you to do something for Him and you do not feel qualified. That may happen when God calls a person to any special service. The solution is to get qualified. Get the training you need. You may ask it in all humility or as a way to evade your sense of duty by pleading unworthiness or incapability. “Who am I?” is the language of evasion and sometimes refusal as well as humility.

Who am I?

Every person should take inventory and answer this for themselves. At least one honest informed answer would be, “I am made in the image of God. I am a special unique creation of the Almighty. Look beyond that. What else do you see? A worm? A lost sinner? God’s people are looked upon as worms in their haughty thoughts by those who are not His people. At least it is not as serpents – a sneaky snake. Let us then wonder at the love and condescension of God, in taking such worms into fellowship and communion with himself!

When we really take stock of our spiritual condition without Christ, our position out of Christ, and our sins against Him, it should make us feel lower than a worm. The Apostle Paul saw himself as the chief of sinners. As redeemed regenerate people we are all trophies of God’s grace.

Who am I? I know by divine authority that I have been created in God’s image. I did not commit all the sins Paul confesses, but I know I committed enough to nail my Saviour to the cross of Calvary. I am ashamed of every sin that nailed Him there. I am what I am by the grace of God, and not yet all that I want to be. I am a redeemed sinner. I do not claim any great righteousness of my own as an entrance to heaven. I dare not trust in anything less than Jesus blood and righteousness. I know that I am a child of God in His forever family. Do you?

Don’t Be Afraid of Their Faces!

Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord.” 

(Jeremiah 1:8)

There are several places in the Bible where God’s prophets were commanded to not be afraid of the faces of those who resisted their message. I believe there is some application to be made for us as believers who are called to witness? Consider first the experience of Moses, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

Moses was one of God’s servant leaders who was told not to be afraid of the faces by those in opposition to his leadership. One of the instructions God gave to Moses as they prepared to occupy the promised land included these words: “Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it.” (Deuteronomy 1:17) It was true in Moses’ time as well as ours. The rich and powerful expected special consideration that would not be shown to the poor. They could and would show that by frowns and threats. The Israelite leaders were not to be awed or intimidated by them when practicing justice.

Jeremiah was warned of the same problem. “Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord .” (Jeremiah 1:8) These are the words of Jeremiah in the account of his call to the prophetic office God had for him.

Ezekiel was commissioned to be a prophet to Israel and he was forewarned of the things he would face. He knew what he would face from a disobedient and rebellious people. Twice in this verse he was commanded to not be afraid of their words. He could expect scoffs, jeers, reviling. They would make all kinds of threats with their weapon of words. Their looks could be the most confusing, and so God told Ezekiel to not be dismayed at their looks: “And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.” (Ezekiel 2:6)

When these verses made an impression upon me the first thing that came to mind was the old idiom: “If looks could kill…” I could only think of it as the result of the way someone looked with facial anger. Based on the way someone looks at you, if looks could kill you would be dead. Since looks or words do not actually kill, but we are still warned against them, what do they do? Why be afraid of their faces? Looks and words are closely associated in the face. In an age of persecution we can expect much of what the prophets did. In different areas of our world persecutions may be by words. In the worst areas opposition to Christians means beheading, execution, imprisonment and being driven from home. We like to think of America as the land of free speech. That is often expressed in public opposition to Christians in the media with no constraints and no similar treatment of other religions. We can expect more of that with a culture, education system and anti-christian government controlling our lives.

But this is where we live. Be not afraid of their faces! We do not run away from our mandates to change the culture and win the world to Christ. We expect scoffing and ridicule for our Christian beliefs. The presence of a believer disturbs the ungodly and makes them uneasy. A good man is an offense to a bad man. Expect the cold look.

The Christian leader or pastor can expect the worst looks. He is in the limelight. By his ministry he is influencing others in many different ways. A message that deals with sin can produce that hard cold look. The position on contemporary issues can do the same. Opposition to the pastor’s program will register the ice in the faces. The wealthy often expect favoritism to their views. I have witnessed it. I’ve been there, done that, and it is not a happy experience. As a pastor I lived by this verse in Proverbs: “To have respect of persons is not good: for for a piece of bread that man will transgress. (Proverbs 28:21)

 

 

 

The Justice of God

Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.” Psalm 89:14

Justice and judgment are the basis of divine government. The throne, or God’s government, is founded upon these two pillars. The throne of God, is founded upon righteousness and judgment. Our sovereign God knows what is right, always does what is right, and is never unjust or unwise in His dealings. He is too holy to be unrighteous in judgment. His decisions are never reversed. The fact that God is a just sovereign should be a source of constant joy to every believer.

These two words demand an explanation. Justice refers to God’s attribute of righteousness and judgment refers to the exercise of that attribute. This implies that God is a law-giver for justice is a law term. God must enforce His law. If He did not He would not be just. A just man is one who is right in keeping God’s law; a just God is the God that enforces His law. Any conception of God that denies His justice is a false conception of God.

Justice demands the punishment of sin. Sin is the transgression of the law of God for which the penalty is punishment. Without a penalty attached there can be no law. It might be advice or exhortation but not a law. Violated law calls for punishment. What is the penalty of violating God’s law? DEATH. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

The sinner is under the curse of the law and is unable to deliver himself from the curse of the law: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:” (Galatians 3:13) There are two ways the law can be satisfied: (1) by obedience to its precepts, or (2) by suffering the prescribed penalty of eternal separation from God. The law has pronounced a curse upon all who have violated its commands, and unless delivered from its curse, the sentence will be executed in the day of judgment.

The justice of God closes the door to every plan of salvation except the plan of substitution. If men who have sinned escape the punishment for their sins, then for God to remain just someone else must be punished for them. This puts salvation in another one rather than the sinner himself. And the one who saves him must have no obligation to the law himself. If a sinless man could be found on this earth – a man who had never done any wrong – a man who had always been perfect – he could not save anyone else, because all his goodness was required by the law for himself. Therefore we have to go outside the human race for a Saviour. So, in saving sinners, God went into His own divine household and gave His Son – this one who was God and therefore could have no obligations under any law. This was absolutely necessary because there never has been a sinless person on this earth except Jesus. Without Him there wold be no salvation at all.

Salvation does not destroy the justice of God. To do away with the justice of God would be the same as doing away with God’s power. God is necessarily and essentially just, just as He is essentially and necessarily omnipotent. This truth is the death blow to a lot of religious ideas. It kills the idea that if one lives the best he can he will be saved. It kills the idea of salvation by rites and ceremonies and ordinances. It kills the idea of salvation by repentance alone. Judas repented but was not saved: “Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.” (Matthew 27:3)

Justice pronounces our doom – but grace delivers us. Our just God is also a loving God and a forgiving God when there is both repentance and faith.