Dear Church Family,
I am afraid the world is looking at us, as Christians, and asking a very hard and pointed question, “Are they for real?” And the sad part is, I fear we are failing horribly. Last week I started this Pen and I wish to continue it this week with part 2. Here is a brief highlight of last week in case you missed it. You can also go to the Web Site and click on the Pastors Pen tab and read the entire post there.
“Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord and see how they do.” (Acts 15:36).
The text which heads this page contains a proposal which the Apostle Paul made to Barnabas after their first missionary journey. He proposed to revisit the churches they had been the means of founding, and to see how they were getting on. Were their members continuing steadfast in the faith? Were they growing in grace? Were they going forward—or standing still? Were they prospering, or falling away? “Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord—and see how they do.”
This was a wise and useful proposal.
We live in an age of particular spiritual danger. Never perhaps since the world began, was there such an immense amount of mere outward profession of religion as there is in the present day.
The life of many religious people, I fear, in this age, is nothing better than a continual course of chasing after novelties.
In handling this question, I think the shortest plan will be to suggest a list of subjects for self-inquiry—and to get them in order. By so doing I shall hope to meet the case of every one into whose hands this Pastor’s Pen may fall. I invite every reader of this to join me in calm, searching self-examination, for a few short minutes. I desire to speak to myself as well as to you. I approach you not as an enemy—but as a friend. “My heart’s desire and prayer to God is that you may be saved” (Romans 10:1). Bear with me if I say things which at first sight look harsh and severe. Believe me—he is your best friend, who tells you the most truth.
- Do we ever think about our souls at all?
- Do we ever do anything about our souls?
- Are we trying to satisfy our consciences with mere “formal” religion?
So Now let’s start Part 2
- Have we received the forgiveness of our sins?
Few reasonable people would think of denying that they are sinners. Many perhaps would say that they are not as bad as others, and that they have not been so very wicked, and so forth. But few, I repeat, would pretend to say that they had always lived like angels, and never done, or said, or thought a wrong thing all their days. In short, all of us must confess that we are more or less “sinners,” and, as sinners, are guilty before God; and, as guilty, we must be forgiven—or be lost and condemned forever at the last day. Now it is the glory of the Christian relationship that it provides for us the very forgiveness that we need—full, free, perfect, eternal, and complete. We would, as Christians, say, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” This forgiveness of sins has been purchased for us by the eternal Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. He has purchased it for us by coming into the world to be our Savior, and by living, dying, and rising again, as our Substitute, in our behalf. He has bought it for us at the price of His own most precious blood, by suffering in our place on the cross, and making satisfaction for our sins.
But this forgiveness, as great, and full, and glorious as it is — does not become the property of every man and woman as a right. It is not a privilege which every member of a Church possesses, merely because he is a church member. It is a thing which each individual must receive for himself by his own personal faith, lay hold on by faith, appropriate by faith, and make his own by faith; or else, so far as he is concerned, Christ will have died in vain. “He who believes on the Son has everlasting life, and he who believes not the Son shall not see life — but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). No terms can be imagined more simple, and more suitable to man. As good old Latimer said in speaking of the matter of justification, “It is but believe — and have.” It is only faith that is required; and faith is nothing more than the humble, heartfelt trust of the soul which desires to be saved. Jesus is able and willing to save; but man must come to Jesus and believe. All that believe are at once justified and forgiven: but without believing there is no forgiveness at all.
Now here is exactly the point, I am afraid, where multitudes of church people fail, and are in imminent danger of being lost forever. They know that there is no forgiveness of sin excepting in Christ Jesus. They can tell you that there is no Savior for sinners, no Redeemer, no Mediator, excepting Him who was born of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, dead, and buried. But here they stop, and get no further! They never come to the point of actually laying hold of Christ by faith, and becoming one with Christ and Christ in them. They can say, He is a Savior — but not my Savior, as Brother Shane so beautifully put it last Sunday Night; a Redeemer — but not my Redeemer; a Priest — but not my Priest; an Advocate — but not my Advocate. So they live and die unforgiven! No wonder that Martin Luther said, “Many are lost because they cannot use possessive pronouns.”
When this is the state of many in this day, no one need wonder that I ask men whether they have received the forgiveness of sins. An Christian lady once said, in her old age, “The beginning of eternal life in my soul, was a conversation I had with an old gentleman who came to visit my father when I was only a little girl. He took me by the hand one day and said, ‘My dear child, my life is nearly over, and you will probably live many years after I am gone. But never forget two things. One is, that there is such a thing as having our sins forgiven while we live. The other is, that there is such a thing as knowing and feeling that we are forgiven.’ I thank God I have never forgotten his words.”
How is it with us? Let us not rest until we “know and feel”, that we are forgiven. Once more let us ask, in the matter of forgiveness of sins, “How do we Are we real?”
- Do we know anything by experience of conversion to God?
Without conversion there is no salvation. “Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” (Matthew 18:3, John 3:3, Romans 8:9, 2 Corinthians 5:17)
We are all by nature so weak, so worldly, so earthly-minded, so inclined to sin that without a thorough change, we cannot serve God in life and could not enjoy Him after death. Just as ducks, as soon as they are hatched, take naturally to water, so do children, as soon as they can do anything, take to selfishness, lying, and deceit; and none pray or love God, unless they are taught. High or low, rich or poor, gentle or simple, we all need a complete change—a change which is the special office of the Holy Spirit to give us. Call it what you please—new birth, regeneration, renewal, new creation, quickening, repentance—the thing must be had if we are to be saved; and if we have the thing, it will be seen.
- Sense of sin and deep hatred of it
- Faith in Christ and love to Him
- Delight in holiness and longing after more of it
- Love for God’s people
- Distaste for the things of the world
These, these are the signs and evidences which always accompany conversion. Myriads around us, it may be feared, know nothing about it. They are, in Scripture language, dead, and asleep, and blind, and unfit for the kingdom of God. Year after year, perhaps, they go on repeating the words of the creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit;” but they are utterly ignorant of His changing operations on the inward man. Sometimes they flatter themselves they are born again, because they have been baptized, and go to church, and receive the Lord’s Supper; while they are totally destitute of the marks of the new birth, as described by John in his first Epistle. And all this time the words of Scripture are clear and plain — “Except you be converted, you shall in no case enter the kingdom.” (Matthew 18:3).
In times like these, no reader ought to wonder that I press the subject of conversion on men’s souls. No doubt there are plenty of sham conversions in such a day of religious excitement as this. But a bad coin, or counterfeit, is no proof that there is no good money: no, rather it is a sign that there is some money current which is valuable, and is worth imitation. Hypocrites and sham Christians are indirect evidence that there is such a thing as real grace among men. Let us search our own hearts then, and see how it is with ourselves. Once more let us ask, in the matter of conversion, “Are we real?”
- Do we know anything of practical Christian holiness?
It is as certain as anything in the Bible, that “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). It is equally certain that holiness is . . . .
- The invariable fruit of saving faith
- The real test of regeneration
- The only sound evidence of indwelling grace
- The certain consequence of vital union with Christ
Holiness is not absolute perfection and freedom from all faults. Nothing of the kind! The wild words of some who talk of enjoying “unbroken communion with God for many months,” are greatly to be heard in great caution, because they raise unscriptural expectations in the minds of young believers, and so do harm. Absolute perfection is for Heaven, and not for earth, where we have a weak body, a wicked world, and a busy devil continually near our souls. Nor is real Christian holiness ever attained, or maintained without a constant fight and struggle. The great Apostle, who said “I fight; I labor; I keep under my body and bring it into subjection” (1 Corinthians 9:27), would have been amazed to hear of sanctification without personal exertion, and to be told that believers only need to sit still, and everything will be done for them!
Yet, as weak and imperfect as the holiness of the best saints may be, it is a real true thing, and has a character about it as unmistakable as light and salt. It is not a thing which begins and ends with noisy profession; it will be seen much more than heard. Genuine Scriptural holiness will make a man do his duty at home and by the fireside, and adorn his doctrine in the little trials of daily life. It will exhibit itself in passive graces—as well as in active. It will make a man humble, kind, gentle, unselfish, good-tempered, considerate of others, loving, meek, and forgiving. It will not constrain him to go out of the world, and shut himself up in a cave, like a hermit. But it will make him do his duty in that state to which God has called him, on Christian principles, and after the pattern of Christ.
Such holiness, I know, is not common. It is a style of practical Christianity which is painfully rare in these days. But I can find no other standard of holiness in the Word of God—no other which comes up to the pictures drawn by our Lord and His Apostles. In an age like this, no reader can wonder if I press this subject also on men’s attention. Once more let us ask: In the matter of holiness, how is it with our souls? “Are we for real?”
Again, let us beware of making shipwreck on the very lighthouse which helps to show the channel into the harbor! Once more I ask, “Are we for real?”
There is much more to this question, but I will have to take it up next time. In the meantime, THINK ABOUT IT! “Are We For Real?”
With Many Prayers and Christian Love,
Church Phone: 423-272-7676
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Rick Dinkins phone: 423-754-0750
Let us know if you have questions or if you made a decision for Christ.