Sunday, July 20, 2008
Can you conceive of a more sobering truth than hell?
The Bible teaches that hell is everlasting torment of body and soul in the lake of fire which is prepared for the devil and all who do not repent. There are many who say that the judgment of hell, of everlasting penalty for sin, is so enormous, so horrible a thought, that they could not conceive of a God who is capable of inflicting such a punishment. There are many who say, "My God would never send a soul to the eternal torment of hell."
Those who speak so do not know the reality of sin, of how enormous an evil sin is in God's holy judgment. Those who speak so do not know God, do not know God in His essential attribute of pure holiness. You see, it is not the doctrine of hell that is the point at issue. It is the truth of God's holy being and the nature of sin which is at issue. Always the truth at issue is:
Who is God?
What is God?
Always the point at issue is:
Who is man, what is man, what is sin?
And the Bible is straightforward and true on those issues. God is the Holy One. He is pure, perfect, and infinitely good.
Man, of himself is a sinner. And sin is an infinite offense against the holy God which truly deserves everlasting destruction. The Bible is straightforward to tell you the truth.
Why is hell a reality?
Why is there a lake of eternal burning to which impenitent sinners go?
Because of the holiness and justice of God!
Because sin is enormous and is committed against God. Because of the true nature of sin and the nature of an impenitent sinner. Get hold of this truth: the basic issue revealed in the Bible is not man's welfare, man's happiness, and man's rights. But the basic issue revealed in the Bible is God, and His glory. The holiness of God and the awfulness of uncovered sin call for the eternal curse of God in the fires of hell.
Jesus taught this. He said, in Matthew 25:41, that in the last day, the day of judgment, He shall say unto impenitent sinners: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." That is what the Son of man, when He comes in all of His glory, is going to say. When He sits upon the throne of judgment and impenitent sinners stand before Him, Jesus Christ, the real Jesus Christ, is going to say to impenitent sinners: "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
Hell is to be separated from God. The impenitent and hard-hearted sinner gets exactly what he wants: banishment from God. That is the loss which the damned have.
When Jesus said that hell is to be separated from God, the idea is not that hell is the place where God is not. Psalm 139 says, "If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there." But Jesus meant that hell is to be deprived of the glorious enjoyment of God and to have nothing but one wave after another of His wrath to roll over the sinner. It is to have God's heart alienated from him, to be hated of a holy God. It is to taste, in the very center of the soul, divine vengeance against sin.
God is good. That is what Jesus said in Matthew 19. There is none who is comparable to Him. There is nothing that can make up for God. Psalm 73: Having Thee on earth, there is naught, there is nothing that I could yet desire. If you have God you have everything (the true God, that is). You may be cast off by man, your way may be very lonely. You may be distressed and filled with trial. But if you have God, you can sing and say, "I walk with Him and make His word my guide."
But to be separated from the living God, from the blessed and good One?
To receive His burning anger?
Hosea 9:12 says, "Woe also to them when I depart from them." All peace is removed, all joy. There is unmixed sorrow. It is to be filled with horror and the anger of a holy God against you.
What a horrible thing!
When the creature made by the hand of God is separated from God, then only despair can seize that soul. That is why hell is called, in the Bible, "outer darkness."
Be afraid of living in any sense separated from God.
Do not make friends who will draw you away from your God.
Do not reach out for the job, money, promotion which you know is going to put distance between you and your God, which is going to force you to compromise on your attendance of God's house on the Lord's day.
Do not put up walls of separation between yourself and your God by continuing in a sinful course, by willfully deceiving yourself, telling yourself lies that your sin is only for a little time and then you will put it away.
Put it away!
Tremble at the thought of distance between yourself and your God.
We can be so concerned at losing things, worldly things, losing this friend, losing this possession, losing this money, losing this business account. But think of His Words:
"What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?"
Think of the Words: Depart from me, ye cursed. Then all those things a man sought to substitute for God are gone. The covetous person's money is gone. He cannot have that in hell to soothe him. The drunkard's bottle is gone, the fornicator's bed, the philosopher's wisdom. There is nothing left. Everything has vanished. And they are alone forever with the holy hatred of God whom they have offended.
Jesus said that to be cast into hell is to be cast into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. "Depart from me, ye cursed," He says, "into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
I will not go into the question as to what kind of fire that is. The Bible uses stark language, repeatedly speaking of fire, of the fire that is not quenched, it is not put out; of the fire that burns with brimstone, intense, heated fire; of a lake of fire, an immensity of fire in which a soul will swim. Fire is the most horrible pain that we know.
What pleasure, what possession, what lust of your flesh, what amount of money could I offer you right now which would induce you to hold your hand over a lit candle, over a flame of a candle for one minute as it burned your flesh?
What could I give you so that you would be induced to do that?
Would you do that for all the wealth of the world?
What pleasures of sin, what gratification of the flesh, what earthly possession, what honor is worth an eternity in hell?
Do you see the folly of sin?
Hell contains greater torments than anything found on earth.
When the Bible tells us about heaven it speaks to us of heaven as a city with gates of pearl and streets of gold. And we know that when the Bible speaks in those terms it is presenting heaven as being more excellent than the finest and most precious things in the world. When Jesus speaks of hell-fire, we must understand by it something more vehement, more tormenting than any fire ever seen by human eyes on earth. Heaven is represented as a treasure, as paradise, as a feast, as rest. And we know that the Bible is saying that words are not sufficient to express what God has in store for those who love Him. Even so, the torments of hell, represented in the idea of fire, a lake of fire burning with brimstone, those ideas are not sufficient to express the dread of falling into the hands of God as an impenitent sinner apart from Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And, understand, weeping and gnashing of teeth without repentance towards God. Revelation 16:21 reads: "And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, and men blasphemed God because of the hail." Their conscience will condemn them, but they will not repent. There is no repentance in hell.
What an awful punishment. Whose damnation, the Bible says, is just. It is everlasting fire in the company of the devil and his angels. That is dreadful, everlasting, no period to it, no stop, without intermission, without an end. We cannot conceive of that without horror. That is the evil of sin. The pleasures of sin are bought at a costly price. Brief moments of pleasure bring down eternal misery. That is the stark truth taught in the Bible. That is what sin is. Remind yourself of it. Sin is not a little thing. Sin is something so horrendous that it deserves everlasting punishment which only God's Son can take away for us. What hatred God has for sin. How severe is His punishment. And, remember, God does not punish more than justice requires. Flee to Christ. In Jesus Christ you see sin as an ugly and vile thing.
Then, to be with the devil and his angels. What a horrible company! Revelation 20:10, "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever."
In hell one is bound up with the devil; with the lion who seeks to destroy; with the serpent who hisses and spits his venom into a person's face.
What a glorious thing it is for a Christian to have the company of the saints and Jesus Christ and the angels. What a terrible thing it must be to have nothing but the company of the wicked, of the devil, and his demons.
Will you join yourself to those who worship the devil?
Will you follow the way of those who follow the devil?
Join yourself to those who call upon the name of Jesus Christ. Follow them in faith and holiness.
Flee the everlasting fire.
Do you tremble?
Do you tremble because you take God's Word seriously?
Do you tremble because you know yourself as a sinner?
Do you tremble because you say, "It is true. I violated God's law. I deserve such a death." This then is the testimony of God, the testimony of God to those who, by His grace, touched by His Spirit in their hearts to know their sins, this testimony comes now to them: Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Not your works can deliver you. Not your ability to merit deliverance. Believe the free gift of God. Trust in Christ as the only One who can take the hell-coals away from you. Jesus Christ was sent of God to bind up the eternal hell deserved by His own elect, to hold that hell in His hands, and then to extinguish it by pressing it into His own bosom upon the cross and dousing the flames with His blood. Trust in His righteousness. Follow Him in this world. Go to Him for strength for repentance and holiness. As great as the horror of hell is, and as strong as the trembling can be in us over it, so the grace of God is greater to His people, Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus."
Did you hear that, believer?
There is no condemnation to you in Christ Jesus. Jesus has taken away our eternal hell.
You might remember that John the Baptist, in Matthew 3 and Luke 3, cried out to his audience, "Flee the wrath to come." In part he was speaking to Pharisees. Those Pharisees did not believe that they had to flee. They said to John, "What are you talking about? We are the children of Abraham. We are righteous. Hell is deserved by other people, not by us."
Oh, the blindness of self-righteousness. Let the Word of God tear those blinders from our eyes and prick our hearts.
No, you are not righteous of yourself!
No, you cannot remove your sin. Sin is an infinite thing. It is an infinite wrong against God. Sin is so heavy, so lasting in its vileness, that nothing can remove it. Your suffering for it eternally in hell cannot remove it. Only God's mercy can remove it. The offended God must bring my sin to an end. He must kill it. My death must die in Jesus, and, praise be God, it did. For the Bible tells me that mercy awoke, meeting justice at the cross, that righteousness and peace have embraced, that they stand in full accord. God has shown mercy in the way of perfect justice. In mercy He has given His Son. In justice, His Son bore in the place of His elect their eternal hell. There is no condemnation for them in Jesus Christ.
Now the word is: flee! "Get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city," said the angels to Lot when they came to take him out of Sodom. "Do not look back." The angels took him by his hand and led him out. In Revelation, chapter 18, there is this Word of God to you: "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins."
Press towards Christ. Your time is very short.
Are you going to go on in the way of that sin?
Will you for sixty or seventy years live simply to pile up wealth and possessions as being the end-all, and let your soul be poor?
Will you come to lust and to greed and say, "Satisfy me, be my portion in this life?"
Will you entertain hatred and unforgiveness in your heart?
You, you who have been forgiven so great a debt?
You who frankly could never pay what you owed?
Is sin in your life, that pet sin, that ensnares and enslaves you?
Is it that important?
Is it that satisfying?
Is it worth it?
And are the difficulties of faith in Jesus Christ and of confessing His name so great?
Repentance and forsaking sinful friends, standing up for the Lord-is that so hard, in the light of what He has done for you?
Eternal life! We must have it. There will be time enough to rest when we reach the other shore and sit down under the tree of life. Right now the time is short. For the child of God, the Bible says, there is a race to run. There is a fight to be fought. There is a Christ to confess. There are sins to be battled. Flee!
There is one argument that unbelief makes against the truth of hell, an argument that has cut me to the very bottom of my soul. It is not the argument that I already referred to, that "your God is so evil to do that. My God would never do that." That argument does not move me. Anyone who would so argue does not know God in His holiness. And, very frankly, they do not know the reality of what their sin is. They are blinded to the horror of their own sin. Yes, sin deserves exactly that: eternal hell.
That is not the argument that moves me. There is another argument that hurts. It is put this way: "If it is true that hell awaits the impenitent sinner and burns with a fire which will never be put out, and you believe that, then why do you live as if it is not so? Why do you not warn your neighbor? Why are you so careless about your sins as if, after all, they are of no consequence? Is hell real? We cannot tell from your life that hell is a reality."
Do not let that be said about you, child of God.
Flee to Christ in faith and holiness. Escape the everlasting fire.
By Carl Haak
In Psalm 17:15 there is the following prayer: "As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness."
David's prayer there differs from the prayer that men of the world would make. David says, concerning those men, that their portion, their desire, that which they live for, is only in terms of the earthly, in terms of this present world.
But, by a wonder of God's Spirit, David's greatest desire was for that time when he would be face to face with God, when he would awake and behold God's face in righteousness and be filled with the likeness of God in a glorified soul and body.
Is that your desire?
Do you want to go to heaven?
Do you know what heaven is?
We see from the Word of God that everywhere in the Scriptures, heaven is described for us as the dwelling place of God. We see that it is a very beautiful and rich idea, bringing to us the fact that heaven consists in the perfect fellowship of God. We see that it is a very particular idea as well. That means that heaven can only be heaven for those who love God already now, only for those who have begun the life of heaven already in their heart when Jesus Christ implants His life in their heart. So, apart from faith in God, one cannot know heaven or even desire heaven itself. Heaven shall be the perfected fellowship with the living God through Jesus Christ.
But the Bible tells us more about heaven. We want to talk about that today. It tells us that heaven is also the place where the saints shall enjoy everlasting rest. Heaven is often pictured to us in the Bible as rest. We read in Hebrews 4:9, "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God."
Again, Revelation 14:13, we read, "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them." They may rest, we read, from their labors.
Now when heaven is explained to us as being the place where the saints shall have perfect and everlasting rest, what does that mean?
Does that mean that we will simply lull around by the River of Life and do nothing?
Will we be lazy?
Is heaven inactivity?
Is heaven simply when one plays upon a harp and sits and does nothing?
The answer to that is No! Of course not! That is an earthly idea of what rest is. Rest in Scripture and rest in heaven is not that at all. It is not inactivity. It is not the waste of time. According to the Bible, rest is one of the most blessed things that could ever fill your mind and soul.
First of all, when the Bible tells us that heaven shall be the place of everlasting rest for the saints, it is looking back over our life as we have it now. And it is telling us that all the toils and all the labors of this present time, due to our sin, will be completely over. It is telling us that the toil and the labor of our sins, and the struggle against our sins will be finished. It is saying to us that the labor and the burden of sin, of the restlessness and of the vanity of this present time, will be completely behind us. The rest that Jesus spoke of when He said, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," was rest for the soul, rest which consists, first of all, in this: sin is over.
It is very hard for us to appreciate that, because right now all we know is a sinful existence. In our present flesh we know every day our own sins and the struggle against that sin. When we are renewed, when we are born again in Jesus Christ, we begin to see that. And it becomes a burden. We see that sin invades everything and spoils everything in our life. There is no aspect of our life which is free from sin. In our marriages and family, in our body, and in all of our life, it brings us woe and sorrow. Many struggles come to us because of sin. It is always there. And as a result of sin there is untold suffering, suffering in our body, death; but also other suffering: loneliness and mental illness. And there is no rest.
But then, it will all be over. Sin will be no more. Death will be vanquished. We read in the Word of God, Isaiah 35, that sorrow and sighing shall flee away. We read that God will wipe away all tears from our eyes. We read that we shall come with joy and laughing to Zion. Right now our souls labor, they struggle, they cry to God. And with the psalmist in Psalm 42, we often say, "Lord, my soul is cast down within me." But we will not always be this way. We shall not always cry. We shall not always labor and struggle against our sins. There remaineth a rest for the people of God, a place of perfect joy and happiness where sin and toil in the present life will be forever gone and replaced with perfect joy.
But rest, in the Bible, means something more yet. It means that we will enjoy the perfect work of Jesus Christ. I was saying a moment ago that rest, in the Bible, never refers to inactivity. It is not laziness. It is not the waste of time. In the first place, we read that God Himself rested. Therefore, rest is to savor, to imbibe, the full and perfect work of God in Christ. In Genesis 1 and 2 we read the words, God rested the seventh day of the creation week. After six twenty-four hour days in which He created all things, "God saw all that He had done and it was very good. And God rested on the seventh day."
That God rested on the seventh day means that God contemplated and rejoiced in what He had done. He saw the work of His hands. And He entered into the full enjoyment of His work.
To rest means that we, as saved in Jesus Christ, will, with open mouth and wondering eyes, drink in all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We will no longer be the spiritual clods that we are now: slow of heart to understand, impaired in our memories to remember the goodness and faithfulness of God. But there in heaven we shall see that wonderful work of God and shall enjoy it and rejoice in it. That is what it means to rest in Jesus Christ. There the Lamb of God, we read in Revelation 7, shall feed us and bring us to living waters. He shall sit down and break open to us the loaf of God's infinite mercies and love to us in Jesus Christ.
You say to me, what will we actually do in heaven?
The Bible answers that we will walk with Jesus. Our whole life will be a life of activity and service. We read in Revelation 7 that they served Him night and day. So enthused are the saints in God, so filled with joy. It is as if they cannot sleep. But they serve God day and night, constant, blessed, full, joyful activity in the service of God.
You, as a child of God in heaven, will be given a specific place and task. You, with your glorified talents and gifts, will serve God. You will employ them as never before in the praise of God.
Remember what we read from Revelation 14?
We read, "their works do follow them." The work of God, begun already on the earth, the Lord's work in us, will be perfected. In heaven we will live and exercise the love of God as never before. We will be devoted in our heart to God in everything. All the talents and gifts that we have now will be perfected. And we shall serve Him with joy.
Therefore, heaven is our earnest hope, our great hope. The Scriptures always present heaven as the longing, as the intense desire of a believer. That was true of the Old Testament saints. We read in Hebrews 11 concerning them: "For they looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." We read, further, that if the Old Testament saints had been mindful of this present, earthly land they would have remained or gone back to it. But they desired a better country, that is, a heavenly. And that was true also of the New Testament saints. We read in Colossians 1:5 that "the hope of the gospel is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the Word of the truth of the gospel."
Again, in 2 Corinthians 5 we read, "For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: … that mortality might be swallowed up of life."
And again, Philippians 1, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
You see, wherever the grace of God is present in a person's heart, that grace will also create a longing for the fulfillment of the work of Christ which is enjoyed in heaven.
Do you want to go to heaven?
The grace of God, you see, always kindles in us the intense longing and desire there to be in the presence of God.
Would you be afraid to die if it was God's time for you to die today?
Do you want to be with Jesus and the angels and with your heavenly Father?
We, as believers, answer that question, "Yes, that is true." We find that testimony in our hearts.
But we want to be here, too, don't we?
We love this present life, too, don't we?
We are of the earth earthy, the Bible says. God wants you and me now, as His children, to live on the earth because He has a work for us to do. Our life here is not meaningless. God has assigned to us our place in His kingdom. And that work is important; it has important dimensions. Through that work God is preparing His kingdom and He is preparing us for that kingdom. But when that work if finished, He will come for you. And that can be at any moment. It will be at the moment of His determining.
Are you ready?
Do you want Him to come?
Do you want Him to come exactly at that moment that He has picked and not delay it for a second and take you to be with Him in heaven?
You see, it does not work for a Christian to try to live two lives: one of the earth, living for self and earthly things and for the honor of this present world; and another life which, perhaps, is in his hip pocket, which is his heavenly life - his insurance in case of troubles and death. If you do not live in Christ now, and if Christ and God are not the center of your living, you do not want to die. You do not want to face the reality of death. Death can only be a horror for you. But to live in Jesus Christ - that is life. And that life also yearns to be perfected in God's presence. To live in Jesus Christ says it is not a car, it is not a bike, it is not clothes, it is not a beautiful figure, it is not popularity, it is not a home, but it is Christ that is the center of my yearning and desires.
Then we will live heavenly minded. And a heavenly-minded man, woman, boy, or girl is a useful man or woman on earth. When we say that we live heavenly minded it means that our goals are right. We are seeking the eternal, we are seeking to serve God in this life. We are not trying to pile up debts into a lasting memorial. We are not trying to suck out of this present life satisfaction for our souls. No, we have that satisfaction in Jesus Christ.
And having that satisfaction and salvation in Jesus Christ, we can remain unshaken in this life, because our goal and our hope is not in terms of the earthly. We are not going to lose everything when we die. But our hope and our goal is in the heavenly.
What is your inheritance?
What do you want?
Are you living for a great name?
Are you living for more money?
Are you living for more earthly possessions?
Or, is the inheritance in glory that which lays captive to your heart?
The inheritance that Peter says fadeth not away. Then, you see, when problems come to you, and the loss of earthly things come to you, and sickness comes to you, you will not be beside yourself. You will not come unglued over these things. But you will look up, knowing that your redemption draweth nigh.
Living in Jesus Christ means that this hope of heaven will grow and become stronger in you. You will feel God in His work of prying our fingers loose from these earthly things which we so desperately grasp. And we will reach out by faith with all of the saints to that which eye cannot see nor ear hear, the things that God hath in store for those who believe in Him.
We will begin to feel more and more that this world is not our home, that our citizenship is in heaven, from whence also we look for Jesus to come (Philippians 3:20). We will find that we are strangers and pilgrims, we are aliens in this world spiritually. Another land, our Father's land, captures our hearts. That becomes our longing, our goal. And we will hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto us until at last our time comes and we will enter into Father's house of many mansions, into the heavenlies, into the sanctuary of God. And there we shall be at rest.
What is heaven?
Heaven is where God is, where the fellowship of God shall be enjoyed perfectly. Heaven is rest, where sin and sorrow will be no more and the perfect work of Jesus Christ shall be enjoyed for ever. Heaven is the hope and the longing of a child of God.
Are you ready, right now, to go to heaven?
Would you go to heaven if you died now?
By faith, the gift of God, by a true faith, we give an answer to that. And our answer is this: I know (not I think, but I know) that when this earthly body dies I will enter into a mansion, a mansion not made with hands, a mansion which was made by my Savior through His work for me upon Calvary's cross. And in that mansion I will have perfectly what I have been given to know already now. I will know and enjoy God for ever. And I will be there to praise Him and to love Him for ever!
That is heaven.
May God bring this Word and press it down upon our hearts and minds.
By Carl Haak
Saturday, July 19, 2008
The truth of the Bible that we declare in this article today is found in the prophecy of Jeremiah 50:20. There we read these words of the living God: "In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve."
God proclaims in that verse that there is going to be a day that He will seek for sin, for the sins of His people, but will not find them. Sin will be sought, but not found.
Jeremiah was speaking of the day when the people of Judah would return from the captivity of Babylon. But we know, on the basis of God's entire Word, that ultimately this refers to the day of salvation in Jesus Christ. It refers to the work of God in Jesus Christ - a work so complete that Christ has forgiven our sins, and they can no longer be found. The sins of the elect people of God, the people given to Jesus Christ and brought to a living faith, those sins cannot be found.
Let us ask three questions about this verse and try to answer them.
First of all, what does it mean: sins will be sought but not found?
Secondly, why can they not be found?
Lastly, let us ask the question, whose sins will be sought and not found?
A search is going to be made to discover sin.
Sin should not be too hard to find, should it?
That should not be too hard to find right among those who confess the name of Jesus Christ.
It should not be very hard to find sin there, should it?
Notice, a very particular search is in mind. Not simply a search for sin in general, not simply a search for iniquity universally, but a search for iniquity and sin among God's own children. The iniquity of Israel and the sins of Judah. The word "Israel" is, literally, "Prince with God." And Judah means "By whom God is praised." The search will be made among those whom God has made His own children - the people who are elect, the people who are chosen of God from all eternity, the people who are renewed (made alive) by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ and given faith in the Savior. God will search for sin among them, but will not find it.
Now, I say, it is not very hard, is it, to find sin among God's people?
It is not very hard to find sin in your life, is it, if you look?
And, in a profound sense, our sins, the sins of those who confess to believe in God, are so much worse. The search that is in view in this passage of Scripture is not, "Well, let's look among those where sin will be least likely to be found and perhaps not so blatant and repulsive." The idea is not, "Well, if we look among the right group maybe we won't find anything noteworthy and we could say that we really didn't find any sins."
But a search is to be made among the confessors of God's name because there you will find sin which is even more glaring and stark and repulsive. That is because it is our sins, as the children of God, which are against knowledge, against the love of God, against His grace. In that sense they are so much worse. Men who live apart from the saving knowledge of God and who resist the light of God's Word lest their deeds should be revealed for what they are, their sins, too, are inexcusable; and, in a real sense, they sin against knowledge too. Romans 1:32 tells us that all men know the judgments of God and yet deliberately they persist in sinful ways. Yet, by grace, a Christian confesses the light of Jesus Christ. We say that we have known the love of God, that we have come to the Father of mercy and have found His lovingkindness. Then we see in our sinful flesh that we sin against that. We know better. It is exactly as born-again children of God that we see how shameful and how wretched are our sins. We bring dishonor to God's holy name. There, in the people of God, you find sin in its most wretched form. We sin in the face of God's goodness, in the face of God's mighty works.
Yet our text, this verse in Jeremiah, says, let the search be made right there among those who are brought to the light of Christ by electing grace. Let it be made in the house of the living God. Let a search be made for sins and for iniquity.
Now we ask the question:
Who is going to make this search?
The text does not expressly say so, so we do not need to limit it. The word means "to look for something diligently, to seek, to uncover, to dig up." The devil, for sure, seeks for sin among the people of God. He is very good at it after all of this time that he has been around. He is able to detect and find sin.
The world also searches for sin among the people of God. The world says, "Oh, you are those who call upon the holy God? You believe in the just God? You believe that God hates sin? You claim to be His child? Let me tell you a little bit about yourself." The unbelieving neighbor is never very far behind you when you fall into transgression.
Then, as people of God, our own consciences can search us out. Our conscience is made very active and very painful. And our secret sins become revealed to us.
Still more, God is the One who conducts this search for sin.
Is it not God who, in the final sense, does the searching?
Is it not God, in His judgment, who counts?
But listen. Even though this search is going to be conducted, sins will not be found. The iniquity of Israel shall be sought and there shall be none. And the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found. The search comes up empty. Nothing is found. Understand, nothing is found because there is nothing. It is not because something was overlooked. It is not because, somehow, sins got covered up. It is not because somehow sins got cleverly disguised to appear as something else. No. The search is made and no sins are found among the people of God.
And what does that mean?
How can that be?
How can that be possible?
Understand that the answer is not: "Well, there were no sins and there were no iniquities to be laid to our account."
The answer is not that we have never sinned, that there is nothing in our life, as believers, that deserves punishment?
You can say, honestly before God, that you have not sinned?
No sin, no missing of the mark?
Of course not!
Sins are not found not because they never existed. The very opposite is true. The child of God confesses that he is a sinner and he has innumerable offenses.
Why are they not found, and in what sense are then not found?
The answer is: God pardons them. They are not found in the sense that God has pardoned. We read, "For I will pardon them who I reserve."
"I will pardon, I will forgive, I will send away their sins. I will pardon by actually removing them so that they no longer exist, so they no longer deserve punishment, so that they no longer appear before my eyes calling out for judgment."
This is the blessed gospel.
Now let us hear it!
The pardon of sin proclaimed in the gospel is not that God says, "Well, we will simply forget all about it. Since you are sorry for your sins, I have decided to let bygones be bygones. And I will simply forget about it." That is not the forgiveness of sins. The Bible proclaims that the pardon of sin is the actual removing of our sins, the actual vanquishing of our sins, the blotting out of our sins, so that when a search is made for them they cannot be found. They are gone. Forgiveness of sin is not simply that God does not punish, but sin still exists. Forgiveness of sins is the actual obliterating of my sins so that they are no longer to be found.
There is only one way for that to be done. There is only one way to take away the guilt, to pay the penalty. And that is to suffer what those sins deserve. When God pardons us in Jesus Christ He says, "I take away your sins by actually taking away the punishment that those sins deserve." The cross of Jesus Christ was Christ demolishing, Christ obliterating, the punishment which was due to the sins of God's people, by actually enduring that punishment Himself. God tells us that in the day He sends His Son upon Calvary He will accomplish that wonderful truth. God, through the cross of Jesus Christ, has actually taken away our sins so that they no longer exist.
Why cannot my sins be found?
Because I have never sinned?
Of course not!
But because Jesus took them away.
Why is there no guilt found on me?
Because Jesus delivered me by suffering my guilt. And so completely has He done this that God says, "Search, look all over. Satan, you may search. World, you may look. Conscience of a believer, you look. Look for sin and iniquity, unpardoned, unforgiven sin. See if you can find one unpardoned sin among my children. You cannot! Because there is none." Sin cannot be found among the people of God because God has erased them in the death of Jesus Christ, His Son.
Is that what you trust for pardon and forgiveness?
Do you turn to a minister and trust in him?
Do you turn to a priest?
A minister and a priest cannot forgive you. A minister of the gospel can show you the path of peace. He can bring to you the Word of God. He can tell you where upon the pages of Scripture you can find it. But no minister and no priest has the power to wash away, or take away, or absolve your sins.
Do you look to sacraments, that is, to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper?
This sacrament cannot supply you with forgiveness, no matter how often you have come to it. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper confirms and strengthens faith in a believer who uses that sacrament because the sacrament points to the cross of Christ which takes away our sins. But the sacrament itself cannot put away your transgressions. Unless you look beyond the sign of the bread and wine to the thing which is being represented by the bread and wine, namely, Christ crucified - unless you look beyond those signs to the reality, the sacrament does you no good.
Will you look, perhaps, to your own works and to your own endeavors, to your own prayers and to your own deeds?
Do you say, "Perhaps some of my good deeds can take away my sins"?
Your good deeds and your prayers will never take you to heaven. Yes, the child of God who is saved is a praying person. The child of God who is saved is a person who wants to do good to the praise of his Savior. But understand well that those prayers and those good deeds are imperfect. Those prayers and good deeds of themselves can only add to our guilt of sin. They do not take us to heaven. They do not erase our sins. We do those things because Jesus has erased our sins. But we do not do those things believing that they will erase our sins.
Finally, will you try to trust in your own repentance?
Do you say, "Well, I'm sorry for the past and I hope that God will be merciful"?
Today's sorrow cannot wipe away yesterday's sin. Yes, it is true that a child of God who is saved in Jesus repents and now hates his sin and flees from that sin. But also that repentance is not the reason for the sin to be removed.
The pardon for sin is to be found in Jesus Christ and in His cross alone. If you trust in anything else, then those sins remain. If you put your trust in any of those things that I just mentioned other than the cross of Jesus Christ, then all of your sins must appear before your consciousness right now and condemn you.
Where is pardon?
In the Lord Jesus Christ!
He gave Himself for us. He called for the wrath of God. God brought His wrath upon His own Son. And now our sins are gone. He purged our sins away (Hebrews 1:3). He put an end to our sin. He finished our iniquity.
Because of the cross of Christ sin cannot be found in the people of God. It no longer exists to be punished.
There was one last question that we were going to ask today, and that is, For whom is this true?
We ask the question, Is this true for me?
If God looks upon me, right now, does He find unpardoned sin?
Jeremiah says in the verse we are looking at: "For I will pardon them whom I reserve," or, literally, "I will pardon those whom I leave as a remnant." The word "remnant" is often used by the Old Testament prophets. It refers to those who are taken out of the human race by the grace of God. A remnant is, literally, the left-over piece of cloth. It is something that is taken out. We belong to the soiled garment of mankind, fit only for the burning. But it is the grace of God which pulls out a remnant, washes that remnant, and forms it into a coat to be worn by Jesus Christ.
Whose sins cannot be found?
Those graciously chosen of God, elected of the Father. Those who, by that same grace, are called unto Jesus Christ and humbled before Him. Those who come before God with weeping and seek the Lord their God and ask the way to Zion, and turn their faces to the living God and say, "Thou, oh God, art the greatest thing to me." Those who now appear before God speechless, speechless before His Word when the Word says, "There is no sin found, not even one, among My people."
What a wonderful word. What a word to bring home to our hearts today. My sins are gone in the precious death of Jesus Christ.
Praise be to God.
By Carl Haak
Most, if not all of you, who are reading this article have had the opportunity of gaining some acquaintance with the Old and New Testament Scriptures. More, you have probably had the opportunity of hearing the gospel preached to you, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. You have books, perhaps, at home which expound and apply the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But now, if I were to ask you to give a verse of the Bible which gives the heart of that gospel in clear words, could you do so?
After turning to that verse in the Bible, would you be able to give an explanation of the gospel to someone else?
Still more, is the heart of the biblical gospel something that is seen in your life, so that Paul could say of you what he said of the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthian 3:2, that he did not even need to write or to speak, because the Christians in Corinth were his epistle which could be known and read of men?
You have had the blessing of repeated exposure to the gospel of Jesus Christ: in preaching, in literature, and in the home.
Could you now turn to the Scripture and point to one or two simple texts from the Bible and set forth the gospel of your salvation?
Still more, is that gospel so held by you that it can be seen in your daily living?
Repentance toward God and faith toward Jesus Christ must not be something that you only speak about, but something that you practice in your own life. Nothing less than that is your calling as a Christian. God says in Isaiah 43, "Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord."
I am going to point you to a text which puts forth the heart of the biblical gospel. It is found in Acts 20:21. We read, "Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."
In this chapter the apostle Paul is giving a summary of the gospel he had preached while he was in Ephesus. He has gathered around him the elders, the leaders of the church of Ephesus, and is rehearsing to them his ministry of some three years among them. In verses 18 and 19 of that chapter he describes the manner in which he labored among them. He says that it was characterized by lowliness of mind and that he had labored with them with tears. He goes on in verse 20 to tell them of the method that he used. He showed, or declared, to them the gospel. He did not come to share their insights. He did not come to pool their ignorance. No, he had declared, personally and publicly, and from house to house, the gospel. Then, having reviewed how he went about his ministry when he was in Ephesus, he goes on in our text to review the very heart of what the gospel was that he declared. He says that he had testified to Jew and Greek repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. This verse, then, is a summary statement of what the gospel is and what the gospel demand is.
Paul says that he had testified, that is, he had spoken as one who was under oath. His words were those of one who could say, "I solemnly sware to you, in God's presence, that this is the message of the gospel: Repent toward God and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ." That is the call of the gospel right now to you.
Do you understand these things?
Are you ready to testify of them in your life?
Are these things written upon the pages of your life?
The testimony of the gospel?
Let us answer three questions.
First of all, to whom are we to testify of the gospel?
To whom did Paul testify of the gospel?
He says, both to the Jews and also to the Greeks. That is a very common phrase in the New Testament. You will find it in Romans 1:16. There Paul says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."
That phrase, "to the Jew and to the Greek," simply means "all mankind regardless of their natural or ethnic distinctions." Paul testified of the gospel to all men regardless of their national, ethnic, or religious distinctions. He testified to man as man. Or, we may put it this way: He testified to all whom God in His providence brought him. The word "providence" means here the truth that God orders all the events of time, and also orders the steps of the apostle Paul, so that everyone who was brought into contact with Paul, or Paul into contact with him, was controlled by God. So Paul says, All whom the Lord in His providence or power brought before me, whether that person was a Jew or a Greek it made no difference, I testified to them of the gospel. The gospel, then, is to be testified to all men to whom God in His providence, in His power, causes to hear that gospel. The gospel is not preached or testified only to those whom God has elected eternally. It is not my task somehow to go out and find out who those elect are and testify only to them.
Oh, no! The testimony of the gospel (follow me very carefully) is not God's favor or grace to all men. When God has the gospel testified to all men, that is not an evidence of God's general love for all men. No, the gospel is grace or favor only to those whom God from eternity has loved and chosen. Nevertheless, the gospel must be testified to all and without distinctions. Both to the Jews and also to the Greeks.
To the Jews - that is, men and women who had all the advantages of being born in the nation of Israel, the nation that God, in the Old Testament, formed for Himself. He had given to them the Old Testament Scriptures; sent to them the prophets; ordained for them a form of worship and approach to God. Turn to Romans 9:4-5 where Paul gives the advantages of the Jews. He says, "Who are Israelites to whom pertaineth the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the law and the service of God and the promises; whose are the fathers and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen."
Paul says, I preach to the Jew, to the people who were surrounded in the Old Testament by the Word of God because the Jew needed the gospel for himself. He was nothing but a sinner.
But also to the Greeks. The Greeks are simply those who, in their generations, have not had the gospel, who are pagans. Some of the Greeks had culture, some were uncultured. Some were barbarian, ignorant, unlearned. And others represented the very cream of Greek philosophy - the cream of high moral standards, very knowledgeable, refined, smooth, suave. But this they had in common: they knew not God. According to Ephesians 4:17-19, they walked in the darkness and vanity of their own mind. They groped about in darkness, not knowing Jesus Christ.
Now the gospel needs to be testified equally to both Jew and Greek. Paul had no double message - not one for the Jew and one for the Greek. Oh, in his approach he took into account who it was that was before him, whether he stood in the presence of a Jew or of a Greek. He says, I made myself servant to all that I might gain the more. Paul adapted himself to the people who were in front of him, making sure that he understood who they were and how they thought and what was their background in life. But it was only a means to one end: to testify of the one inflexible, unchangeable message of the gospel.
The answer is this: Because no matter what earthly distinction sets men apart from each other, and there are many distinctions - racial, cultural, religions - those distinctions are at best superficial. All men are equally ruined and hopeless before God as sinners.
What would be more different than a Jew and a pagan Greek?
One could come up with a list of tremendous differences, the whole approach to life, the whole perspective upon life. But God says that those differences, so pronounced and so apparent and so insurmountable by man, are only superficial. Man is basically the same: oriental, western, African, American, white, black, whatever. Man's similarities are greater than his differences. Man was made by God in Adam. But more importantly yet, all men are fallen in Adam. In Adam all died. Not one race more than another. All have died. All are equally depraved. All nations, all ethnic groups, all men are equally under the sentence of God. "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:24).
All are born by nature children of wrath even as others (Ephesians 2:3). The classic statement is Romans 3:9. There Paul says, "What then? are we (Jews) better than they (Gentiles)? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin." All are under sin. Despite the differences of color, class, learning, and all the other differences, all are equally depraved and hopeless sinners before God.
You see, the gospel is the true leveler of men. The gospel sweeps away all that men would pride themselves in. Those who have been blessed of God by being brought into the grace of God in a Christian home are, of themselves, sinners. Those who have never heard the gospel are, of themselves, nothing but guilty sinners. I testified to Jew and Gentile because the gospel is the only hope to any man or woman, no matter who they are.
What did he testify?
That is our second question.
Paul says, I testified repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. There we see that Paul is bringing the gospel down to its most basic elements. He says, the gospel is first of all repentance towards God. That word means "a change of mind." That is not a surface change of mind. That is not simply an alteration of my thought patterns. That is not simply to say, "Well, repentance is when I wake up and I decide to look at things differently. And I see that much of my life was counter-productive and it is not good to yell at my wife and kids or to drink, or not practice safe-sex. And I see how the Bible can help me get my life straightened up and make me successful and healthy and lead what is called a victorious life."
No! Repentance is a radical change of the heart toward God and toward sin. It is an overhauling of my heart in my attitude toward God and sin. It gives me now to love God and to hate my sins. It is something that affects my life totally - my thoughts, my emotions, my will, my tongue. Repentance toward God!
The original is very forceful. It says, literally, "It is the unto God repentance." Paul says, I did not simply testify that men should repent, but I testified that they must repent unto God! That repentance has as its primary concern God. Not a man-ward repentance whereby men say, "Well, I got caught and now others know when I am a shame before men." Yes, that is partially true also of a child of God. But that is not the pith, the heart, of it. Paul says, I did not testify of a self-ward repentance. "I feel bad because of what it did to me." That is also true. But that is still not the heart. A God-ward repentance; a change of heart toward God. "I see God as my creator whom I have not honored in my life. I see God as the one who gave me life and breath, and I have not returned the love and praise which is due to Him. I see God as the law-giver, whose holy law I have spurned. I see God as the Judge in whose presence I must stand in the last day and to whom I must give an account. And I have not honored Him or given praise to Him. I have lifted up my hand against Him." You see, the gospel is a God-centered gospel.
Our great problem is not first of all our relationships among men. Yes, the gospel affects those relationships. But that is not the great and first need. Our great need is our relationship to God first. Our great need is not a bandaid on our relationships between men - simply learning new ways of relating to people and of getting a better view of myself. The gospel does address those issues. But my great and primary need, if any of my human relationships are to be changed, is first of all that I be changed toward God. Repentance toward God.
And, secondly, Paul says, "I testified of faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ." Faith is trust, reliance, commitment unto Jesus Christ. It is spiritual union to Jesus Christ. It is, to say it in the words of 2 Timothy 1:12, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day."
Faith is confidence in the risen Savior. Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ - that is the object of our faith. Faith is not simply in something or other but I am not sure what. It is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Those words bring to us all that the Bible tells us of the Son of God, the Savior, the Lord, the one who is the Lord of glory, who has humbled Himself even unto death for our sins. Paul says, "I testified of repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior, the Lord of the cross, the Son of God."
Do you testify of this gospel?
Do you know this gospel?
Do you live this gospel?
We must have this gospel testified to us by the faithful preaching of the gospel. We must hear that faithful gospel preached to us on the Lord's day. That is the will of God. But we must also testify of that gospel in our lives. We testify of that gospel in our life by living that gospel, by repenting toward God, and by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.
When God's grace works within you, He brings you to repentance. And when God's grace works within you, He gives you faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And you come to the realization that you cannot provide the remedy for your sins. You cannot scour your own heart from your sins. You cannot somehow reach up your hands into the place where God has kept the record of the deeds of men and somehow blot out the record of your sinful deeds.
No! God gives you to see that salvation is only through Jesus Christ, as Lord and Savior, your Lord and your Savior.
Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?
Do you repent toward God?
Is this gospel testified in your deeds and in your life?
Those, too, are to be found in those who, by the grace of God, have been brought to Jesus Christ. A God-ward repentance and a faith in Jesus Christ.
Do you have this true repentance - a broken heart over sin, that you have sinned against the Sovereign of the universe?
Do you weep over your sins?
Have you trembled over the thought that you dared to withhold from God that which was due to Him?
That you dared to disobey Him?
Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?
That is, that you not only see your sin and your guilt as a great mountain which calls down destruction for you, but that you look away from yourself and see that in Jesus Christ is full salvation. The response to the gospel is this: by God's wonderful grace, I repent toward God and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then we, too, will testify of that gospel. A beautiful testimony will flow from our lives. We will say, I do solemnly swear, of the things that I have heard and seen - no, the things that I have even tasted - this is the gospel: repent of your sins. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. And you shall be saved.
By Carl Haak
Monday, July 14, 2008
Where is your citizenship?
No, I am not asking if you are a naturalized citizen of this country. I am not asking if you are African, French, German.
According to the Bible, there are only two citizenships: that of the world, and that of heaven; the kingdom of darkness, and the kingdom of light.
In which of these do you hold citizenship?
To which one of these do you belong?
If you are of the world, the Bible says that you mind earthly things. That is, your life revolves around, and your heart seeks the things, the pleasures, the riches, the honors of this present world. Maybe there is an outward show of religious belief and confession. Yet your heart seeks the earthly. The goals of the world are yours.
How much money?
What kind of pleasures?
The amount of honor and power. You live, then, to gratify your own lusts. You speak your own language. You worry about losing what you have. Your god really is your belly, your own appetites. That is what you serve. Life to you, then, is how much money you have, the good times you experience, the things you possess, the satisfying of your cravings: that is your life.
But if, by the living and powerful grace of God, you are a citizen of heaven, then, although you live in this world, your heart revolves around and your love centers in Jesus Christ. You feel out of place here below. As you grow and as you move about in this world you feel that this world cannot satisfy you, cannot be your home. You speak a different, spiritual language. And there is a tension in your life to be with the Lord. Behind all of your planning, all of your building of a home, your working, your training for a job, behind all of your life is the eager expectation of the coming of Jesus Christ, the day of glory, the day when you will be with Him. You feel as if you are an alien on the earth. You do not fit in spiritually. A different spirit dwells in you.
Where is your citizenship?
Or in heaven?
The ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven gives the answer to every believer concerning his citizenship. Because Jesus Christ is ascended into heaven we will confess: My citizenship is also in heaven where Jesus is. Forty days after the resurrection our Savior was taken, in His glorified body, up into heaven, where He now sits at the right hand of God.
The benefits of our Lord's ascending up into heaven forty days after His resurrection are many. He is in heaven now, says the Bible (1 John 2), as our advocate with the Father. He intercedes for us as a merciful and compassionate High Priest. Still more, in heaven He rules over all things for the church. He subjects everything to Himself. He rules to serve the purpose of God and to bring about the eternal kingdom of our God. And still more, Jesus Christ is in heaven as the pledge that we, too, must go to be with Him. Because He is in heaven, all those who belong to Him shall also be with Him.
But there is also this profound benefit of the ascension of Jesus, namely, that it shows that our citizenship has changed. The apostle Paul, in Philippians 3:20-21, puts it this way: "For our conversation (or citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself." By the ascension of Jesus Christ we are now translated from this world of darkness into the kingdom of His Son. We are given a heavenly citizenship. Belonging to Jesus Christ who is ascended into heaven, we are now given the title for glory. The life of heaven is now in our heart. Not only shall I become a citizen of heaven at death - no, I am one right now. I am made a pilgrim and a stranger here below. I hold a spiritual citizenship not in this world but in that which is to come.
Because Christ, the Head of the church, the Head of the body, ascended into heaven. And being united to Jesus Christ by grace through faith means that we too have entered into heaven. Therefore we have, in Him, secured a heavenly citizenship. That is why the world cannot be our home.
The apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:17-19 that there are many, even in the church, who still mind earthly things. Although they confess Jesus Christ as their Savior, in reality their god is their belly. They serve and they live for the appetites of their own flesh. They glory in their shame. They are carnal, earthly, sinful yet in their heart. But the apostle Paul goes on in Philippians 3 to say that that cannot be true of a Christian, not of a true Christian. That cannot be the experience of a true Christian.
Because our citizenship is in heaven, because when He ascended we were made the citizens of eternal glory.
That is certainly a wonderful fact. I said a moment ago that the word "conversation" in Philippians 3:20 is really "citizenship."
"For our citizenship is in heaven." One's citizenship refers to his legal relationship to a state or nation. Our citizenship is in heaven. A citizen, as you know, is one who belongs to the country in which he resides. He enjoys the privileges, he has the rights and protection of his country. He speaks the language of the country.
To the Philippian saints that word would jump out at them.
That was very important. Roman citizenship in those days was coveted. You remember the experience of the apostle Paul, when he was in Philippi (Acts 16), after he was beaten and imprisoned. He was about to be released in the morning hours, but the apostle said, "They have beaten us openly, uncondemned, being Romans." When the magistrates heard that, they feared when they understood that Paul was a Roman. You see, as a Roman he had the right to appeal. As a Roman he had exemption from the degrading punishments that the Philippian magistrates had given to him.
Citizenship in Rome, in the Roman government?
That was very important.
Still more, a citizen of the country calls that country his home. He loves his country. He takes pride in having his name enrolled in that country. He wears the native dress. He not only speaks the language but he is governed by the laws, worships the gods of that country. And he bands together with others and fights for the causes of that country.
Our citizenship is in heaven.
What a wonder!
That is not true, of course, by nature. By nature we are born the citizens of this world (Ephesians 2:3). We are children of this world, children of wrath, says the apostle, even as others. We are in darkness. Of ourselves we would seek the things which are below. Our portion would be in this world and in its lusts. To be a citizen of the world, by nature, means, as Paul says in Philippians 3:17-19, that your god is your belly. You mind earthly things. With the rich fool of Luke 12 (in Jesus' parable), you would believe that life consists in the abundance of the things that you have, that real living is pleasures, parties, beer, stocks, CDs, new cars, friends, a beautiful body. You look for the things of this life. You look for financial success, achievement, lusts, putting one on, getting wasted. You say that that is what life is for, that is what satisfies. And you are governed by the law of man. You would say, "Everyone may do what he wants so long as he doesn't hurt anyone else." That would be your code as a citizen of this world.
That world stands condemned, you understand. It will be overthrown by the righteousness of God. And that world can never satisfy. That world of darkness and sin to which we belong of ourselves is a world of emptiness and loneliness. It is a wretched hole. It is tottering on the brink of judgment.
The wonder is that our citizenship now is in heaven. Heaven is eternal. Heaven is the dwelling place of God. Heaven is wrapped in light and peace and joy and perfection. It is a land that is glorious and fair. And each part of that land is glorious because it reflects the glory of God. It consists in perfect fellowship with God. It is rich beyond compare in love and mercy and grace. Its language is golden, its laws proceed from God's throne and are true and righteous altogether. There is no evil, no lying, no death, no weariness, no toil or pain, no tears. There is Jesus Christ and all of the saints. And it will never pass away. But it goes on from glory to glory. It is fixed and eternal.
Our citizenship is in heaven. Its life is now ours. We hold the title to it. We have been given an inheritance, a mansion in glory. We belong to the state of heaven, where all our sorrows and sighings and all our sins will be forever gone. And we will enjoy fellowship with God.
You ask me, but how is that possible?
You do not buy this citizenship. You do not trade for it. It is not a commodity that you can purchase. You are not born of yourself with any right to have it. All little babies who die do not go to heaven because they are little babies. No. Heaven must be given to you. It must be conferred. It must be graciously given. It is to be found only in Jesus Christ. Paul writes in Colossians 1:13, We are delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of His dear Son through Jesus Christ, the Savior, who was given unto those chosen of the Father, sent into the world to take us out of the world, to perform a transaction, to release us from the bondage of this world and to give us an inheritance in the heavenlies.
But still we ask, How is it possible to be a citizen of heaven?
The answer is: the ascension of Jesus Christ. You see, the Bible would have us understand that believers are always in union with Jesus Christ in the most intimate sense. By the wonderful love of God we are placed in Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus Christ we are nothing. We have nothing. We can do nothing. We are naked and helpless and exposed. But God has placed us in Jesus Christ so that all that is Christ's is also ours. He is in heaven. He ascended into heaven. He has the perfect right to be there. We have the right also of heaven. I may now, in this life, never possess a title to any square inch of this present earth. I may lose my little nest egg. I may build up my wealth and income, and fire can wipe it out in one night. And all that I have in this life that I value so much is filled with mold and rot. And I will leave it all behind. I cannot take it with me.
But in Jesus Christ I have an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, that fadeth not away. It is reserved in heaven. It is being kept by the power of God (1 Peter 1:4-5). In Him I live. Heaven is mine through the ascension of Jesus Christ.
Do you know what that means?
That means that you, in Jesus Christ, are now a pilgrim and a stranger in this world. Because Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, this world cannot be your home. Even in the most joyful and blessed moments here below (the love of a family, the fellowship of a church, when God's light is upon our path), we are not yet at rest, not perfectly. We are not yet home. We are pilgrims, passing through.
To the unsaved there are what appear to be lush green hills and pleasant places; money, a three-hundred thousand dollar home, a new car, an honorary degree, the lusts of their flesh - oh, they say, how wonderful! But not to us! We view it differently. We view this present world as a desert landscape, as a rocky cliff. Its music, its laughter is hollow. Its pleasures leave us empty. For we have seen the King in His beauty. We have been told of heaven's lofty peaks and its wonderful, gracious meadows. And we yearn for the fulfillment of that land.
That does not mean that we despise this life and our calling, that we view our calling and life as evil in itself, that we sit around and mope all day long.
We are called to serve the risen Lord here and now. And He walks with us in the valley of death. He cheers us and is with us. Nor does it mean that, being citizens of heaven, we now escape the difficulties of this present world. A pilgrim in a strange land and in a strange city does not escape the perils of that land. When bombs fall and the earth quakes and sickness comes upon that city, these things are the lot of the pilgrim too. No, we do not have exemptions. We are not given exemptions from the sufferings of this present life. We are exposed to the climate of this present land. Death stalks. Sorrows, miseries. We find on our pathway those who are beaten down, and we help them in the name of the Lord. We hear the screams of this world given over to sin and torments, and weariness and temptations blow against us. But we do not belong.
This is not escapism. This is not a "pie-in-the-sky" theology. This is the reality of belonging to the ascended Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you feel that?
We are not eligible for the honors of this world. The world comes to you and says, Make a name for yourself among men. Climb to the top, man. And we turn away and say, For the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, I count it all but dung; I work to be faithful to Him.
We are not subject to the laws of sin in this world. The world says, When in Rome do as the Romans; each for himself and the devil may care. Grab now before it is gone. You may conduct yourself in business any old way. You may conduct yourself in the male/female relationships any old way, as long as you get what you want.
And we respond to that: The love of Christ constrains me. His will I will do. His word will I keep.
We do not join the world's causes. The world says to us, Come join in establishing man's utopia. And we respond, I will not fight your battles; I will not march in your ranks. I belong to the army of the cross, to the legions of heaven.
We will not serve their gods. They say to us, Come bow down before the god of beauty. It is before you in the magazines, in the shopping malls, with the ideal, attractive shape of the "real" woman. It is before you in drunkenness, parties, wealth, fornication. They say to us, Come on; when you hear the music, then bow down to these idols, pull the tap on the beer. When the party starts, you are welcome to join us.
And we respond: Be it known unto you, O world, that we will not serve your gods; we will not worship the images that you have set up. We will not hoard your treasures, we will not live your life, we will not seek your approval.
For what will it profit us if we gain the whole world and lose our souls?
Eternal life, life at God's right hand, whom to know is life eternal.
We are the citizens of heaven. We are under heaven's government. We pray, Thy will be done. We see heaven's honors, heaven's riches, heaven's pleasures. Our self-worth is not that we have our name inscribed in the county hall, not that we have a titled deed to earthly property. But our worth is in Jesus Christ and that through His name we are inscribed in the book of eternal life, in the blood of the Lamb of God. So we live in hope.
That is something that the world lacks. They idolize hope but they do not have it. Everything they peg their hope on comes up empty. But we have a true hope. Our hope is the expectation of the coming of Jesus Christ, when He shall change our vile body like unto His most glorious body.
You understand that the word "hope" in the Bible is not in the sense of "hope so." No, hope in the Bible is very certain. Hope is confident. It is a yearning, a desire. We hope and desire for Christ to come when we shall receive our glorified bodies, when we shall put off these present pilgrims' garments. Our present earthly life, our present pilgrims' clothes constantly need fixing. They cannot keep out the cold or protect us from the heat. We are very frail, lowly. And we cry, we have sorrow, and we hurt. We sin.
When He comes we will be perfected, transformed. We will be given a body which is able to live in heaven. We will be given that which is suited for eternal life. There will be no sin, no dishonor, no corruption. We shall be shrouded in victory!
And it is sure. It is sure because He has the victory. In His resurrection and in His ascension all power now belongs to Him. He subdues all things unto Him.
Is this your hope?
Once more, I ask you, Where is your citizenship?
Here below, or in heaven?
Those who belong to the ascended Lord Jesus Christ answer the question this way: Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.
By Carl Haak
That God would do good and show mercy unto rebel and vile sinners is the wonder on which the saints are going to muse throughout all eternity.
God has shown mercy unto sinners, sinners which were chosen by His mercy, sinners who believe through the power of His mercy. God has shown mercy unto sinners. The faithful preaching of the gospel always has in it this note, a note of wonder and holy amazement at the mercy and the goodness of God. Preaching is written in the key of wonder.
As God has commissioned us to preach Him, to make known His praises and His virtues, so God has commissioned us to preach His goodness and mercy unto sinners. The proclamation of God's mercy unto sinners was an essential part of God's proclamation of Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai. Turn in your Bibles to Exodus 34, to that dramatic moment when the Lord God would pass before Moses and proclaim Himself to Moses. He said, "The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty." God proclaimed Himself as a merciful God unto Moses.
This proclamation of God's mercy was also given a prominent place in the ministry of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 63:7, Isaiah, that great prophet of the holiness of God, is given to proclaim these words: "I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, and the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses."
There is a very important point that can be made here. It is a point you ought never to lose sight of in the preaching of the gospel. The preaching of the gospel is not, as many would define it today, concerned first of all with what man must do and what man is called to do. But the preaching of the gospel is concerned first of all with who God is and what He has done. The burden of the gospel as it comes to you in the preaching is not, first of all, a burden about man and his needs. But it is a burden about God and His glory. And, in the light of who God is and in the light of what God has done, in that light you are shown what man's need is and what your need is. God is good and merciful and has done good and shown mercy to sinners. And this must be proclaimed.
Rehearse with me, for a moment, the rudiments of God's mercy and goodness. God's mercy is His pity, His lovingkindness. God's mercy emphasizes that God's heart is a heart which is filled with compassion. He is a God who commiserates, who is touched and moved with pity unto His people. And it reflects on us. The mercy of God has something to say about us. It proclaims that we are miserable. We are wretched, desolate, and ruined. His pity, or His mercy, is His compassion for those who are miserable, those who are the objects of His election but who, of themselves, are miserable. It is His strong desire to do them good. Lamentations 3:22, "It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed." God's mercy, according to the Bible, is tender. It comes softly and gently and soothingly to us. God's mercy is abundant. It is plenteous, covering the multitude of our sins. God's mercy endureth forever, that is, it is faithful, never removed from us. And God's mercy is infinite; you can never come to the end of it. Psalm 103:11, "For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him."
Still more, the mercy of God is sovereign. That means this, that God's mercy is given to those and to those only whom God, in His eternal good pleasure, is pleased to give it. We read in Romans 9:15, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." You see, there are no types of mercy in God. God is one. And all of His virtues are one in Him. That means that His virtues, and now His mercy, are not to be compared to modern products. Modern products are always intended for different groups so that we can have breakfast cereal which is fortified for the aged, or breakfast cereal which has no calories for weight-watchers, or which has extra iron for women - all different varieties of breakfast cereals. That is not the way God's virtues are. God has one mercy. It is a tender, compassionate mercy. It is faithful and abundant; it is infinite. And it is sovereign, that is, it is given only to those whom God has chosen. We proclaim God's mercy. We preach His mercy. When we preach the grace of God to you, we are emphasizing God's freedom: that God has shown an unmerited favor unto His children. The word "grace" tells you that there is nothing that you can do. The word "grace" focuses upon the impotency of the sinner.
But we also proclaim a mercy which is God's compassion and pity. God's mercy focuses upon you in the misery of your sin, in your lowliness and brokenness, and God's great pity to do us good. We proclaim the abundant, tender mercy of God. God is a God of compassion. God is a God who has pity upon miserable sinners. And out of that pity and mercy He has willed to do them good. That is the message of the gospel.
And that is a wonder!
That is the greatest wonder you can ever hear. When the church proclaims, in obedience to God, the truth of creation, we call all men to wonder, to wonder at the God whose power is such that He speaks and the world springs into being - the moment He said it. "God said … and it was so!" When we teach the real, the historically accurate, miracles of the Bible; when we proclaim to you that the Red Sea was parted by the hands of God; when we say that the walls of Jericho fell down, we call upon you and everyone else to wonder before the great God. When we instruct you in His commandments, we call upon you to bow in reverence before God and to obey Him. When we declare the righteousness of God, the holiness, the justice of God, we summon men and women to hide their faces and to take their shoes from off them, for He is a holy God.
Now, when we preach in His name the full and wonderful truth of His mercy and goodness which has been shown to miserable and poor and wretched sinners, a mercy which will actually lift you up and crown you with salvation, we can but command you: Stand in awe and wonder before the God who shows mercy unto sinners.
You see, the wonder is that it is shown unto sinners. Therefore, it is something that is free and saving.
If you turn in your Bibles to a well-known passage: Romans 9:23-24, you will see that in Romans, chapter 9, the apostle Paul has said that the Potter has power over the clay, over the same lump to make one vessel unto honor and another vessel unto dishonor. He is talking there of the truths of God's eternal election, of who will be saved - God's selecting or choosing of who will be saved - and God's eternal will concerning who will not be saved, what the Bible calls "reprobation."
In verse 23, those vessels that God forms are called vessels of mercy. We read: "What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory." God has shown mercy unto sinners. We read that the vessels of mercy, those who receive mercy, were made of the same lump as the vessels of wrath, the same piece of clay. Those who are fashioned to be vessels of mercy were, by nature, no better than any other man. They were taken from the same miry clay. God's mercy is distinguishing. When one has received the mercy of God that does not mean that, of himself, he is in any sense better than another. He was taken from the same lump of miry clay.
And they are vessels. A vessel is never anything more than a receiver. A vessel is not a fountain, a spring. It does not create water. It receives the water. So those who have received mercy cannot look to anything in themselves as being the fountain whereby they have received this mercy. No! They are only sinners. God has had mercy unto sinners, to those who, of themselves, are fit only for destruction, who are only clay, who can never produce anything good of themselves. By His grace God has shown mercy to them.
And that mercy that God has shown is a powerful mercy. It is a mercy which will surely save. It is a mercy which will bring you to believe and to repent of your sins. His mercy is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him (Psalm 103:17).
Although we proclaim the mercy of God before all, and we must proclaim it before all, nevertheless that mercy of God is promised not to all. That mercy is promised only to those who, by the grace of God, believe and repent of their sins. God proclaims His mercy to all who hear the gospel because the proclamation of that mercy is the means by which the Holy Spirit works the call of the gospel in the hearts of God's children, the elect. And God also, by proclaiming the truth of His Word and proclaiming His mercy, leaves without excuse those who despise that mercy and who shun it.
The mercy of God which we proclaim is the particular possession, not of all, but of those who are God's children, who by His grace repent and believe in the grace of God. You see, the mercy of God which we preach is not of the nature of an offer. It is of the nature of a powerful promise. God's mercy is not of the nature of an intention on the part of God. God's mercy is not simply that He would like to do something, that He would hope that you would comply with His offer, that it is something that He intends for you to have but He really cannot make you have. No, God's mercy is of the nature of a reality to be enjoyed. God's mercy is not seen as an offer to save, or that He desires all to be saved, or that He shows some sort of general goodness to everyone who hears His gospel. No, God's mercy is seen in that He will and does save! God does not only desire to save, but He saves. By the very power of His desires He actually does good to those He has chosen. You see, an offered mercy, a mere desire of God to be merciful, is no mercy at all. Mercy, in order to be real mercy, must act. It must be powerful. It must reach down. It must save those who are miserable. Mercy is not God's intention to be kind. But it is being kind.
Therefore, we proclaim the sure mercies of God. The mercies which are rooted in His promises, the mercies which are accomplished in Jesus Christ, the mercies which are experienced in your heart in the way of repentance and faith. Repent and believe the gospel. A repentance which is true and thorough. Forsake your wicked way. Forsake your thoughts. Believe that gospel by a wonder of His grace. And experience the rich mercy of God.
Therefore we proclaim that mercy of God as an encouragement to sinners. God will have mercy upon the sinner as the sinner, in His grace, is brought to Him in the way of repentance. An abundant mercy, an infinite mercy. A mercy which is greater than the sea.
You see, when the gospel of the mercy and goodness of God is proclaimed there can only be two responses. The one is to reject. Unless you are made sensible of your misery of sin the gospel of mercy is an offense. If you go to a healthy man, who is healthy, strong, sufficient, and has all the money that he needs, and you come up to him and say, but I will have mercy on you, you insult that man! He does not need mercy. He is fine the way he is. So man, unless by the Holy Spirit he is given to see his need and his sin, will reject this mercy of God. And rejecting it, he is left without excuse. Or the response to the gospel of God's mercy is, by the grace of God, to bring us into sorrow, a sorrow over our sins, over a knowledge of our sins, so that we would conclude that our sin is just too much, that it could never be forgiven. And then comes the promise, the encouragement: I will abundantly show mercy. I will have tender compassion.
We preach to you the mercy of God revealed unto sinners, revealed in the holy gospel, a wonder. Something that now has been made known and needs to be published. In fact that Lord said, We must publish these glad tidings to all nations. We proclaim a mercy that has a basis to it: the blood of Jesus Christ. A mercy which is wrapped up and covered by the merits of the risen Savior Jesus Christ. And we proclaim a mercy which will never fail, a goodness that is so great that it can never be reckoned as to its depth and value. A mercy and a goodness of God which calls you to repent and believe. A mercy which is powerful for those who repent and believe by the power of God's grace to them. A mercy which is tender.
Turn to the living God for He will have mercy, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
By Carl Haak