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Tell the People to Move Forward
Tell the People to Move Forward
Excerpts from: Andrew Murray. “Humility.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/humility/id1104022862
So that Paul would not glorify himself, which would be easy to do due to his revelation in the Spirit, he was given a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble. Paul’s first desire was to have it removed, and he pleaded with the Lord three times that it would be removed. The answer came that the trial was a blessing. Through the weakness and humiliation it brought, the grace and strength of the Lord could be better manifested. Paul instantly entered a new stage in his relationship to the trial. Instead of simply enduring it, he most gladly gloried in it. Instead of asking for deliverance, he took pleasure in it. He had learned that the place of humiliation is the place of blessing, power, and joy.
Let us learn the lesson: the highest holiness is the deepest humility. Let us remember that it comes not of itself, but only as it is made a matter of special dealing on the part of our faithful Lord to those who faithfully serve Him.
Let us look at our lives in the light of this experience, and see if we gladly glory in weakness, and take pleasure in injury, need, and distress. Yes, let us ask if we have learned to consider a reprimand, just or unjust, a criticism from friend or enemy, an injury, trouble, or difficulty into which others bring us, as above all an opportunity to prove how Jesus is all to us. Have we learned that our own pleasure or honor is nothing, and humiliation is in very truth what we take pleasure in? It is the deep happiness of heaven to be so free from self that whatever is said of us or done to us is lost and swallowed up in the thought that Jesus is all.
The school in which Jesus taught Paul is our school too. He watches over us with a jealous, loving care, lest we exalt ourselves.
The danger of pride is greater and nearer than we think, and especially at the time of our highest spiritual experiences. The preacher of spiritual truth with an admiring congregation, the gifted speaker on a Holiness platform, the Christian giving testimony of a blessed experience, and the evangelist moving on in victory – no man knows the hidden danger to which these are exposed. Paul was in danger without knowing it. What Jesus did for him is written for our caution, that we may know our danger and know our only safety.
Conscience is making a comeback among Christians. Over the past few years, the term conscience has been increasingly referenced in debates occurring both in our churches (e.g., appeals to conscience on moral issues) and the public square (e.g., defending the right of conscience). We hear a lot about conscience, but what exactly does it mean? The general concept of conscience can be found in almost every human culture, but it has a unique and distinctive meaning for Christians. The Greek term for conscience (suneidesis) occurs more than two dozen times, and serves an important concept, particularly in the Pauline epistles. If we examine the way Scripture talks about conscience we uncover five general themes:
1. Conscience is an internal rational capacity that bears witness to our value system.
A few decades ago, a common trope in comedies and cartoons was the shoulder angel/devil. A person’s inner turmoil was personified by having an angel, representing conscience, on the right shoulder and a devil, representing temptation, on the left shoulder. This type of folklore imagery gave people the false impression that the conscience was like an inner listening room in which a person could hear the voice of God (a “good conscience”) or the devil (a “bad conscience). A more Biblical view is to consider the shoulder angel/devil as representing witnesses to our inner value system. Our conscience is a part of our God-given internal faculties, a critical inner awareness that bears witness to the norms and values we recognize when determining right or wrong. Conscience does not serve as a judge or a legislator; that is a modern take on the concept. Instead, in the Biblical sense, conscience serves as a witness to what we already know. (Rom. 2:15, 9:1) Conscience may induce an inner dialogue to tell us what we already know, but more often it merely makes its presence known through our emotions. When we conform to the values of our conscience we feel a sense of pleasure or relief. But when we violate the values of our conscience, it induces anguish or guilt. John MacArthur describes conscience as “a built-in warning system that signals us when something we have done is wrong. The conscience is to our souls what pain sensors are to our bodies: it inflicts distress, in the form of guilt, whenever we violate what our hearts tell us is right.”
2. Conscience is a trustworthy guide only when it is informed and ruled by God.
A few days before he became a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama sat down with religion reporter Cathleen Falsani to talk about his faith. When Falsani asked, “What is sin?,” Obama replied, “Being out of alignment with my values.” While there is a lot wrong, theologically speaking, with that answer, it does contain a kernel of truth. What Mr. Obama was describing as “being out of alignment with my values” is what we could call “violating our conscience.” To violate one’s conscience is indeed a sin (as we’ll discuss in a moment). But what makes something a sin is not merely being out of alignment with our values but in choosing our own will over the will of God. Our conscience is therefore only trustworthy when it does not lead us to choose our will over God’s will. As R.C. Sproul explains,
[W]e have to remember that acting according to conscience may sometimes be sin as well. If the conscience is misinformed, then we seek the reasons for this misinformation. Is it misinformed because the person has been negligent in studying the Word of God? “
A prime example of the way our conscience may lead both Christians and non-Christians to sin is when we violate, or advocate for the violation, of creation ordinances. Among the creation ordinances are the clear injunctions to preserve the sanctity of the marriage bond between one man and one woman, the necessity and propriety of godly labor, and the keeping of the Sabbath (Gen. 2:1-3, 15, 18-24). Our conscience bears witness to the reality and truth of these ordinances, and we are guilty of sin when we deny or break them
3. Conscience is to be subordinated to, and informed by, the revealed Word of God.
Conscience cannot be our final ethical authority because it is, unlike God’s revealed Word, changeable and fallible. Too often, though, Christians reverse the order and attempt to use their conscience in order to judge God and his Word. Many Christians claim, for example, “I could not worship a God who would say [a clear statement from the Bible]” or “I couldn’t believe in a God who would do [something the Bible claims God clearly told someone to do].” In making such statements they may be appealing to their conscience. But in such cases, their consciences are being informed by Satan, not by God. A person’s conscience may cause them to question a particular interpretations of Scripture. But our conscience can never legitimately judge a holy God or his holy Word. When we find ourselves thinking “Did God really say?” when Scripture clearly says he did, then we know it is the serpent and not the Savior speaking. (Gen. 3:1)
4. To willfully act against conscience is always a sin.
“The conscience of the Christian is obligated and bound only by what the Bible either commands or forbids,” says Sam Storms, “or by what may be legitimately deduced from an explicit biblical principle.” Our conscience should always be informed by what God has said. But what if we are mistaken about what the Bible commands or forbids? What if, for example, I believe that the Bible forbids any form of dancing — and yet I go square dancing ever Saturday night. Is that a sin? In that case, it would be a sin to square dance since I would be acting in a way in which I think is wrong. Imagine if I were at a neighbor’s house and see a wallet lying on the floor. Thinking it’s my neighbor’s wallet, I quickly take the cash from it. Later I realize that it wasn’t my neighbor’s wallet at all – it was my wallet, which had fallen out of my pocket. Would I still be guilty of theft, even though it was my own money I took? Yes, I would be since I had intended to do wrong. I had intended to steal – intended to violate God’s commands—even though I was mistaken about the object of my theft. As Paul says, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).” R.C. Sproul expands on that verse by saying:
If we do something that we think is sin, even if we are misinformed, we are guilty of sin. We are guilty of doing something we believe to be wrong. We act against our consciences. That is a very important principle. Luther was correct in saying, “It is neither right nor safe to act against conscience.
Sproul adds that the “conscience can excuse when it ought to accusing, and it also can accuse when it should be excusing.” While we should challenge misperceptions of what the Bible commands and forbids, we should be careful about encouraging people who are not yet mature in the faith or are underdeveloped in knowledge of Scripture from acting in ways that will violate their unformed or immature conscience.
5. Conscience can be suppressed by sin.
If we desire to develop a positive habit, we need to perform an action repeatedly, over time, until it becomes an automatic reflex. The same process occurs when we fall into sin. When we sin, we reject God’s authority. If we repeat our sin, over time, the rejection of God’s authority becomes an automatic reflex. Even unbelievers, who innately know God’s general revelation, such as his invisible attributes, the creation ordinances, and the Noahide Laws, begin to deny such knowledge because of sin. Paul says that by our unrighteousness we suppress the truth. They think they are wise, but their sin makes them foolish. Eventually, God gives them over to their debased minds. (Rom. 1:24) Believers are also in danger of falling into this destructive pattern. Sometimes our sin leads us to doubt the very reality of God. When we deny God’s authority we begin to doubt his existence so that we can salve our conscience about his judgment. (Not all doubt is caused by sin, but sin almost always leads to doubts.) Sin can cause our conscience to become “seared” and “corrupted” and wholly unreliable. (1 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:15) This is why to protect our conscience and keep it in working order we must preach the gospel to ourselves daily. We must call on the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, lead us to righteousness, and remind us of the judgment that we are spared by our union with Christ Jesus. Only then can our conscience serve its intended purpose of helping us conform to the values of our Creator.
Our Services This Week
Sunday Morning Worship @ 10:00 am
Sunday Evening Service @ 6:00 pm
(John MacArthur Video—The Doctrine of Absolute Inability)
Wednesday Prayer Meeting @ 6:00 pm
“I’m not totally depraved, am I?”
The answer from the Bible, and the testimony of universal human experience, is, “Yes, you really are.” But even if we have to accept that this is, in fact, the Bible’s teaching, it’s not obvious why we should like it. This is why some find it odd that Calvinists seem to love total depravity (the doctrine, not the condition) so much. Their question is, “What’s so great about the doctrine of total depravity?
I would offer three answers to this important question. For the doctrine of total depravity is not just something we learn so as to score high marks on some theology exam. Instead, total depravity is a doctrine to live by.
The first answer is that through the lens of a biblical understanding of ourselves, we come to appreciate the gospel truly. The only way to see the greatness of the gospel is to see how bad is our plight. Or to put it differently, unless we know what we are being saved from, we really don’t grasp the glory of our salvation.
People say the doctrines of grace are boring and irrelevant, and that we need to preach something else to keep their attention in church. But this could be said only by someone who does not sense the depth of his problem before God. Indeed, it is when we best see our lost condition that we most treasure the gospel. This is what the doctrine of total depravity tells us–that the only way someone like this, someone like you and me, is going to be made right with God is by radical grace. And when we combine an accurate appraisal of man’s total depravity with a biblical vision of the absolute holiness of God, we see the gospel in all its glory.
It is when we set God’s high and right demands next to our low and base performance, and when we compare His glorious being with our utter corruption, that we see the true problem of life. This is the great gulf between us and God, indeed an infinite one, as high as the heavens are above the earth. It is a problem that could be solved, a chasm that could be spanned, only on a hill far away, on an old rugged cross, “where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.
The second answer is that the doctrine of total depravity is vital to all true spirituality. At least this is what Isaiah 57:15 tells us: “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” Do you want the high and holy God to dwell in your heart? Then humble yourself before Him with the truth about yourself, and look in total reliance to His grace for your salvation.
This is what marked the difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector of whom Jesus spoke in Luke 18. The two men went into the temple to pray. The one thanked God for how good he had become, though admittedly with some help from the Lord. The other refused even to look upward, but beat his breast and cried out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). Jesus commented, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
Likewise, it was when the prodigal son realized what a swine he had become that he finally turned his heart to his father. His return to spiritual life was marked with the words, “I am no longer worthy” (Luke 15:19, 21). This is true spirituality, for it leads us home to God.
The third answer is that total depravity exalts the cross in our eyes and fills our hearts with a holy delight. I think about a pastoral encounter I had some time ago. A young man came to speak with me about his lack of spiritual joy. He began by informing me that his doctrine was impeccable. He fully subscribed to all five points of Calvinism. He accepted covenant theology and despised all “inferior” products. But, he went on, “I just don’t feel anything.” Then he asked, “Is that a problem?”
How do you respond to such a question? I answered that, so far as his testimony was true, he did not have impeccable doctrine, nor did he even subscribe to the truths of the doctrines of grace. Not really, anyway. In short, if in his entire Christian life he had never “felt anything,” as he insisted was the case, then the reality was that his Christian life had never really existed. In ministering to this young man, I did not start by expounding the doctrine of election; in such a situation, it would be silly to inquire, “Do you think you are elect?” Neither did I expound on God’s marvelous love. The question, “Don’t you know that God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?” can have no meaning to someone who has heard the gospel but felt nothing. Instead, I started where Paul started in Romans and where the doctrines of grace truly begin. I said, “Evidently, you do not realize what a wretched person you truly are, and what an offense your depravity is in the holy sight of God, if you can feel nothing in response to the atoning death of God’s Son.”
Without a quickened awareness of our depravity, we are Pharisees at best, though most of us are far worse. The best we can approach is a religious performance that brings glory to us and leaves us looking down on everybody else, just the way many Christians today look down on the rest of society, the Pharisee gazing down on the abortion doctor and the pervert.
Jesus knew Pharisees well, and He didn’t like them. Far better to Him was the sinful woman who burst in at the home of a Pharisee named Simon and threw herself at Jesus’ feet. Jesus said to him: “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair… . Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:44, 47).
Awe and gratitude drive the true Christian life and draw us joyfully to God’s grace in Christ. It is from the pit of our lost condition that we gaze up toward a God so high and perfect in His holiness. But from that vantage point we come to see fully at least one of those four dimensions of the cross that Paul would long to have us know: its height. The cross of Christ then rises up to span the full and vast distance that marks how far short we are of the glory of God, and that cross becomes exceedingly precious in our eyes.
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. (Isa. 12:1–2)”
This excerpt is adapted from What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? by Richard D. Phillips.