This sermon is number 2 in a series of 5
101 Christian Questions - Part 2
"The Bible and Personal Assurance"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2009 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Now last evening - if it's your first night, by the way, the folks here have been submitting questions over the last, it must be two months or so, in anticipation of these meetings; that I may come along and try to answer them. Over the last number of weeks or so there have been around 20-odd questions that have come in, and have all seemed to fit into four, reasonably, fit into four thematic categories. We dealt with about five or six, or maybe even seven, questions last night that all related to 'The Problem of Evil' - why God created Lucifer, if He knew what was going to happen; and why good things happen to bad people; and how you explain suffering and mass tragedies to unbelievers, why God should allow these things to happen; and the whole issue of God's will and the responsibility that we have as human beings, and so on and so forth. So if you're interested in that, or if one of those might have been your question and you weren't here last night, well hopefully you'll get the recordings.
Tomorrow night we're going to look at the 'Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage' issue, which a few questions were asked regarding. Friday evening we're going to look at issues relating to the afterlife, to heaven and hell and the soul. But tonight we're looking at a number of questions that are quite diverse in a sense, but they all sort of fall within the category of learning about the Bible, and how best to learn the Bible, and personal assurance issues. So you could put it under the heading, 'Learning The Bible, And Personal Assurance'.
I'll give you the questions, and then we'll launch into them. First of all: what is the best way to learn the Bible? A very good question. Then secondly, it follows on well from that, a specific question: why is there no mention of dinosaurs in the Bible, and what happened to them? I'm not that old to remember, but some people might think I'm a dinosaur! But we'll try our best to answer that one. The third question: please give the explanation of four terms - apostate, backslider, carnal Christian, and false convert. The person asking that question continued by saying: 'It concerns me that I was given an assurance that I never had. Are we causing people to make false professions?'. Then a fourth and final question for tonight is from a person who says: 'I can't sense anything (feelings) in the Christian life', but there is no sin apparent or obvious to them in their life; 'how do you work through this?'. And they end the question by talking about 'dry periods', dry periods that we experience in our Christian life.
So there's quite a lot to get through tonight, and I hope I didn't keep you too long last evening - but you asked the questions, so it's your fault if you're kept too long this evening! So let's launch into the first one tonight: what is the best way to learn the Bible? Now, we're going to cover considerable ground to answer this, but I was thinking to myself - I was really put on the spot to answer that question, and I think the best answer that I could give is this: the best way to learn the Bible (whatever that means, whether the person meant memorising it or learning facts or not), the best way to learn the Bible is to learn it spiritually. Now you might say: 'What do you mean?' - or does that sound a bit idealistic? Well, I suppose if I was to say 'to learn it spiritually', I would be talking about learning it experientially, as opposed to merely intellectually.
Now, let me really spell it out: the best way to learn the Bible is with a desire to know God. Now that is vital, and it is something, I think, that, sadly, maybe not most, but a lot of people who know the Bible have never really discovered. The motivation we ought to have to learn God's word, whatever that means, is to know God. The simple reason for that is: this book is the revelation of Almighty God, both Old and New Testaments, that's exactly what it is. The Bible reveals God to us. So, as the hymn writer put it, 'Beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee Lord', and we must always be motivated - in our study and dissection of the word of God - we must always be motivated with a desire to know God better, and have God revealed to us more. So often I feel that sometimes our Bible study and our Bible knowledge can be little more than idolatry. Paul warned us that knowledge puffs up, knowledge on its own.
Now, that being said, it's obvious if you're going to know God through the Bible, you've got to read the Bible. It has to be said that, from the little pastoral experience that I have had, time after time as I've counselled people who've been struggling for one reason or another, but particularly struggling in areas of victory over temptation and so on, I learned very quickly to ask people: 'Are you reading your Bible?'. You will find, nine times out of ten perhaps, that they aren't reading their Bible. It's like not eating your breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and expecting to have physical energy - if you don't feed on the word of God, man shall not live by bread alone, you will not have spiritual energy. So it is vital that we read God's word.
Now, God does not prescribe how much we read. Some people find it easiest by three chapters a day, reading through the Bible in a year. Some people read it in two years, some people take longer. It doesn't really matter, as long as you read as much as you can. I think it's good to systematically read God's word, but here's a danger: sometimes people who try to read the Bible in a year - and I would encourage you to do that, and I try and do it every year - but sometimes they get caught up in reading for reading's sake. What I mean by that is: you get a feel-good factor and a buzz out of reading your three chapters for the day, even though you didn't understand a word of it! You must guard against that. It would be better that you read three or four verses and understood them and imbibed them, than read three or four chapters and couldn't make head nor tail of it.
So that's important, but we must, ultimately, read God's word. But if you are going to learn the Bible, you've got to move on from reading to study. Now, when I say 'study', it doesn't mean you have to enrol in Bible College or University - but just whatever capacity you can do it at, study God's word. Now there are various ways of studying God's word, and I'm not going to go into them all tonight - but, for instance, you could study a biblical book. It's always good to see chapters and verses in their context. You could study just a chapter, say John chapter 3, or John chapter 14. You could study a theme, and take a theological theme throughout the word of God and follow it through with a concordance or some kind of thematic volume.
One thing I would say to you: however you choose to study the Bible, in the 21st century you have no excuse! Maybe you don't have a vast theological library at home. Well, let me tell you, if you have the Internet - you need to be very careful with the Internet, of course - but if you have the Internet, you have a vast resource of biblical helps and aids to Bible study that previous generations could never have imagined - and most of it is free. There is no excuse for any of us for not knowing more about God's word. I have to say, without doing myself out of a job for the next couple of nights, that most of the answers to the questions you have been asking probably could have been found out with an hour or two of just your own private study - whether from Ards Evangelical Bookshop, or from even the Internet. You have to be very careful and discerning what you find on the Internet and what you read, and maybe that's why God ordains certain people to teach and to have that discernment - but nevertheless, there are so many resources out there for us to study, whatever our ability might be.
After we read God's word and study God's word in whatever way, it's then important, and it's vital that you move on to meditating upon God's word. Now that is not sitting in the lotus position, humming - which is how we understand meditation because of Eastern mysticism that has infiltrated our Western society. Meditation in Scripture is simply thinking about God's word, musing about the truth of God's word. So you read it, you study it, and then you start to mull over - we would say - someone has used the expression: 'It's like chewing the cud', you chew it over and over again. What happens is, just like chewing food, that resource becomes assimilated with your being. So, you become whatever you eat, basically, and it's the same in the spiritual realm - whatever you meditate on in the scriptures, it becomes part of you. So it is vital to meditate on God's word.
But not only to learn God's Word must you read it, study it, and meditate upon it - but perhaps the person asking the question was thinking about memorising it. Well, you can and you should memorise God's word. Psalm 119 says: 'How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!'. So, hiding God's word in our hearts, particularly by memorisation, is a good way. Some people use memorisation schemes - you can even get those to download for free off the Internet, or you can buy them in your local Christian bookshop and carry around the little cards. When you're in the dentist or have a free half-hour at lunch break, you can look over them and try to memorise them. I personally don't use any schemes like that, I find - and I think you will find too - that if you read God's word, and you study God's word , and you meditate on God's word, you will end up indirectly memorising God's word. That's the way I like it, because it's the easiest one!
To go back to where I started, before mentioning reading, studying, memorising and meditating - the Christian life must be more than something intellectual and something mental. It must be practical. The Christian life is to be lived, rather than learned. It is more than knowledge of the word of God, it must be obedience to the word of God. Mark Twain, who wasn't a Christian, said: 'It's not what I don't understand about the Bible that bothers me, it's what I do understand'. What he was inferring there was, there is a great deal about the Bible that he understood he should obey, and it troubled him. You know, we often rack our brains about 'What God's will for my life?', when probably 90% of God's will for any of our lives, generally speaking, is found in God's word. We must not just know it, but obey it. Ultimately, if we are to know God - and that is God's great desire for us, He wants to know and be known by us. In fact, if you look at John 17, the way the Lord Jesus Christ defines salvation is very interesting. Now we talk about forgiveness of sins, and going to heaven when you die - and of course all those things are included - but the Lord Jesus says: 'This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent'. The essence of eternal life is a relationship with the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - to get to know God and allow Him to know us. Of course He knows us already, but experientially to open ourselves to Him.
If that is going to happen, and we know God through the word, and obey God through our knowledge of the word; there's got to be something more than mere reading, mere study, mere meditation, and mere memorisation. Here is the missing piece: the Holy Spirit must be our Teacher. Turn with me for a moment to John chapter 16, for here the Lord Jesus Christ taught this to His disciples. John 16 and verse 13 - verse 12 says: 'I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come' - He will guide you into all truth. There are other passages that describe how He would instruct, how He would direct, how He would teach.
Now, if you go to 1 John for a moment, by the same author incidentally, and chapter 2 of 1 John - there's a bit of debate going on in the church that John was writing to here, and some people were saying that they were especially anointed, uniquely anointed, to preach the word of God and have the true interpretation of the word of God; and other people, other believers had to accept it because they were the 'chosen ones'. But John critiques this in verse 27 of 1 John 2 by saying: 'But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you', in other words you have got the Holy Spirit, 'and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him'. So basically what John is saying is: every believer who is born again has the gift of the Holy Spirit, and therefore you don't need any special anointed person to teach you. Now that is not disregarding people that are chosen of God with the gift of teaching and preaching and so on, but what John is saying is: they are not the only ones who have a monopoly on the truth. The Holy Spirit is the One who can teach all of us and lead us into all truth, though some may be more especially gifted than others.
Now this is vital, because I feel - particularly in conservative evangelicalism - that we've become obsessed with knowledge. Knowledge is vitally important, we cannot know God unless we truly grapple with His revelation in the scriptures. But if we stop there, we're no better than the Pharisees! The Pharisees, aren't they called 'lawyers' in the Bible? That means they were experts in the law, and the law was not what you go to the bar in Queens University to study, but the law in those days in Israel was the law of God, the Old Testament scriptures, the Torah. They were experts, they knew it better than you or I do - and yet they did not know God. Experts in the Word, but they did not know God! In fact, the Lord Jesus had to say to them, you remember, in John chapter 5: 'You search the Scriptures', and that's what they did day by day, 'for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me'. Basically what the Lord was saying was: 'You guys spend morning, noon, and night in the scriptures, and you're experts in the scriptures, and yet you've missed the whole point of the scriptures! Me!'. Do you understand?
They knew their Bibles, but they didn't know their God. Let me say to you that that is a mistake that many of us can make. The Pharisees had the law, but they did not have the Spirit. Now listen: what's the best way to learn the Bible? Well, yes, study and read it, of course, study and meditate on it, memorise and so on and so forth - do your best that you can. But what difference is there between you and someone doing postgraduate studies and a Ph.D. in university - what difference is there? I mean, anybody can take any book and study it and know it. The difference comes because of the spiritual understanding, and the spiritual and experiential learning of the word of God. Now, if you want that, you must, as a believer, be filled by the Holy Spirit. You must surrender yourself to the Holy Spirit, and you must open yourself up to the instruction of the Holy Spirit in spiritual truth matters. In other words, when you come to the Bible, do not be dependent on Warren Weirsbe, do not be dependent on John MacArthur, do not be dependent on John Calvin, on Charles Ryrie, do not be dependent on John Nelson Darby. All these are godly, good men, but we must be dependent on the Holy Spirit.
Now, let me give you an illustration before I finish this question. I read a book several summers ago by Ron Boyd MacMillan, who is a travelling sort of missionary for Open Doors and a journalist. He relays this story, he says: 'I once knew a Chinese Evangelist to whom a mission had given 5000 Bibles to distribute. The mission was dismayed to discover that after two years very few Bibles had been distributed. They began to wonder if he was selling them off on the black market'. Ron Boyd MacMillan says: 'I was called in to mediate and, in a tense meeting, this was the reason the Evangelist gave for not distributing the Bibles at a faster rate'. I'm quoting him: 'I have discovered', the Evangelist said, 'that it is dangerous to learn truth at a rate faster than we can practise it'. Now, you think about that for a moment. He said: 'I have learned that it is dangerous to learn truth at a rate faster than we can practise it'. Ron Boyd MacMillan goes on to say: 'This man began his ministry in the 1980s when Bibles were extremely scarce in China. Travelling around revival provinces he found that each week roughly 100 people would profess faith. Being an itinerant preacher, he could not linger to disciple them, he had to keep on moving because the police were tracking him. His dilemma was: 'I have no Bibles to give to these new converts, but I must leave them something so they can keep on growing in God''. So he devised a unique method of self-discipleship.
Now follow me: out of 100 converts he picked five people at random, and said: 'You are each going to lead a weekly group of 20 people'. He went down to a stream and picked out five smooth stones. On each stone he chiselled a verse of Scripture. He gave each one a stone, and said: 'Each week give a different member the stone, let them live with this verse on the stone, think about it, pray about it, take it into the fields as they farm, put it next to their rice bowl as they eat, put it under their pillow as they sleep, all the time asking God to speak through these words. Then the next week, when you all come together, you're to listen to what God has told them about the verse on this stone. As long as the person holds the stone, they cannot be interrupted, after they release it you may extend the discussion to others. After everyone has spent a week with the stone verse, swap the stone with another group and do the same again'.
He promised to return in six months, though in reality it was often a couple of years, and he frankly expected many of the converts to have fallen away - but he was astonished to discover that nearly everyone was going on in the faith. He felt he had stumbled onto a Bible truth about discipleship, and that is why, he was explaining to this group of missionary representatives, that he did not give a Bible to the new converts, but at first required them for a time to use the five stone method. This is what he said: 'I don't want them to encounter too much truth too fast, otherwise they will get into the bad habit of never using what they know' - the bad habit of never using what they know! Boy, does that condemn evangelical Christians in Ulster, all of us! Because we know so much, and yet the secret of truly learning the Bible is not what we know, but what we experience and what we obey.
Now, I'm not saying that we don't give Bibles to people, and I'm not saying that we don't revel in the knowledge that God has given us and the many resources that we've already been talking about - but what we must make sure is that our motivation is to know God, and our motivation is to obey what we do know. Here's a principle of knowledge, and I didn't mean to say this tonight, but if God reveals something to you and you do not obey it, that is the point at which you will stop - God won't reveal anything worthwhile to you again. What is the best way to learn the Bible? I hope that has answered it in some measure for whoever it was that asked it.
Second question: why is there no mention of dinosaurs in the Bible, what happens to them? Well, you may or may not be pleased to know that dinosaur-like creatures are mentioned in the Bible. The Bible uses an ancient term for one of them, or perhaps a group of them, 'behemoth'. This is a word that we find in the book of Job. We were in the book of Job, you remember, last night for a while. 'Behemoth' simply means, 'a kingly, gigantic beast', and it's the closest description we have to a dinosaur-like creature in the Bible. So I want you to turn with me please to Job chapter 40 verse 15. You remember that Job, we believe, is the first book written in the Bible. Job 40 verse 15: 'Look now at the behemoth, which I made along with you; He eats grass like an ox. See now, his strength is in his hips, And his power is in his stomach muscles. He moves his tail like a cedar; The sinews of his thighs are tightly knit. His bones are like beams of bronze, His ribs like bars of iron. He is the first of the ways of God; Only He', that is, only God, 'who made him can bring near His sword'.
So, summarising all that, basically 'behemoth' is being described here as a creature who is not afraid. He has no need to be afraid because he's huge! He's mighty, his tail is described as being so long and strong that God here compares his tail to the cedars - and the cedars of Lebanon were one of the largest group of trees and most spectacular tree in the ancient world. So the description here seems to be a dinosaur-like creature. Now, when we come to chapter 41, we have an encounter with another creature that might be dinosaur-like, 'Leviathan'. Verses 1 and 2 of chapter 41 read, God's speaking to Job: 'Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook, Or snare his tongue with a line which you lower? Can you put a reed through his nose, Or pierce his jaw with a hook?'. If you look down to verse 33 - and, by the way, all this passage describes the magnificence and strength of this sea creature, and it would be good for you to read this when you go home, if it doesn't give you nightmares! Verse 33: 'On earth there is nothing like him, which is made without fear'.
So, again, Leviathan, like behemoth, seems to be a description of probably the greatest creature in the sea. But we read from verses 1 and 2 that, unlike a crocodile, or a fish, or even a whale, it is useless for a man to try and catch Leviathan with hooks or harpoons. Well, what is it? Well, it's described as large in size, strong in its jaws. If you read this passage you will see that it has great teeth, it has fast swimming ability, and its back is protected, and on the back and on the underside its body is protected by very, very thick skin. So all these descriptions give us clues that the Leviathan may be a dinosaur-like sea reptile, something like a 'plesiosaur', if you know what that is - it's a bit like a dinosaur.
Now, obviously these creatures have become extinct - unless the Loch Ness monster does exist, I don't know whether you're a believer in that or not! But some of these creatures may well have been alive in David's day. If you go home and read Psalm 104 and verse 26, David mentions Leviathan, and probably citing its whereabouts at that time in the Mediterranean Sea - or he may have been talking of folklore, we don't know. But it's quite possible that some of these great creatures still exist in our world undiscovered - but that's another subject. 'What happened to dinosaurs in general, and to most of these creatures?', is a question that this person is asking. The Bible might refer to them in Leviathan and behemoth, but what happened to them?
Well, in my research I found out - brief that it was - that there are at least 55 different theories suggesting what happened to the dinosaurs, and all of them have been thrown out for one problem or another. For instance, certain theories that try to describe why the large dinosaurs or large animals disappeared, do not often explain the extinction of the small animals that have disappeared, or sea creatures for that matter - not on land, but in the oceans. A lot of scientists are speculating but, whatever happened to dinosaurs, scientists seem to agree that whatever caused them to become extinct was something that affected the whole world. Now, the Bible speaks of a cataclysmic event that affected the whole world. In fact, a flood in Noah's day that covered the entire earth. Of course, as we read the account there in Genesis we see that this is the greatest disaster that has ever been in history. So great was the destruction that every human being died, and every animal, millions of animals and plants, died with the human beings. This is one explanation of marine fossils, many fossils that have been found across the face of the earth - mainly, I think, 95% of them being marine creatures, fish and so on - a flood would explain it.
But what happened to the dinosaurs? Well, most of the dinosaurs were probably destroyed in the flood. But we believe that Noah took onto the Ark animals, two-by-two and seven-by-seven, depending on whether they were clean or unclean animals. We believe that, if dinosaurs were on the Earth at that time, that sample creatures, dinosaurs - and dinosaurs aren't all huge by the way - would have been taken onto the Ark; and would have come off the Ark, consequently, to inhabit the new earth. But of course dinosaurs became extinct somewhere along the way, and whether or not the flood changed the Earth to such an extent that the post-flood world had a lack of food for dinosaurs, or there were diseases that caused the death of the dinosaurs, or perhaps man's activity may have caused these types of animals to become extinct - we don't know, but for one reason or another dinosaurs, like many other creatures, died out.
That's as far as I can go for you. Dinosaurs may well be mentioned in the Bible, the Bible may have an explanation why the dinosaurs mostly were wiped out - that being the flood and the conditions that the flood brought to the Earth after the flood - but we don't know much more than that.
Third question: an explanation of four terms, 'apostate', 'backslider', 'carnal Christian', and 'false convert'. The person, of course, ends by saying: 'It concerns me that I was given an assurance that I never had, are we causing people to make false professions?'. Well, let's deal with each of these one at a time: backslider. Well, if you were to get a concordance, you would find out pretty quickly that 'backslider' is really an Old Testament word. I stand to be corrected, but I don't think it appears, at least in the English translations, in the New Testament. But nevertheless, we have adopted the term to describe someone sliding back from their true Christian profession. We generally use the expression, rightly or wrongly, to describe a person who is genuinely converted, born-again, but they fall into sin - the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Now, I would always encourage the backslider to consider whether they were ever a 'front slider' in the first place. Particularly in Northern Ireland, there's a lot of people running around, and they claim to be a backslider, and they say: 'Well, I tried that, and it didn't work for me, but it maybe works for other people' - and you really need to question whether people really had tasted and seen that the Lord is good. But nevertheless, I think the description of what a backslider is can be found in the New Testament. For instance, you see Peter denying the Lord Jesus Christ. You read of Demas, Paul said Demas forsook him in his missionary endeavours, having loved this present world. It was getting too hot for Demas, for one reason or another, and the bright lights of the world seemed more attractive, and he forsook Paul and Paul's cause to join the world - that could be described, I suppose, as backsliding.
So that's what a backslider is, it's not a very biblical term in the New Testament sense perhaps. What's an apostate? Well, an apostate is a person who appears initially to be a true Christian, but then they begin to deny the faith that they previously professed - perhaps even to the point of vehemently opposing that faith in Christ. Though they apparently began as a true Christian, by their opposition and denial of the faith they prove that, in the beginning, they were never a true believer in the first place. Let me give you examples, or at least descriptions of this. If you were to turn with me to 1 John chapter 2 please, verse 19 - I think this is an apt description of the state of an apostate - John is describing the deception that will be in the last hours, so it's very applicable for us today. He says in verse 19 of 1 John 2: 'They went out from us', so they were once numbered among God's people, at least in an outward capacity they looked to be among the church, 'but they were not of us', so they weren't really Christians, but they were among Christians and professed to be Christians, 'for if they had been of us', if they were truly Christians, 'they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us'.
Now that's an apt description of an apostate, someone who walks away - it literally means 'to stand off far' - from truth. Now, turn with me to Acts chapter 20, because Paul, when he was departing from the Ephesian elders, he warns them that apostates would arise. Acts 20 verses 29 and 30, Paul says: 'For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock', these apostates were never sheep. They are wolves in sheep's clothing, but they were never sheep - sheep don't metamorphose into wolves. 'For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also', and here's an interesting point, 'from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves'.
So not only will these people come in from outside, but from among those who profess to be God's people these apostates will arise. Now, the Lord Jesus was probably referring to this in Matthew chapter 7, if you turn to the Sermon on the Mount please, Matthew chapter 7. In Matthew chapter 7, verses 15 through to 19, the Lord Jesus describes false prophets, and then He goes on to say in verse 21 in that same context: 'Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven'. So not everybody running around calling themselves Christians are true Christians, 'but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders', that's literally 'miracles', 'in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!''.
Now I want you to grasp this: here are people who are prophesying, who are casting out demons, who are doing miracles in the name of Christ, and calling themselves Christians, and calling Jesus 'Lord' - and yet Jesus said: 'I never knew you'. Not, 'There came a time when you sort of grew cold and backslid', He says, 'I never knew you'. That's remarkable, isn't it? Yet that's a good description of an apostate. Now, if you want to know more about what an apostate is, a description anyway, 1 Timothy 4 would be a good passage to read, and 2 Peter 2, and the whole book of Jude - which is only one chapter of course - describes very graphically how to recognise false teachers and apostates. Those who initially appeared to be true Christians, but turned away from the truth and deny some one aspect of the truth, fundamental truth, or perhaps the whole faith in its entirety.
So that's a backslider, a person we have come to describe - a person who is truly a believer but falls into sin - as a backslider. An apostate is someone who wasn't there even in the beginning, but people thought were there, and they might have thought they were there - but the evidence of their false profession is in the fact that they have denied the faith in its entirety, or in one particular fundamental aspect. Now, what is a carnal Christian? Some people don't even believe that there is such a thing as a carnal Christian, which baffles me because, if you turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 3, you will see that Paul talks about carnal Christians.
First Corinthians chapter 3 verse 1: 'And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, 'I am of Paul', and another, 'I am of Apollos', are you not carnal?'. So there it is, if you didn't believe in carnal Christians, there is the proof. When you go to chapter 5 and verse 5 you begin to see what some of these carnal Christians were actually capable of getting up to. We read of a man who was committing immorality with his stepmother in the church - Paul said it was a form of fornication and immorality that wouldn't even be talked about among the Gentiles. That's how carnal a Christian can be! Black-and-white.
In verse 5, Paul's instruction regarding this man was: 'Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh', and that probably means for his own death, 'that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus'. Paul was asking the Corinthians to administer church discipline toward this man for the testimony of the church, that this man probably would be taken in death, that his spirit might be saved. So this man was saved, this man committing this sin - and, in fact, we haven't got time to look at it, but in 2 Corinthians this man repents, and Paul exhorts the Corinthians to restore him, and to love him, and to accept him because of his contrition. He's a believer!
Christians can be carnal, and there is such a thing as someone who is born again but not living in the power of the Spirit. That's what a carnal Christian is. They don't have to be committing immorality, they can be born again and just living in the realm of the flesh, walking in the flesh, not living by the power of the Spirit. Galatians says that if you walk in the flesh, you will fulfil the lusts of the flesh. The only way not to fulfil the lusts of the flesh is to walk in the Spirit. I have to be convinced that most professing Christians do not fit into this carnal category, otherwise most of them are living Spirit-filled lives - and I think things would be a wee bit different if that were the case.
Carnal Christians, truly born-again but they have never - well, it's their right in Christ, and it's their blood-bought possession to live a Spirit-filled, victorious life - but they have never entered into it, and have been content to live a sub-normal Christian experience in the flesh. You know, you can do good things in the flesh, legalistic people live in the flesh, Pharisees live according to the flesh - they do good things by the power of the flesh and not by the power of the Spirit. But anyway, that's another subject!
The backslider, the apostate, carnal Christian, and then the false Christian. Turn with me, you're still in Corinthians I hope, to chapter 6 - because this is an interesting one - and verse 9. Paul reminds the same group of people: 'Do you not know', verse 9 of 1 Corinthians 6, 'Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God'. Now, Paul is doing two things here I think: for the true believers who might be compromising with immorality, he sends this shot across their bow in verse 9, 'Do you not know that the unrighteous, people who live unrighteously, will not inherit the kingdom of God?'. So those compromising with immorality who are genuinely saved, Paul wants to give them a wake-up call, and he wants them to know that it's people who are not going to heaven but going to hell that live like that!
For those people, he says to them in verse 11: 'Such were some of you', this is the life that God has delivered you from and made you free to be victorious over through the blood of the cross and the resurrection, 'but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God'. So to those compromising with immorality, this is a warning - true believers who are compromising - but equally it's a direct warning to counterfeit Christians whose lives are characterised by these descriptions. Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, sodomites, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners - they will not inherit the kingdom of God.
So there's a difference here, I think, between a true believer who is compromising in these areas - they need to be warned that people who go to hell live like that! If you're truly saved, you've been washed from that, you've been delivered, there is no reason why you should live on like that. But equally so, if your life has been characterised by these things, it may well be that you're a counterfeit Christian and you need to be warned that such will not inherit the kingdom of God. Now, that's a hard one to call. Distinguishing the backslidden believer from the counterfeit Christian is not easy, and I think this passage proves it in a sense. The individual themselves may or may not know that they are a counterfeit Christian - and that's frightening. But God knows, and God will uncover the secret things. In Matthew chapter 13 is a very interesting verse that tells me I'm not required to go around the whole country trying to search out the counterfeit from the genuine, and just to preach the word and let the Holy Spirit do His job - but there is a day coming, Matthew 13, I'll just quote it to you, verse 30, speaking of the wheat and tares, which look very similar but they're very different. The wheat speaks of genuine believers in the world, and the tares speak of false professors, I think. The devil sows them in the world, and it's hard to tell the difference at times between the counterfeit and the genuine - that's what's inferred in the parable, but Jesus says: 'Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, 'First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn''.
In other words, one day - it's hard to tell now, but it's not our job to tell - but one day God will weed out the tares from the wheat. Just you make sure you're among the wheat. Second Timothy chapter 2 and verse 19 says: 'Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: 'The Lord knows those who are His', and, 'Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity''. The Lord knows them that are His, and let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
Now, that very aptly leads me to the second aspect to the person's question. They said: 'It concerns me that I was given an assurance that I never had, are we causing people to make false professions?'. Now, I hope you have your assurance now - if you haven't, please talk to me afterwards if you're here. We can, we can know that we are saved - that's an important thing to establish. When you say, 'It concerns me that I was given an assurance that I didn't have', you need to know that an assurance can be ours and should be ours if we are truly trusting in Christ. The whole Epistle of 1 John, it's purpose for being written is declared in chapter 5 verse 13 - John says: 'These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God'.
Now listen very carefully: if you have true repentant faith in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation - that means, repentance is changing your mind about sin; realising that by God's law, His holy standard, you have fallen short and you're a sinner and you're condemned; and changing your mind about the sin that is destroying you and the selfishness that will eventually damn you; and realising that you need a Saviour; and trusting alone in Christ and His death and resurrection for your salvation - you by doing that, genuinely repenting and trusting in Christ, can know, can know for sure that you are saved. That being said, God is the only One who can give assurance - both objectively and subjectively. What does that mean? Well, God in His word says that if you repent and believe you will be saved. So it's God giving the assurance, He's the only One who can do that. This person by their question is inferring that we are causing people to make false professions by giving them false assurance, and this person says that they were given an assurance that they didn't have - well, listen, God is the only One who can give objective assurance, because He promises that if you repent and believe you will be saved. The question begs to you is: can you believe Him, and will you believe Him? That's maybe the bigger issue, and that could be the issue of why you don't have genuine assurance, if you have repented and supposedly believed - but 'believed' means that you accept Him, what He says.
Not only is God the only One who gives objective assurance, He's the only one who gives subjective assurance. What I mean by that is: He gives the witness of the Holy Spirit with our spirit that we are the children of God. It is also manifest in our loving obedience to Him. Now that does not mean that we live perfect lives, for none of us do - but there are desires for us to live godly lives, and that is a subjective witness to our being saved that will give assurance; when you're going on with God and maturing and growing. Now that being said, this person says it concerns them that they were given assurance when they did not have it. Only God can give it objectively and subjectively, but we may pronounce conditional assurance, we may do that in our preaching - and this is how I do it regularly, I've done it already tonight. If you truly repent and believe, you will be saved - what I'm doing is, in preaching, giving conditional assurance: 'If'. I can't say to you: 'You are saved, and you should be assured of it' - I can't say that, only God can do that for you. But I can pronounce that if you repent and believe, you will be saved. So I can pronounce it, we all can pronounce it, but only God can impart it! Have you got it? Objectively, for the promise of His word that He gives to all who will repent and believe - and you must believe it - and subjectively by the witness of His Spirit, and by a life of loving obedience to Him. But the bottom line is: we must accept it by faith. Salvation and assurance come by faith in Christ. Now, I hope that answers all aspects to that person's question.
The final question, number four - and it follows on well from that last one - a person who says: 'I can't sense anything (feelings) in the Christian life, but there is no sin apparent in my life. How do you work through these dry periods?'. Now let me say to you that Christianity is a life based on faith, we've already established that. It's based on faith and not feelings. Not that feelings aren't important, they are important, and emotions were created by God, and emotions play a vital role in the Christian life. Take peace and joy, for instance, those can be sensed, and our feelings are involved in them - but we must understand that, on their own, feelings and emotions change on their own. Feelings and emotions are fickle:
'Feelings come and feelings go, and feelings are deceiving -
My warrant is the word of God, none else is worth believing!'.
Now here is the key to understanding our emotions and our feelings: our feelings are determined by other factors. Now if you're writing anything down, and you're interested in this, write that down: our feelings are determined by other factors. Example: bad feelings come to our hearts when we allow circumstances or negative thoughts to produce those wrong feelings in us. Now we can't really directly control our feelings, but there are certain things that indirectly affect our feelings: circumstances, negative thoughts. So we're getting a clue as to how we can dictate to feelings: our thoughts will dictate our feelings. So basically, if you can control your mind, you can control your emotions. Now, the New Testament talks about the Christian having the right, through the blood of Jesus, to a renewed mind - Romans chapter 12 verses 1 and 2, the renewing of your mind is mentioned. Now basically what that means is that we can be delivered from wrong, sinful and negative thoughts - and those are the thoughts that might be creating emotions in our heart, the emotions that seem uncontrollable to us, but we don't realise that they are intrinsically linked with the thoughts that we are allowing into our mind.
Now listen carefully to what I'm saying: the Bible teaches the New Testament Christian that you can control your mind, and indeed it is your right in Christ to control your mind. Let me show you this, Philippians chapter 4 - and we're almost finished - Philippians chapter 4 and verse 6 please: 'Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God', don't worry about anything, but pray about everything, 'and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus'. Now, here you have your thoughts, your cares are being turned into prayers - and what happens? The peace of God comes. But here's another clue to this, verse 8: 'Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; meditate on these things'.
Do you understand? If you think about bad things all the time, and you just let garbage continually come into your mind, you will have bad feelings and you certainly won't feel the joy, peace, and the love of the Lord in your life. Let me illustrate it like this, this is what the Christian experience is like: you imagine a kiddies railway set. There's a steam engine and two carriages behind, OK? The steam engine, Christian-wise, is the facts of the Gospel and the truth of God, OK? That's the steam engine pulling everything along. The first carriage is faith, faith in the facts. The second carriage is feeling, OK? So you've got the facts, the truth of God's word; then you've got faith in the facts; and then coming behind faith and the facts are the feelings. Now what everybody wants, it seems, is for the feelings to come immediately behind the facts - but that's not the way it works. What you need to do is believe and accept the truth of God, and the feelings will come behind. Accept the facts, and dwell on the facts, don't dwell on your feelings, and the feelings will look after themselves. Your focus has to be on the facts and accepting the facts by faith, and then the feelings will come.
As Isaiah 26 and verse 3 says: 'You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You'. Now listen carefully, whoever asked the question - but I'm sure it applies to everybody - if the feelings become our primary goal and focus, and sole motivation, we will never become a mature Christian. You will never become a mature Christian if feelings become your prime focus and goal. Let me illustrate it to you like this: it's like a child who plants a little seed in nursery school. The day after they plant the seed they start digging it up to see if it's growing, and the second day they start digging it up to see if it's growing - they do that every day, and lo and behold the seed never grows! If you continually focus on your emotions, focusing on your feelings, you will be frustrated, you will be disappointed - but ironically, if you want more sustained good feelings, joy, peace, etc, that are spiritually enhanced of course, it is achieved through faith in the facts. If you concentrate and focus on faith in the facts, the feelings will take care of themselves.
Now here it is put very practically: focus on God, focus on God's great character, God's great attributes, focus on God's promises, focus on God's word - and the feelings, I guarantee it, will come. Now, how do you work through this if the feelings aren't there and you've got a dry period, as our person has asked? Well, we all get dry periods - but there are two portions of Scripture with which I will finish which help me. We'll only take one of them for time's sake, Lamentations 3 I'll just mention: 'God's mercies are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness'. There it says that it's good for us to wait and hope in God. Sometimes there are times when God allows us to wait and hope in Him, that we might learn. It's teaching us something, we might never know what it is.
The second portion is Isaiah 64 please, and this is an important one if you ever find yourself in a dry period - Isaiah 64 verses 3 and 4, Isaiah says, praying to the Lord: 'When You did awesome things for which we did not look, You came down, The mountains shook at Your presence. For since the beginning of the world Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, Nor has the eye seen any God besides You, Who acts for the one', and this is the part I want you to notice, 'Who acts for the one who waits for Him'. Now I'm led to believe that that phrase 'waits for Him' has a pictorial affinity with a word that means 'to entrench'. So you could read it like this perhaps: 'God acts for the one who entrenches himself in Him'.
If you find yourself in a dry period, the best thing to do is dig yourself into God and wait. This verse says that if you dig yourself into the character, and the person, and the promises, and the attributes, and the word of God; God will work for the man or the woman who waits like that on Him. That's it, may God bless His word and the answers to these questions to your heart.
Let us pray, and bow our heads together. Father, we thank You. We have trusted that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth, and we're not claiming that we have an answer to everything - we don't, far from it. Lord, one day we probably will find out that we were wrong on a lot of things, but we thank You that the main things are very clear in Your word. We thank You that we can stake our very lives upon them. Even that portion that we read about false prophets, the Lord Jesus went on to say that there was a foolish man and a wise man, and the wise man built his house on the firm foundation. We believe that that was the Word and the truth of God, and who Jesus Christ is. When the storms came, whether they were storms of judgement or storms in life, the wise man's house stood firm. Lord, help us all to have our lives built firmly on the Rock that is Christ, and be sure of our salvation, and be working out the salvation that You have worked into us - and not only have the objective word of God and faith in it, but have the witness of the Spirit in our hearts, and lives of loving obedience that testify to the life of God in us. Lord, help any who are struggling through dry periods tonight. I know it's not easy, I've had many of them - but, Lord, we thank You that if we entrench ourselves in You, though we are faithless, You remain faithful for You cannot deny Yourself. Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness to us even tonight. May You take us to our homes with Your blessing and protection until tomorrow evening, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered in the Ards Evangelical Church, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the second recording in his '101 Christian Questions' series, entitled "The Bible and Personal Assurance" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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