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For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the LORD behold the earth; To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death; Ps. 102:19-20
âTomorrow I will be a better person.â
How many times have you told yourself that? You may have gone to therapists. You have gone to the meetings. You may even have tried âreligionâ. But you still find that your conscience accuses you. At night you lie on your bed unable to sleep as your mind plays your failures over and over again. You are told that you are basically a good person. Perhaps you have addictions â sex, drugs, alcohol. Perhaps you just canât control your urges or your temper. You lash out at your loved ones. You stay up at night browsing porn sites until early morning. No matter what you do to stop, you still find yourself doing the same things. You have seen the religious experts. They may have told you to try harder. âFind an accountability partnerâ, you are told. If you would just quit sinning and if you had better influences around you, you could overcome this. But long and cruel experience has told you otherwise. None of your good intentions can break down the walls of your prison. Is there any hope? You have tried everything. Promises have been made and broken. You have been promised that this time it will be different. But it isnât. The Bible tells us what the problem is. The human race is in bondage to sin. The reason that you canât keep your promises is that you are enslaved; you are a prisoner in the prison of your own making. You cannot break free. What you need is for someone to break down the walls of your prison and deliver you. But the only one that can do that is God Himself. Only the Creator of heaven and earth can set you free. But now there is a problem. The Creator of heaven and earth has placed you under the death penalty â and He cannot lie. He said, âThe soul that sins shall dieâ. You have sinned. âBut,â you say, âI have had some lapses in judgment, but I am really not all that bad.â But God doesnât grade on a curve. God has told us very clearly what sin is. It is even clearer than the speed limit sign posted on the highways. Donât steal. Donât kill. Donât lie. Donât commit adulteryâŚ âBut I havenât done these things,â you say. But God doesnât just look at your outward behavior. He looks at the heart. Have you lusted after a woman in your heart? Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever hated someone or held a grudge against someone? Have you ever wanted to steal? You know in your own conscience that you are guilty, and the Judge is a hanging Judge who will NEVER acquit the guilty. If you need to be delivered from your sins, if the only one who can deliver you is God, and if God has pronounced the sentence of death upon you, then how can you possibly be set free? Imagine that you are on death row. The crime that you are accused of is a capital offense. In a few hours you will be taken from you chamber, marched down the corridor, strapped into the chair and executed. You have no appeals. You did the crime and you know you did the crime. You know that the judge is perfectly just and will never go against his own justice. He has never once granted clemency. What hope can you have? You may have heard that the prison is only in your own head. You just need to declare yourself ânot guiltyâ and walk out. But you know better. You may have heard that âGod is loveâ and He would never execute judgment. But you know better. You may have heard that all you need to do is exercise your free will and do better, and the prison doors will magically swing open. But you know better. There is only one hope: When you are executed, the sentence is carried out. Only then can the demands of the law be satisfied. In other words, only when you are dead and buried can you be free from the walls of your prison. But that isnât good news. The good news (gospel) is this: âFor God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting lifeâ (John 3:16). The only way to be truly free from your prison is if the death sentence is carried out. You must either do it yourself (eternal death and damnation) or believe in Jesus, who did it for us. He came into the world in the womb of the virgin, Mary, for only one purpose: to take our curse and our death sentence upon himself. He did this on the cross. He died a death that was accursed of God, so that we might be assured that he truly took the curse upon himself. Then, on the third day, he rose from the dead â raising us up out of death with him, so that we might have the eternal life that he has. If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then his death on the cross is your death; and his resurrection from the dead is your resurrection from the dead. The prison walls are broken down forever, because you were already executed, taken out of the prison, and buried with Christ. But he didnât remain in the grave. If you believe on him, you are also raised with him to everlasting life. When you have exhausted every other possibility; when you have reached the end of your rope; there is nothing else to do except come to the only one who can set you free. Isnât it time that you quit trying to do that which is impossible? Isnât it time that you quit pretending that you can escape from your prison in your own power, free-will and wisdom? Isnât it time to come to Christ, and say, âLord, have mercy on me; a sinnerâ?
In the beginning, Satan attacked the authority of the word of God. God very clearly told Adam not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). Adam, through the instigation of the Satan, questioned Godâs word and disobeyed the command. Through Adamâs fall, all mankind is born under the bondage of Satan. But they think that they are free and able to decide for themselves the nature of truth (Gen. 3). Satan has no new devices. He continues to question the sole authority of Godâs word. At the time of the Reformation, the Bible was unknown. The pope and the councils of the church were considered the sole authority, speaking the very words of God. It was considered heretical and worthy of death to possess a copy of the Bible in the common tongue. The Reformers, on the other hand, recognized that the only authority for faith and life were the writings of the Old and New Testaments. The attack on Godâs word continues. The authority of men is elevated, whether in popes, celebrity preachers, scientists, or other experts. The Word of God is relegated to the background â a mere collection of antiquated anecdotes and moral fables. Today, inner personal ârevelationsâ and mystical feelings take the place of the study of Godâs word. As Reformed Christians we reject all additions to the Bible, since it is in the Bible alone that we find all that is necessary for faith and life. In the days of Paul, there were many who had their own message. They taught that the Bible wasnât enough. To the words of the Bible, one could add popular philosophy, scientific discoveries, or newly discovered models of behavior to make people better. Paul wrote to Timothy not to be fooled by them. 2 Tim. 3:16-17 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. Everything that is necessary for a Christian to believe has been written in the Bible. It is sufficient and clear, and is to be believed as it is the very words of God Himself. Therefore, to find who God is and how He is to be worshiped we turn to the Bible alone. To find who we are and what we need to do we turn to the Bible alone. We do not turn to our inner voices, our feelings, or the opinions of famous preachers, psychologists, or scientists. We only need to study the Bible. God tells us all that we need to know in the Bible. The problem is that we are sinful and blind, and must have our eyes opened to see what is clearly there. To be reformed means that we change our thoughts and learn to think Godâs thoughts after Him. Godâs thoughts are revealed to us only in the Bible. (Romans 12:1-2). We reject all those who teach that God must change His thoughts to match ours.
From the Belgic Confession, Article VII The Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures to Be the Only Rule of Faith We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein. For since the whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in them at large, it is unlawful for any one, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures: nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the apostle Paul says. For since it is forbidden to add unto or take away anything from the Word of God, it does thereby evidently appear that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects. Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, since the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore we reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule, as the apostles have taught us, saying, Prove the spirits, whether they are of God. Likewise: If any one cometh unto you, and bringeth not this teaching, receive him not into your house.
Peer pressure causes us to do a lot of stupid things. We have that extra dessert because everyone says how good it is. Everyone else is doing it, so it can’t hurt. Sometimes we will take a beer or a cigar when we don’t really want one simply because we don’t want others to accuse us of Phariseeism. Peer pressure also drives us to do all sorts of sinful things. These things are the most obvious in that most awkward and difficult time known as High School. We want to appear to be confident and cool, so we take the hit on the joint being passed. We want to be known as desirable, so we make our move with the hot girl in class, or jump at the chance to be abused by the most popular boy. We don’t want to be the bullied weakling so we join in with the bully against those whom we perceive as being weak. But it doesn’t stop when we get older. We are always fearful of the disdain of men. We want to be part of the popular group, in whatever form that takes. As Christians, we know about the obvious ones, and are more or less successful in our battle against them. We will maybe decline the invitation to the strip club after work, even though we know it will cause our co-workers to talk. We will hopefully go to church on Sunday rather than the neighbor’s Superbowl party. Like Huckleberry Finn, we often give up our persimmons and watermelons for Lent, one because they are not in season, and the other because we don’t like them anyway. It is easy to avoid the Superbowl during church if you aren’t really a fan of football. It is also easy to avoid going to a strip club on Sunday morning, since most are not open at that time. But there is one form of peer pressure that is even more deadly than those, and far less obvious to observe. Spiritual Peer Pressure is by far the most deadly and most abhorrent to God. We read about it in Acts chapter 5: 1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 "While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." 5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. 6 And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. (Act 5:1-6) In those days of the infancy of the New Testament Church, there was a great deal of need in Jerusalem. Thousands were being converted to Christ, and great persecution followed. A confession of Christ might well end with excommunication from the Synagogue, which in turn would lead to exclusion from society and even loss of livelihood. Many hundreds were destitute. The church members responded by selling their property as they could, and distributing to those in need. Some sold everything. Acts 2 tells us that the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon the church led to the members viewing their property differently. Now, they understood that it was not their own, but they were stewards of the gifts of God. In faith they understood that what they had – even their own bodies – did not belong to them but to the Lord. This could only be taught by the Holy Spirit, increasing their faith day by day, and causing them more and more to put off covetousness and the idolatry of Mammon. This outpouring of charity was voluntary and gracious. It was a response to the tremendous free gift of God’s grace. Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners from the wrath of God. We have been delivered from all bondage and have a glorious future. Jesus will come again and there will be a new heavens and a new earth! The Holy Spirit worked this faith into the hearts of God’s people, as we read in Acts 2. But God’s gifts are not equal. Some have tremendous faith; in others it is as a grain of mustard seed. Some have great wealth. Some do not. Some have circumstances that others do not, that are known only between them and God. God’s gift of sanctification is also progressive. Not everyone progresses in holiness at the same rate as everyone else. And here is where Spiritual Peer Pressure becomes deadly. When the Holy Spirit is drawing men by the thousands to Jesus Christ, Satan is also at work. Imagine that time in Jerusalem. Everyone has such tremendous faith that they are willing to sell everything that they have in order to take care of those who are destitute. It was not commanded, nor was it even suggested by the Apostles. And yet God’s people, moved by the special working of the Holy Spirit, opened their homes and their wallets and poured out generosity and compassion, that God might be glorified. It would be simple to be a little envious of them. It would also be a great temptation to want to belong to this particular “in-crowd”. How easy it would have been to pretend to have a spiritual gift and receive the praise and envy of men! The problem is that the heart of Christianity is that we are weak, miserable, poor, blind and naked. What do we have that we did not receive? To boast about a gift as if it was our own is a great sin against God (1 Cor. 4:7); but to pretend to have a gift and boast about it is an abomination deserving of death at the hands of the Most High! We are not told why Ananias did not give everything away. Any reason would have been legitimate, and Peter told him as much. He could have done with it what he wanted to do with it. Taking care of your own extended family, financial planning for the future, investment in business and savings accounts are all legitimate financial decisions for any Christian, when done in faith. Although the Holy Spirit teaches every true Christian to be generous and feed the hungry and clothe the poor, he certainly does not give every Christian the command to sell everything that they have. Those who have done so as a service to God have not earned any extra spiritual points, for nothing that we receive comes by our merit. But Ananias and Sapphira were fearful of appearing to be “those kind of people”. Since they had no concept of the sovereign grace of God, they also had no concept of true holiness. They thought that holiness came from extreme sacrifices, impressive feats of spiritual strength. They had no concept that only the righteousness and holiness and satisfaction of Christ are our righteousness and holiness before God. We can never add to it, and we can never take away from it. They are received by us by faith only and can never be earned. So in the eyes of God, before his judgment throne, there is no such thing as a carnal Christian and a Spiritual Christian. There are no such things as “full-time Christian ministry Christians” and “ordinary Christians”. There are only sinners, saved and clothed by the blood of Jesus Christ alone, working out their salvation with fear and trembling. Ananias and Sapphira didn’t know that, and thought that their standing before God depended upon their outward spiritual appearance. The fact is, if they were truly Christians, whether they gave everything to the church, or only part of it to the church, they were still part of the body of Christ and heirs of the promise. Because of this, Peter told Ananias that he lied to God, and not to men! They pretended that they had a spiritual strength that they did not at all possess; and in doing so, they showed that they were worse than unbelievers. They were hypocrites, wearing a mask to a play as if God cannot see their hearts. When they did that, their hearts were exposed as evil, greedy for the approval of men, and under the condemnation of God.
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