I will not die, but live…

“I will not die, but I shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord.” Psalm 118:17

It was not that the writer of this Psalm believed he would never die, but that God would deliver him from his present crisis so he could recount the Lord’s goodness and mercy. Martin Luther had this verse written on the wall of his study. In the face of an uncertain future, he believed that this word provided a firm conviction that he was perfectly safe until his work was done. The application to my own life is along the same lines as the psalmist and Luther.

I am entering a new phase in my journey with pancreatic cancer. A recent CAT scan revealed that the cancer, which is still confined to a few nodules in my lungs, has begun to grow again. The more moderate form of chemo that I have been on since February is no longer effective. Today, I have started a more powerful regimen of chemo—Folfiri, which I have been on before. I have also started interviewing at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia for available clinical trials. I would appreciate your prayers for wisdom in this search—that the trial maybe effective in my treatment as well as paving the way for others.

And so as I sit in the hospital receiving chemo, it is with the calm assurance that I will not die before I have completed the work the Lord has for me to do. I do not know what that work is; certainly not as earth-shattering as that of Luther’s. Perhaps my work is that of encouraging the faith of my children, grandchildren, and friends who still look to me as a pastor, mentor, and friend. I know that God does not need my help in exalting him or making him known to my limited world. However, I do believe the small pieces of my life are part of a great mosaic by which God is being glorified in the extended world today. I am thankful to be alive on earth in order to serve him and share in reflecting his glory.

Some closing thoughts that form my confession of faith and may help in building your own assurance; taken from the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Q1:What is your only comfort in life and death?

A1: That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sin with his precious blood, and set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready for now on to live for him.

May God bless you with spiritual blessings and earthly joys!

Coming soon: a free course that I will put up on my website—Church History 101.

How do I know I am a Christian?

A teaching given for the Alpha Bible Study Series:

If I were to ask you to prove that you are married, you could do it in one of three different ways. First of all, you could show me your marriage license. This is an objective statement, signed by witnesses, that you were married to such and such a person on such and such a date. Secondly, you could introduce me to your wife and children. Thirdly, you could just smile and say “I know that I know that I’m married!”

Now, if you kept showing me your marriage license, but I never met your wife and kids, I’d start to get a bit suspicious. I might think to myself, “I bet he forged that thing!” Or, if you introduced me to your wife and kids, but I went down to the county courthouse and couldn’t find any marriage license on record, I’d probably conclude that you weren’t married at all, but were cohabiting. Or, if you went around with a big silly grin on your face declaring, “I’m married, I’m married, I just know that I’m married!” but no one could find your marriage license or your wife and kids, I would conclude you were either lying or crazy. To be able to prove that you were married, you would need to be able to display all 3 witnesses: your marriage license, your wife and kids, and your inner conviction. 

In just the same way, you would need the same three witnesses in order to answer, “How do I know that I am a Christian.”

1. First, you must have the witness of the truth of God’s Word. That is like the marriage license. It is an objective standard to which you can appeal. The Bible tells me I am a sinner who cannot earn God’s forgiveness, but that God in his great love sent His Son to die on the cross, for the forgiveness of my sins and to reconcile me to God.

Romans 6:23 – “For the wages sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Isaiah 53:5 – “He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our sins; the punishment of our peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, but the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

2. Secondly, you must have the witness of the fruit of the Spirit which is the evidence of new life. That is like introducing me to your wife and kids, the fruit of your marriage relationship.

2 Corinthian 5:17 – “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation old things have passed away; look, all things have become new!”

Matt. 7:18-20 – “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit…. Therefore, by their fruit will they be known.”

Galatians 5:22, 23 – “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (character change from inside out)  

Some other changes: new love for God and desire to worship Him, desire to read the Bible and pray, desire to forgive others, a desire to love and help others, a desire to meet with other Christians, to share Christ with others, etc.

3. Thirdly, you must have the witness of the Holy Spirit and the imbedded Word of God. This is like your inner conviction of knowing that you are married. 

Romans 8:16 – “The Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are God’s children.”  The assurance of our salvation comes from an inward conviction given us by the Holy Spirit based upon what God has told us.    

1 John 5:13 – “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  

Romans 8:15 – “We have been given a Spirit of son-ship whereby we cry Abba, Father!” JB Phillips translates this verse as “The Spirit himself endorses our inward conviction that we really are the children of God.” 

When the believer has all three of these witnesses, he/she has what the Bible describes as the full assurance of faith, which is the base-line confidence we need in order to grow in our faith. It is my prayer, that you will believe that Jesus died for you and that you will repent and ask him for forgiveness; believe that the Holy Spirit has transformed your life because you see some evidence; have the certainty that you are a child of God and a present possessor of eternal life. 

Pleasing God…

Every child wants to know if they please their parents. This is certainly true of young children whose very identity is shaped by the affirmation and attention of a mom and dad, but I also believe this is true of us even as we get older. I remember the time when I was in my 30’s and I had spoken in chapel at Wheaton College, IL. My mom had sent for the tape of my message and when she received it she called me with delight. Billy Graham had spoken the week before and so his message was on the tape as well. Mom said, “David, you’ll never guess who they put on the backside of your tape!” Well, I knew who was on whose backside, but my mom affirmed me as only a mother could.

In the same way, I believe that every child of God desires to know whether they please their Heavenly Father. We go to great lengths to evaluate our actions and measure our behavior. The problem is that we tend to do this evaluation by our standards, which are tinged with self-focused guilt and cheap-grace legalism. The times I think I am most pleasing to God may be the times I am most lifted up with Pharisaical pride. The times when I feel I am the most despicable me, may be the very time when I please Him the most. This makes John’s counsel wise indeed, “for whenever our hearts condemn us God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20)

And so I go round and round, like a gerbil on its wheel. Is there any recourse, any truth that would help me stop wasting time in taking my spiritual pulse and finding a false heart rate? Yes. The truth is found in two prepositional phrases that characterize Paul understanding of Christianity: in Christ and Christ in me. I want to focus on what it means to be “in Christ” and how it relates to pleasing God. The person in Christ is the one who believes in the gospel and through that faith has entered into a union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When a person comes to see him/herself as a sinner and believes that Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection has dealt once and for all with his sin and guilt, there is a divine relational transaction that occurs. The believing sinner comes into a faith-union with God’s Son so that all we are not in relationship with God (our sin) becomes swallowed up in all that Christ is in His relationship with the Father (righteousness).

V. Raymond Edman tells the story of the banker whose son was a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War. One day another soldier walked into the bank and up to the father’s desk and handed him a note. The young soldier was in a tattered uniform and his arm was in a sling from a wound. The note read: “Father, this is my friend who is like a brother to me. He was wounded in our last action. Please take care of him; treat him as you would me. Love, Charlie.” The father recognized the handwriting of his son and took the young soldier and put him in Charlie’s room to rest, gave him Charlie’s clothes for dress, and put him in Charlie’s place at the table to eat. This young man was beloved for the sake of Charlie. Likewise, we are loved for the sake of Christ.

I have often used an illustration of taking an ink-splotched piece of paper, representing me and my sin, and placing it into my open Bible, representing Christ and His righteousness. The act of faith is depicted as putting the paper into the book and enclosing it. Thus when God looks at me, who does he see? Christ. Whatever relationship that Christ has with the Father, I have with the Father. Christ’s history becomes my history; His future is my future. By faith, the very righteousness of Christ becomes my righteousness. “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).

Paul uses a legal term “justify” for describing what happens when we believe the gospel. He never infers that righteousness is somehow infused into us when we believe in Christ so that we actually become righteous. The Bible teaches that through faith, God imputes or places the righteousness of Jesus Christ on our account and we become “just-as-if-ied” never sinned in relationship to God. And herein was Martin Luther’s certainty and mine as well. If my salvation comes as the result of what Christ has done for me, then I have the complete assurance of knowing that it is enough. The more my relationship to God depends upon my efforts the less certainty I have of my acceptance with God. Have I done enough? Am I sorry enough? That is why we see the cry of Martin Luther to the recovered Gospel: sola gratia, sola fide, solo Christo.

Thus the first thing I need to do when taking my spiritual pulse is not to ask whether God loves and is pleased with me, but whether God loves and is pleased with Christ. And since I know the answer to that question and I am in Christ, therefore, I may have the confidence of knowing that God loves me today and will always be pleased with me as his son in Christ! It is by this standard of measurement that “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16, 17). Did you notice the last part of this verse, “…provided we suffer with him”? Sometimes we doubt God’s love for us because we suffer, but here we assured that our family shield includes suffering as well as glory.