God’s Will

God’s Will

by Bob Burridge ©2012
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 103)
(watch the video)

Every day, all day long, we make choices. Most of them are made without a lot of thought since they have no obvious moral or life changing issues to consider. Many of our daily choices become habit. We make them because they are part of our routine. When we wake up in the morning we decide what to do next. Our regular schedules help us decide what happens after our feet hit the floor. We develop different patterns for weekdays, Sundays, Saturdays, and holidays. We pick out our clothes for the day, and decide about breakfast. We decide what turns to make on our way to places where we need to be, and what to do when we get there.

Some choices are more challenging to us. We know they will impact our lives or the lives of others. We make decisions about our careers, who we will marry, where we will live, and other matters where the outcomes are complex, and future conditions are impossible to foresee.

When the big complex choices need to be made, the wise look for advice from others so they can base their decisions upon the best information, and so they are aware of all the reasonable options. The best advice comes from God who knows all contingencies and factors. The principles in his word set important boundaries within which our decisions ought to be made.

The old “What Would Jesus Do” principle is generally good advice, but speculation can be dangerous. Jesus was God. He had authority which none of us have. He did things based upon knowledge of individual situations that only God could know. But if we strive to be directed by the actual teachings of Jesus in the Bible, we will have help in making those important choices that come along. We want to know what Jesus tells us to do. That is always a very good thing to consider.

As Christians, we want to please God with our choices. Often people worry about making choices that are out of the will of God. But commonly, they have a totally wrong idea about what being in God’s will means. They believe that somehow they might mess up God’s plan. That is never possible. However, it is possible to do things that violate what God says is good and right.

To better understand this, we need to know what God says in his word. There he tells about his eternal plan and our responsibilities in it.

Third petition of the Lord’s Prayer
tells us to pray concerning God’s will.

Matthew 6:10b, “… Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.”

There is a natural progression in this model prayer our Lord gave us. “You kingdom come” leads to “Your will be done.” When we pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom, we are asking that God’s Sovereign Lordship would become increasingly clearer. That the false Kingdom of Satan would be diminished and ultimately destroyed, that the Kingdom of Grace would be built up in its place with lives redeemed by Christ’s work, and that the Kingdom of Glory would be hastened along to completion as we serve our Lord.

To promote God’s kingdom on earth, is to see that his will is done here. We want God to be pleased with what is done where we live today, just as he is with what is done in heaven where his kingly glory is most clearly seen.

John Calvin said, “The most important part of God’s Kingdom lies in His will being done.”

Ursinus, the writer of the Heidelberg Catechism said, “nor does the Kingdom of God come except by the use of those means by which it is advanced. These means now, are the duties which belong to every man’s calling in life.”

The answer to Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 103 is, “In the third petition, which is, ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,’ we pray that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.”

The doing of God’s will here on earth, is the advancing of his kingdom. The one does not happen independently of the other. God involves the obedience of his people in his great victory. So, why should we pray for his will to be done, if all he wills is always done?

Moses explained it clearly in Deuteronomy 29. Verse 24 sets it up saying that when Israel breaks God’s covenant, and God judges her, “All nations would say, ‘Why has the Lord done so to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean?’ ”

God’s answer to why he would do a thing so hard to understand is summarized in verse 29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

There is only one will of God. Some things in his plan are not made known, while others are.

Parts of God’s plan are kept secret.

From all eternity everything is done according to God’s plan. As Creator, he made all things to be exactly the way he knew was best. As the All-Able God, his plan is infallibly carried out and cannot be changed. There is nothing that could surprise God, because he knows all things from the beginning. There can be nothing that could come along to make him regret his perfect choices. If God regretted what he decreed, then he is neither perfect nor unchangeable. We would be talking about some other kind of being, one that cannot properly be called “God”. (The verses where it is sometimes translated that God “repented” are explained in a helpful article, “Does God Repent of Things He Has Done?”.)

There are two helpful verses in the Psalms that make God’s sovereignty very clear:
Psalm 115:3, “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.”

Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.”

David’s blessing to Jehovah in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 shows his confidence in God’s sovereignty. Notice the similarities to the Lord’s Prayer, “Therefore David blessed the LORD before all the assembly; and David said: ‘Blessed are You, LORD God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, And You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name.’ ”

Just as in the Lord’s Prayer, this prayer speaks to God as “our Father”, and it praises his glorious name. It says that his is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, and that his kingdom is forever and ever. It mentions his kingship, that he is head over all and rules over all.

God decreed all things according to the council of His own will. No one can violate the decrees, or keep them from coming to pass. Job 42:2, “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You,” or as the NASB translates that last part. “… no purpose of Thine can be thwarted.”

In Isaiah 14:24 God himself says, “… Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, And as I have purposed, so it shall stand.” Then in verse 27 the prophet adds, “For the Lord of hosts has purposed, And who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, And who will turn it back?”

God’s secret plan, his decreed will, is always carried out.

Even Satan has to ask permission from God to do his evil. This is clearly shown in what happened with Job. Job never found out the details about why he suffered, but he learned not to question God’s purposes. In Job 42:2-3 Job cries out in repentance for daring to question God’s perfect plan and wisdom, “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

Though we do not yet see how it all fits together, it all does. God even allows sin, yet he is not the cause of it. He turns evil so that it accomplishes his eternal plan. God’s secret will, his eternal plan, is always done.

When evil hearts sin, they condemn themselves, and show the tragedy of opposing God. By overcoming sin and evil God reveals his grace and mercy and his victorious plan of salvation. The presence of both the creature’s sin and God’s mercy shows that there is a real moral distance between the creature and the Creator.

This secret will of God only becomes known when God carries it out. We see his plan as history unfolds. We cannot know what nations will rise and fall until they do. We will not know when we will become sick or meet someone special until we do. We do not know what opportunities will come to us, how they will work out, or what accidents, benefits, or disasters will happen — until they do.

God’s providence turns the hearts of kings and children, stirs up the storms, and calms the seas. It even shapes the hard to understand wishes of our own hearts.

The problem is that some think of God as if he was not what he says he is. They imagine him unable to do all he planned, that we could mess up his plans if we chose something different than what he wanted. Nothing could be more opposite to what the Bible directly and clearly teaches.

Parts of God’s plan are not kept secret.
They are revealed to us.

Deuteronomy 29:29 “… those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

The Bible tells us what things are pleasing to God so that we would aim to do them. It tells us what is morally good and wise. It explains how we ought to behave in God’s world, in the church, and in our families. Without Scripture, there is no way we could know for sure what God has already said. In Romans 7:7 Paul said, “I would not have known sin except through the Law.”

In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul reminded Timothy that this is how we know God’s will for our lives, “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 complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The Bible tells us all that God expects us to know about Himself and about our responsibilities.

We live in a time that hates rules and responsibilities that apply to everybody all the time. Many modern churches have abandoned the Ten Commandments as if they do not apply any more. They have abandoned keeping the Sabbath Day Holy. They make drawings and images of Jesus as if in his earthly state he was no longer God. Some even joke about God, or directly use his name in a careless way, which is the meaning of the word “vain”. We need to promote the revealed will of God in a world that laughs at the idea, or that thinks we are extremists if we really believe God’s word to be true.

So, can people be “out of the will of God?”

It depends upon what you mean. The Bible does not actually put it that way. No one can wander out of what God has eternally decreed. Our choices are free. They are our own real decisions. We are never compelled by God to chose something we do not really want to choose. But our choices will always turn out to be in fulfillment of exactly what God decreed.

That does not excuse us from moral responsibility for our choices. We certainly can be out of the revealed will of God. That is the situation when we do what he forbids, or neglect what he commands. We cannot “mess-up” God’s secret plans, but we can discover ourselves to be part of the rebellion.

There is a good example of this in the story of the three captured Hebrew teens in Daniel 3. During the captivity of God’s people King Nebuchadnezzar demanded worship of an idol. Three teen boys; Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, would not disobey God that way. When the angry king threatened to throw them into the fiery furnace they said, “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”

We know those boys best by their Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. They did not know what God had planned for them, but they knew what he commanded. They knew that nothing would happen if God had not purposed it to happen. He was able to deliver them if he determined to do so, but if not, they would obey anyway because that is what would please God.

How then should we make our daily decisions?

How do we choose our jobs or career, our spouses, and our houses? How should we plan our vacations and recreation times?

We cannot know the secret plan until it happens. However, we can know what God has made known in his word. The facts and principles there are powerful and sufficient when we trust in them.

First, we need to know and understand God’s word. We are not to make our decisions by miraculous visions, or by supposed private revelations. The age of those things passed away when the Bible was completed. We should not expect signs, dreams, omens, or angels to tell us what our job should be, who we should marry, or what house to rent or buy. Instead, we should be guided by the principles revealed in Scripture. God’s moral rules set the boundaries for our decisions. We should never consider anything that violates God’s moral laws, or ignores his instructions. It is also wise to seek godly council from those who might see things we are missing.

If we know and respect those limits, and honor God’s words of wisdom, we can make confident choices knowing that the Lord is guiding us.

Second, we need to observe circumstances and opportunities as God’s secret plan unfolds. We must accept the fact of God’s providence, his Sovereign rule over every opportunity and circumstance. We should be sensitive to the talents and skills God gives us, to the interests he stirs up in our hearts. We are to use the minds God gave us, and the lessons we have learned to decide which choice best fits with God’s word and the priorities he reveals there.

Third, we need to expect the guiding of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that he whispers secrets or new revelations to us. It mean that we pray that God will guide us. We ask that his Spirit will direct us by God’s word, and by our own understanding, to make the choices that most please him and promote his Kingdom and glory.

This is what God expects of us: faithfully and prayerfully applying his word in making all our choices. We make confident decisions within the boundaries of what the Bible teaches, with sensitivity to the circumstances of his providence, and by diligent and sincere prayer in submission to God’s guidance.

We might make choices that do not turn out well compared with what we wanted. However, if we made our decisions in a truly Godly way, we should accept the consequences. Rather than wishing we had turned left instead of right if we are in a car accident, we ask God to give us wisdom to honor him in that situation. If we do something sinful, then it is our duty to sincerely and humbly repent of it, and to rest confidently in Christ’s forgiveness.

What do we pray for here then?

When we pray “Your will be done” we are saying that we are pleased to see God’s plan unfold in the way that he knows is best. We accept his divine decrees as they unfold moment by moment. We truly want his will to be done, because we love and trust him. We are saying that we are satisfied with our callings in life, with our talents, our resources, and the opportunities he sends to us. We are saying that we want to be able to see God at work in all that happens, and that we want to be a part of it in a godly way that honors our Lord.

We pray that what occurs on earth should, to the best of our ability, and with God’s enablement, conform to what pleases God here on earth, just as it does in heaven.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

Directing Our Prayers to God

Directing Our Prayers to God

by Bob Burridge ©2012
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 100)
(Watch the Video)

Prayer in one form or another is part of nearly every religion. We are all created with a need to communicate with God. The problem is our fallen nature. Sin confuses things and prayer is no exception.

Some become enemies of prayer. They admit to no need for it. In trying to push God out of their conscience they would ban it from every public place if they could. They are not content to refuse to pray on their own, they do not want to see others doing it either.

Some confuse prayer by treating it as if it was little more than a magical incantation. They imagine that the speaking of certain words have a power of their own to make things happen the way they want.

Some think of prayer as a way to advise God about what they believe is really best. They think that if they could just get God to listen to their advice, things will work out better than if God decided on his own what was best.

Some pray to God just to get what they want. To them it’s like making a wish list. People register for wedding and shower gifts at their favorite stores and websites, so they figure that prayer works about the same way. They think of God as a business that dispenses blessings when ever they are applied for, as long as we ask in just the right way.

There are also those who approach God casually as if he was their equal, or someone who owes them a favor. However, that’s not at all what prayer is about. We need to know what God says it is, and how it should be done.

Jesus gave us a model to teach us the right way to pray.

In Matthew 6:9 Jesus introduced his model prayer by saying, “In this manner, therefore, pray: …” A good accurate translation of the first part of verse 9 is, “Therefore you should pray this way:” The Greek words are houtos oun proseuchesthe humeis (Οὕτως οὖν προσεύχεσθε ὑμεῖς·) .

The “therefore” [oun (οὖν)] builds upon the warnings against hypocrisy in the section just before this. Prayer is not a way to display piety, to impress people, or to draw attention to yourself. It’s a humble way to really communicate to God. It therefore needs to honor and please the one you are addressing in your prayer.

Here in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives us an example to teach us how to pray. We usually call it The Lord’s Prayer. The first part tells us about the one to whom we direct our prayers.

We come to God as “our Father”

The Bible tells us that God is not everybody’s Father in the same way. As Creator, all creatures owe their existence to him as their Father in the limited sense of giving them existence and life. Even those who are his most determined enemies, live and are cared for by his provisions. All our abilities and opportunities are his gifts. He sustains all of nature by upholding what we call natural laws. In this very limited sense God is the Father of all creation. It is this that all the more condemns the lost who fail to give him the glory for all they have.

There is yet another way he is the Father of some but not of others. He is specially the Father of his spiritually adopted children. Out of the unworthy human race, God chose some to be his spiritual family. He did not choose them because they were better in any way. They were chosen by grace alone. God promised by covenant to pay for their sins, and to adopt them as his own children. Throughout the Bible God is specially called the Father of his covenant people.

To Israel Moses said in Deuteronomy 32:6 “… Is He not your Father, who bought you? …” The prophet in Isaiah 63:16 cried out on behalf of Israel, “… You, O Lord, are our Father; …” In Isaiah 64:8 it was said, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; …”

Paul wrote to the church in Romans 8:15 “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ ” And here in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray to God as our Father.

God is not the Father of all people in that special way. The sin of Adam and our own sins alienate us from God. Only those redeemed by the death of Jesus are adopted into his family. He did not pay the debt for all, but for only some chosen by grace. If you trust in Jesus alone for your salvation, and you are truly sorry for your sins, it is not your doing. There is no reason for pride. Your faith and conviction should make you humbly thankful for a blessing you could never deserve.

This is one of the most denied, most disliked, yet most clear messages of the Bible. In Ephesians 1:3-5 Paul explained it this way, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will,”

Jesus had a very different message than what the Pharisees believed about their relationship with God as their Father. In John 8:44 he told them, “You are of your father the devil, …”

In First John 3:1 it says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.”

God’s special redeeming love is not universal according to the Bible. The Universalists reject the Bible because they are not able to accept that fact. They teach that all humans are God’s children in that special way. They deny that man is separated from God by sin. Their idea of the “Brotherhood of Men and the Fatherhood of God” appeals to the lost heart. The problem is, it’s simply not true. It’s like telling a seriously ill patient that he’s not really sick. He might like to hear that kind of news, but if it makes him ignore treatment the results are tragic. Jesus said in John 14:6, “… No one comes to the Father except through me.”

It is understandable that those still blinded by sin would prefer what is not true. This is exactly how Paul explained it in 2 Thessalonians 2:11, “And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie,” In the first chapter of Romans he said that they, “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” … and “exchanged the truth of God for a lie.”

God’s people have a wonderful promise in calling God their Father. He is the perfect father no human could ever be. Even the best of human parents are imperfect. They could always learn to love and to care for their children with more patience, compassion, and skill. When human parents try to control all that happens to their children, it only leads to their own frustration, and to their children’s exasperation. But as God’s children we pray to a Father who cares for us perfectly. He knows what is really best for us, and he has the power to see that it happens. When he allows things into our lives that are painful or that we don’t understand, it’s not because he overlooked something or that he doesn’t love us. We must remember that we don’t yet understand how it all fits into his loving plan. In our uncertainties, we can still rest in his perfect love and power. God never fails us. He gave us life, redeems us, and provides peace, comfort and hope for his children. So we come to him with a deep sense of humble gratitude. We honor him and stand in awe of him.

This does not mean that all our prayers have to begin with the words “Our Father.” This is a model prayer. Jesus is not just giving us words to be repeated. It’s the meaning that’s important. There are many prayers in the Bible that do not begin that way. For example, in Acts 1:24 the prayer begins with “You, O Lord …”. In Acts 4:24 the people prayed, “Lord, you are God …”

The first Christians were students of the Bible. Their prayers usually follow the patterns in the Psalms. They understood that they were God’s children by grace through Christ, so they thought of God as their Father in that special sense. Sometimes Biblical prayers are directed to Jesus Christ as God the Son, our Mediator. In Revelation 22:20 John’s brief closing prayer is “Come, Lord Jesus!” The Holy Spirit is not the usual object of direct prayer. Mediating with God’s children is primarily the Son’s work. The Holy Spirit ministers as sent to us by the Father and the Son.

All our prayers are to be directed to God only. It is a horrible sin to pray to angels, or to or through dead humans, even specially saintly ones. Angels are spirit beings who may carry out the Father’s instructions, but they do not follow our instructions, and they never act on their own. No direct appeal to angels is ever approved in Scripture. Biblically, it is a serious sin against God and a violation of the First Commandment to pray to or through any created being, be they humans or angels.

When we pray to our Father we
understand that he is “… in heaven …”

The most literal reading is “… the one who is in the heavens” ho en tois ouranois (ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς·)

The children’s catechism wisely tells us that “God is everywhere”. In 1 Kings 8:27 it says, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!” That means that God cannot be located in just one particular place. We call this his Ubiquity – “God is everywhere.”

He is never in one place more than he is in any other place. He is altogether completely everywhere. We call this God’s Immensity – “God fills all space”. Jeremiah 23:24 says, ” ‘Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?’ says the Lord; ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ says the Lord.”

God is also what we call Omnipresent – “He is there in everyplace personally all the time.” Psalm 139:7-10 describes this amazing quality of God, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.”

No one can escape the presence of God. That means that his children can never become lost from him. When we pray, he is right there by our side. When we are not praying, his is still completely there, even when we are not thinking about him, even when we do things that offend him.

Children might fool their parents for awhile by hiding stashes of junk food from them, or by keeping certain misbehaviors a secret. But nothing can be hidden from God our Heavenly Father. He not only sees, he is there. With modern technology people are so worried that “Big Brother is watching,” when they should be more aware that our Heavenly Father is watching, and always has been!

So then, if God is everywhere, why direct our prayers to God “in heaven”?

Thinking of heaven as a physical place is not very helpful. It cannot be located on star charts, or with coordinates in light years from some fixed spot in the universe. People point upwards as if heaven was above them. If someone in Australia is pointing up at the same time as someone in New York City, he’s pointing out into space in nearly the opposite direction. At noon you point up toward the sun. At midnight pointing up is away from the sun.

One of the early Russian Cosmonauts said he didn’t see God or heaven in space. That did not trouble real Christians because for us heaven is not a castle floating above the clouds.

There is good Scriptural evidence that heaven is best thought of as existing in a dimension other than what we perceive in our three dimensional world of space. Mathematical multidimensional models are common today in our attempts to understand the motion of objects in the universe our God created. Heaven may not be physical in the way we experience locations and places, but it is very real, as are the angels and God who have no physical bodies.

So why pray to God “in heaven” if he is everywhere? Heaven is where God specially shows his glory and majesty. When the Bible said that God is in his Temple, it meant that he showed his glory and majesty there, not that he was more there than in other places. When it says that God is with his people in worship, it means he specially shows himself there as their Redeemer and Lord. We do not mean that he exists more in worship than any place else. Similarly he is not in heaven more than his is in every other place in his creation.

When we pray to “our Father in heaven” we focus on his majesty and glory.

Your attitude and thoughts when
praying to God are very important.

Prayer should never be done without a sincere and solemn awareness that you are speaking to the one who made all things, rules all things, and who loved you so much though you were unworthy that he made you his own dear child. When you pray, remember that he made everything you enjoy, have, and hope for. Keep in mind that he provided a costly substitute for your sins in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Think of the wonders of his sovereign majesty and holy glory.

These high thoughts should drive you to constant and confident prayer, the pouring out of your heart to your Heavenly Father.

Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 100: What doth the preface of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?

Answer: The preface of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, Our Father which art in heaven, teacheth us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

A Plan for Prayer

A Plan for Prayer

by Bob Burridge ©2012
(watch the video)
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Questions 98-99)

Have you ever heard someone say, “One of these days I really need to get organized”? You might hear that after a long search for a recipe in the kitchen, for a tool in the garage, or for lost phone numbers and addresses. Sometimes it’s when homework or projects pile up, or the to-do-list gets to where it could be bound into a book. It might even be when closets are so full you have to post warning signs about falling objects for the unwary who dare to open the doors too fast. We know that the only answer is to get organized with a plan to handle things better as they come along.

Planning sessions are absolutely necessary for our military and for a successful business. War is never something we want to rush into without careful organization and planning. Companies that make things but never plan how to market them end up with serious storage problems and bills that can’t be paid. Even our vacation trips have to be planned so we don’t end up running out of gasoline in some desolate area with no motels, stores, or gas stations.

We need practical planning for our spiritual lives too. God tells us what we ought to be doing to grow in Christ and as a spiritual family. The means of his grace become neglected if there’s no plan for using them. Prayer gets postponed or completely neglected if it isn’t figured into our busy schedules. Bibles tend to remain unread if there is no plan to read and study them. We tend to be late for worship or not show up at all, if preparations wait until the last minute. If we respond to people’s needs without thinking ahead we might offend those we want to help. If we live in the world without a thought for our duties as God’s people, we will probably effect it very little for the Kingdom of Christ. We become part of the problem instead of being part of the solution.

If the means of God’s grace are approached casually or in a disorderly manner they won’t benefit us or anyone else touched by our lives. When we have no plans, we generally accomplish little for our Lord’s glory.

Westminster Shorter Catechism questions 98-99 introduce us to the Lord’s Prayer. To make prayer an effective tool in our spiritual lives we need to follow the principles given to us in God’s word as we put together a good plan.

Question 98 asks, “What is prayer?” The answer is, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”

Prayer is vitally important for every Christian.

Prayer is needed for our growth and for our effective participation in God’s kingdom. The prayerful Christian is quite a contrast to the insecurities and anxieties of the world around us. In Philippians 4:6 the Apostle Paul writes, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;”

Our prayers are not made to change God’s plan. When we pray we are engaged in that plan. God uses the prayers of his children as he moves in grace and judgment. He uses them to help the needy and to comfort the grieving. By our prayers God holds back the flood of evil, and enables us to do our work skillfully. He uses our prayers to strengthen our children and other loved ones, and to give us peace even in the midst of our tensions and anxieties.

It is amazing that a duty so important and so useful for God’s people requires such simple and ordinary skills. The simplest believer with no special experience or training, even one who doesn’t communicate well, can be extremely helpful to the church by simple diligence, fervency, and sincerity in calling out to God on behalf of his spiritual family.

We have this assurance in James 5:16, “… The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Dr. Martin-Lloyd Jones has said, “Man is at his greatest and highest when upon his knees he comes face to face with God.”

Prayer is that means given to us from our loving and sovereign God by which we grow in grace, and participate in the daily unfolding of Divine providence, and in the work of redemptive grace.

It helps to have a regular plan for when to pray.

When we get busy, things without a set time on our daily agenda usually get overlooked or forgotten. We schedule time for our favorite TV shows, regular shopping for groceries, plan to be free for important football or basketball games, make sure we stop work when it’s time for lunch, or when it’s time to go home at night. Yet the same people often never put things God commands on their schedules.

If something is not placed on our calendar or schedule, it usually doesn’t happen. Of course we should pray during the day whenever the desire or need arises in our hearts. However, it should also take place regularly as God’s word shows us by its many examples.

It’s good to begin and end each day with prayer. There are many biblical references to regular morning prayer. Among them are some classic passages.

King David wrote In Psalm 5:1-3, “Give ear to my words, O LORD, Consider my meditation. Give heed to the voice of my cry, My King and my God, For to You I will pray. My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up.”

In Psalm 88:13, Haman the Ezrahite wrote, “But to You I have cried out, O LORD, And in the morning my prayer comes before You.”

There are also examples of God’s people praying in the evening as the day ends. Jesus and others in Scripture show us that it is proper and right to pray before we receive meals, or when we leave our homes to go to conduct business or to travel. Certainly we should pray throughout every day, as we think about God’s blessings, or as needs come to our attention.

The Bible reminds us of the importance of prayer as we read or study God’s word. Psalm 119:18 is a helpful guide as we open the Scriptures, “Open my eyes, that I may see Wondrous things from Your law.”

It is important to pray as we prepare for worship, particularly as we ready ourselves to receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Paul warns us to examine ourselves before we come to partake of that Sacrament. In 1 Corinthians 11:28 he wrote, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Psalm 139 shows us that this examination begins with prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.”

Set these regular times of prayer on your daily schedule. Be aware of your need to pray as God brings needs and blessings to mind.

We keep records and files of our important business transactions, of good recipes or collections. It is reasonable to do the same with our prayers. Keep a list. Pray from it daily. Review it often and praise God when you see him at work and requests are completed. When you set aside times for prayer let nothing interfere with those times.

It’s good to have a plan for what to say when you pray.

Question 99 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What rule hath God given for our direction in prayer?”
Answer: “The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught his disciples, commonly called the Lord’s Prayer.”

The model prayer Jesus gave us in Matthew 6:9-13 is a valuable guide. The remaining questions of the Shorter Catechism are about each of the parts of that prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray that God’s name would be treated with the highest respect, that his kingship would be displayed in a greater way, that what he reveals as right would be done, that our daily needs will be provided, that we will be forgiven and kept from temptation and evil. We should praise God as Lord of his kingdom, the all-powerful God, as the one to whom glory is due forever.

In John 14:13 we are reminded that our prayers should be offered in the name of Christ, “And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

This does not mean just adding the words “in Christ’s name” to our prayers. It means that we pray as those who trust in what Jesus Christ is, and who are resting their eternal hope upon all that he has done and promised to us. We pray as those clothed in his righteousness, not our own. Everyone resting in the work of Christ prays with that foundation, spoken or not. In fact, while it is a good practice to add those words, few New Testament prayers actually use those words. Yet all New Testament prayers are made through Christ. That is what it means.

Prayer must be made for only those things that are pleasing to God. The Apostle John explains in 1 John 5:14-15, “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”

Prayers for things God has not promised or approved have no foundation for confidence. This is why prayer must be informed by God’s word, and consistent with what it says is good. It should never be to get our personal wishes or ways. James 4:3 warns, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

If we pray according to God’s revealed will (for things that fit within his promises and which promote his glory) then our prayers will be answered. This is what we do when we pray in the name of Christ. We pray as those united with him by God’s grace, and who therefore love and desire his ways. So in John 14:14 Jesus could say, “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”

So our regular prayers should begin with God’s wonder. Praise him for his glory, his promises, and the blessings he gives. Then consider your need by repenting of your sins and failure to honor him as he deserves. Return again to praise God for your salvation in Christ. That he died in your place, forgives your sins, and enables you in your battle to become more like him in thought, word and deed. Then bring your needs to him; for yourself, your family, friends, church, those you work with, and for the world and its leaders. Learn from God’s word how to pray from the examples and teachings God has preserved for us there.

Put the plan into practice.

It is even good to pray about praying. Ask God to help you do it better.

Once your plan for prayer is worked out, make a copy of the plan and put it where you can see it, where it can remind you about it. You might put it in your daily planner, post the plan on your refrigerator door, or on a bulletin board where you keep your jobs listed. However you remember things, put your prayer plan there.

Encourage one another to pray. Bring it up with your family and friends in conversations. Remember to be kind, supportive, and tactful if someone keeps forgetting to pray. The goal is to help one another improve, not to catch each other doing something wrong. Paul warns us in Galatians 6:1-2, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Prayer is a great responsibility and a wonderful privilege. If we expect to grow in Christ, we need the nourishment of all the means of grace. Prayer is one of those means. It is vitally important. If prayer is neglected, your whole spiritual life will suffer. We should not expect to grow spiritually without it.

Like a good meal that keeps your body healthy, your spirit grows healthy when you pray regularly. This is God’s promise to his children.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

Beware of Morality Fatigue

Beware of Morality Fatigue

by Bob Burridge ©2012

When exposed to an odor for a long time olfactory fatigue sets in, you don’t sense it any more. This is why people often fail to realize they have odor problems in their homes. People living by airports or busy highways become so used to the noise that they don’t even notice it.

There is also a morality fatigue that desensitizes us to things that are not honoring to our God. We become comfortable with certain sins little by little. They can become accepted “background noise”. It’s as if we can’t “smell them” anymore.

God doesn’t leave us on our own devices to take inventory of our moral condition. Regular and prayerful Bible study shines light on our dark places. The work of the Holy Spirit shows us how the word applies to our lives. He convicts us of things we would overlook. He stirs us to have a deeper concern for our walk with Christ. In Psalm 139:23-24 David asked God to help him take inventory of his heart. He prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.”

Hats for Women in Worship?

Heads, Hats, and Hair

(questions about 1 Corinthians 11)
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Some teachings of the Bible are completely at odds with what we see being commonly accepted in our world today. The domestic roles God assigned to men and women are often the target of attack. At one extreme, male headship is perverted into dictatorship, and female subjection into slavery. At the other extreme, the idea of any kind of male headship in the home is rejected altogether.

The entire biblical family structure faces challenges that threaten our homes and loved ones. The aborting of our unborn children has been permitted by law in our country for several decades. Open sexual practices empty marriage of its once valued intimacy. Unmarried couples are led to believe that it is normal and healthy to engage in sexual activity without the bond of marriage. Some in same-gender relationships want to call what they have “marriage”. They are not content with just being tolerated. They want to force everyone else to accept their definitions and views, and to reject what the Bible says about marriage.

In warfare one of the basic goals is to disrupt the enemy’s command structure. If no one is effectively in charge, there can be no coordinated supplies, attacks, or defenses. The unifying principles that direct an army will be abandoned, and individual soldiers will begin to look out for themselves. They forget the larger reasons they are there.

It makes sense that the spiritual enemies of God would attack the organization of God’s Kingdom. The family structure is so basic that it becomes a natural target. The husband-wife roles are the foundation of the family. It is no surprise that the duties God assigns to men and women would be attacked.

There is a full-court press going on to make godliness appear to be a blight upon society. Those who believe what the Bible says about men, women, and marriage are portrayed as bigots and enemies of our culture.

These are not entirely new attacks. God’s ways have been the target of evil from the beginning of time. In the ancient city of Corinth a pagan culture and an influence of confused Judaism were clashing with Christian principles. There was confusion about how the new believers should adjust their lives to deal biblically with the way things were believed and done around them while living in a city dominated by unbelievers.

The Apostle Paul wrote his First letter to the Corinthians to explain God’s principles to them. He did not just teach detached ideas and theories. He was committed to clarifying God’s ways and how they lead us to live as lights to this sin darkened world day by day. In chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians he takes up one of these issues.

Paul set an example by personally
honoring and obeying the teachings of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 11:1, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”

Some put this verse as the conclusion to chapter 10. It is actually a nice transition. Paul’s point is that he has tried to be an example of the principles he taught.

Chapter 11 does not introduce a totally different idea. In chapter 10 he warned that believers should consider how others perceive their actions. He said there is nothing morally wrong with eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. However, clearly the worship of idols is evil. In situations where others consider the meat to be sacred in some Pagan sense, we should not eat it so that others would not think we are honoring their idols. In Chapter 11 he shows how this fundamental principle applies in another situation.

First, he reminded them how much
he appreciated their allegiance.

1 Corinthians 11:2, “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.”

He was pleased that they continued to follow the traditions he taught them. The Bible mentions both good and bad traditions. A tradition is some accepted practice that is passed on to preserve some idea or principle. Good traditions help us to stay within God’s boundaries, and to remember God’s truths. Bad traditions create misleading boundaries, and promote false ideas.

There was a clash of traditions concerning
the principle of headship in the home.

1 Corinthians 11:3, “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.”

God organized the family to teach about his nature and about the church he would redeem. In the Trinity, all three persons are perfectly equal in power and glory. Yet there is an orderliness in the Trinity. The Father sends the Son to redeem his people, and the Son is subject to the Father. Both the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to carry out certain works. There is subordination without inferiority or superiority – equals who carry out different works.

God established a similar relationship for the family. He made the male to be head of the wife and of the home. He created the female to be in supportive subjection to the man’s headship, subordination without inferiority or superiority – equals who carry out different works.

Paul gives more detail about that home organization in Ephesians 5:22-33. There it says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,”

In that chapter it is clear that male headship is not to be self-serving. Male headship in the home is to represent Christ’s headship of the church. Therefore it is not to abuse the wife, to get his own way, or to be dictatorial. His role is to lead in a way that lovingly gives himself for his wife’s benefit and enrichment. His headship is to reflect Christ’s care of his church.

There is no superiority implied in male headship. Christ is equal with God the Father in substance and glory. Yet he was sent to carry out the work of redeeming his Father’s children. So also men and woman are equal in substance and worth. Yet the male is responsible for guiding the family, providing for it, and protecting it. He is to help his wife and family grow in Christ so they can enjoy God’s blessing to the fullest.

There was a danger that threatened this relationship in the Corinthian worship.

Male headship was represented in Corinth
by head coverings for the women.

1 Corinthians 11:4-7
4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head.
5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.
6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.
7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.

The situation here has to do with what goes on in the public worship of the church. This becomes more clear later in this letter when Paul explains what it is to pray and prophesy.

Evidently, there was a tradition in the Corinthian culture about head coverings. They had come to represent submission to some human authority. If men covered their heads while praying or prophesying in worship, they disgraced their headship by implying they were in subjection to those they should be leading. When women covered their heads it showed their respect of the authority of their husbands. If she prayed or prophesied with her head uncovered she disgraced her husband’s headship. It was as if she was rejecting God’s order. This was a good tradition to the degree that it promoted a biblical truth.

In that culture, the women may as well shave their heads, if they worship with their heads uncovered. Chrysostom, a first-century writer said that a woman caught committing adultery had her head shaved as to mark her as a prostitute for rejecting her husband’s headship.

The Bible does not mention this custom in any other place than here in this letter to Corinth. John Calvin warned that we should not be “so hide-bound” that people would condemn the Pastors in his time who wore skull caps when preaching. But he agreed that the principle it represented in Corinth is a good one. It should be respected when it shows a wife’s subjection to her husband while in worship.

The principle in this context is like not eating meat that was once sacrificed to idols in the previous chapter. God never commanded it as a universal moral tradition. However, in situations where our practices would generally communicate an unbiblical attitude, we should avoid offense and follow the good customs.

Paul’s reasoning in verse 7 is a little hard to follow because of the technical terms he uses. Mankind in general was made in the Image of God, both male and female. They both are to make good use of their abilities and resources. Together they produce families, and make up the church of God on earth. But that is not what Paul was referring to here. The Greek wording he uses here are a little different that that which is used in the more general context of bearing God’s image as his creatures.

He is saying in this context that the male was created to be a reflection of God’s authority in caring for us. The female was made to be a reflection of the authority God gave to her husband.

This basic principle of headship
was established at creation.

1 Corinthians 11:8-12
8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man.
9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.
10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord.
12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.

When God made the animals, he made them male and female at the same time. With humans he made only the man first, then made woman from him to be his helper. Unlike the animals, humans were made to specially represent God in the world. From the beginning, the differences in male and female would not be only for producing children. They were to reveal God’s grace and show his love for those he would redeem.

Before he made Eve, God let Adam come to realize that he was incomplete by himself. His wife was made to be a fit helper for him in carrying out his responsibilities in the garden.

There was no inequality or inferiority. They complemented one another, were needed by one another, and were mutually important to one another. However, they would have different roles in reflecting God’s glory, and in fulfilling his plan.

Verse 10 has some confusing expressions in it. literally it says: “Therefore, the woman ought to have authority on the head because of the angels”

In Corinth at that time, the head covering represented submission to her husband’s God-given authority over her. The part about the angels is harder to understand. God has not given us much information here. This particular issue never comes up in any other place in the Bible.

The word the Bible uses for “angels”, angelos (αγγελος), is the word that was commonly used at that time for all types of “messengers”. It was used for human messengers as well as for spirit beings. In war chronicles it often mentioned “angels” (messengers) carrying messages from the generals to the troops on the front lines.

One theory is that this refers to the spirit beings who serve God in various ways. The Bible says that God’s angels are observers of the church on earth. However, it is not clear how this is a reason for women to wear head coverings in Corinth during worship. It would not be helpful here to go over all the strange imagined theories about angels lusting for women.

Some think this means that uncovered female heads were somehow offensive to church Pastors as messengers of God to represent him to the church. However, that does not seem to fit with the message of this passage very well.

More likely it means that if the spirit messengers of God saw the woman rejecting this symbol of subjection, the angles would be the instruments to bring it before God for his judgment for confusing and obscuring creation’s authority structure.

Whatever it meant, the Corinthians would have understood this expression. Paul’s point is clear: The women members of the Corinthian church should show their respect for the authority God gave to their husbands. They were obligated to make sure their submission was communicated to others. This meant respecting what the traditions of their own culture meant.

Paul sets out the reasoning behind his warning:

1 Corinthians 11:13-16
13 Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?
15 But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.
16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

The Apostle repeats the moral issue and asks them to make a judgment based upon certain facts. They should consider nature itself which teaches that hair length implies something. The word for “nature” here refers to inherent properties that characterize something.

The Greek word Paul uses for “nature” is phusis (φυσις). The Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich Greek Lexicon defines it as, “a natural endowment or condition, natural characteristics or disposition, the natural order of things, a product of nature .. creature”.

There was a broad usage of the term at the time of Paul’s writing. It was often used for things that seem “natural” to people, their disposition toward things as commonly accepted. We use the term that way when we say, “that just doesn’t seem natural”. Paul could not mean God’s creation order. That would be contrary to both our observations, and other biblical mandates.

In cultures where the hair is never cut or removed, men tend to have much more hair covering their bodies than do women. Both grow very long hair on their heads. The average human hair growth rate on the head is 0.44 mm/day. It tends to slow down some as we get older and is a little faster in women than men. However, the slight differences in rate are hardly a compelling and obvious argument.

The context here and in chapter 10 has to do with traditions and what is natural in their culture. We know from coins and statues that men cut their hair short in that Greek-Roman culture. The women let their hair grow long showing their distinction as females. We need to be aware of cultural symbols that represent things to those who live in that setting.

Back in verse 9 Paul referred to the creation order. In the physical sense, male headship was established because God made Adam first. Here in verse 14 he seems to direct their attention to what is accepted as “natural” in their culture. The creation order of male headship was in a sense being preserved by a good Corinthian tradition. In most societies men and women have different hair styles that preserve their distinction. The idea that there should be no difference between the roles of men and women goes against what even pagan cultures have generally recognized by their practices. However society may depict it at the time, we should promote the role of male headship.

Paul adds that if someone wants to argue the point, they have no customary support.

We need to be careful here not to confuse Paul’s applications with the principles themselves. He is not teaching dietary laws for Christians in chapter 10, and he is not teaching dress codes and hair styles for Christians in chapter 11.

The point he is making continues the basic principle discussed in the previous chapter. There is nothing morally right or wrong about hair length in and of itself. God required men to let their hair grow uncut under certain vows (Numbers 6:5). Crowns on the heads of kings represented their authority, not submission to other men. The Old Testament Priests were required to wear special hats while performing acts of worship. God would not command such things it they were inherently immoral or decidedly feminine.

At this time in Corinth, hats in worship showed submission to human authority. Long hair also represented the feminine role of women among God’s people.

The point here is not to command certain outward symbolisms. It is to show the importance of what was represented by them.

Though the customs here are hard to clarify,
the principle taught is not confusing at all.

Our lives should reflect and communicate respect for the creation order of things. Our freedom in Christ is not only bound by God’s universal and direct commandments. It is also bound by what appears to support sinful ideas or unbiblical teachings. Extremes in style often represent rebellion against rightful authority.

To a limited degree, young people often like to show that they question some of the meaningless traditions to which people cling. They often adopt outrageous hair styles, trendy clothes, and their own kinds of slang expressions to develop their own culture and traditions. The next generations will probably question and replace those which are made popular today. In the 50’s there were leather jackets, long sideburns and ducktails, saddle shoes, and poodle skirts. Those who wore them were often thought of as in rebellion. For some, it was true. Most were just following trends. In the late 60’s there were tie-dyed fabrics, uncut hair, sandals, and granny dresses. In the 70’s it was bell bottoms, platform shoes and big afro hair styles. Today the extremes go from urban baggy clothes, to gothic black cassocks.

Christians of all ages need to be careful that while they accept or reject cultural traditions, that they are not giving the appearance of rejecting good principles which are based upon God’s priorities and ways. It is one thing to want to be stylish, but we should be aware of what our styles say to others.

For Corinthian women to worship with their heads uncovered, would have shown a rejection of one of God’s basic principles. For teens to dress outrageously intending to show rejection of their parent’s authority, or of God’s morality, would also be very wrong and sinful. For most today hats and hair length are just matters of style and personal preference.

It is important to maintain and promote biblical principles in our daily lives. We should never appear to reject them by adopting styles or practices that are perceived as contrary to them. We need to know what styles and customs communicate to other believers and to the watching world. While we know to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing, we need to be careful that as sheep we don’t go around looking like the wolves.

How different our churches, homes, and communities would be if men cared for women as they ought — not to demean them but to respect them, and if women respected the responsibility God gives the men — not to covet their calling, or to take over headship in our homes, or in the ordained offices of our churches.

When we accept God’s order and our own place in it, and the responsibilities God gives others, the kingdom of Christ, our homes, and our communities would be far better places, and God’s truth would be better communicated to a confused and lost world.

As for the matter of women wearing hats in worship today, I would suggest that it is a practice generally understood in the proper biblical sense of 1 Corinthians 11. It is not required by that passage or by any other portion of God’s word. It is allowable as long as it does not become a distraction to worship by head-wear that would draw undue attention to itself, and as long as it does not become a matter of spiritual pride. There are no grounds in Scripture for judging those with or without hats as being more or less spiritual than the others who are there with humble hearts to honor our God.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Raising Hands in Worship and Praise?

Raising Hands in Worship and Praise?

by Bob Burridge ©2011

(This article is based upon our online discussion from November 17, 2011)

We have many kinds of worship styles all claiming to be biblical.

The elements of worship are limited by Scripture to those activities God prescribes. His revelation to us is the only way we could know what pleases him in our times of gathered worship. This is what we call the Prescriptive Regulative Principle of Worship. (For a more detailed study of this we direct you to the article, “The Regulative Principle of Worship” in our on-line Syllabus.)

How the prescribed elements of worship are implemented should always support the revealed focus of worship. Its primary purpose is to express our appreciation for the revealed nature and work of God as preserved for us in his inspired word. We honor him as our Creator, Redeemer, Comforter, and King.

There are some differences in how God deals with his people in different periods of redemptive history. What was expected in the time before the finished work of the Messiah is obviously going to be different after his work was completed. There is however a unity in the general tenor and purpose of what God prescribes for worship in ever era of human history.

Differences also arise because an expression of humble praise in one culture might have a different meaning in another cultural setting. God used the languages common to the cultures historically when he gave his inspired word. We would expect that God’s revelation through the elements of worship would likewise adjust to communicate to the people engaged in the worship.

The conduct of worshipers varies as cultural norms differ. Music is strongly influenced by our cultural upbringing and by our historical heritage. Some display their emotions differently and to different degrees. How we show honor toward someone differs too. There are different outward expressions of submission and respect in Monarchies with royal families, Republics, Democracies, and so forth.

Culture is a big influence upon what people see as acceptable in worship. That does not make what is acceptable to us to be right in the eyes of God. In this article we take up one of the practices which differs from church to church in our present era. The raising of hands in worship is a growingly accepted practice outside the traditional charismatic groups where in recent centuries it was commonly practiced with a particular meaning attached.

Several Scripture passages are often cited
to support the practice of raising hands in worship.

There are very few references to this practice in the biblical record prior to the times of the Kings of Israel. The hand [the Hebrew word caph (כף)] is often used figuratively of coming under the authority of some authority, as being given over into the hands of a certain nation or people (Judges 6:1). Abram in his comments to the king of Sodom said that he raised his hand to Jehovah.

Genesis 14:22, “But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth”

It is not clear what was meant here. We do not know if the raising of the hands by Abram was an expression of praise, supplication, submission, or simply a raising of the hand to express his faithfulness to God as we would today in making a solemn pledge. It was a gesture understood at that time by both Abram and the king of Sodom.

In the time of Moses the lifting up of hands seems to have been an expression of coming to God to ask for divine care and help. In the context it is associated with prayer, or an approach to God.

Exodus 9:27-29, “And Pharaoh sent and called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘I have sinned this time. The LORD is righteous, and my people and I are wicked. Entreat the LORD, that there may be no more mighty thundering and hail, for it is enough. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.’ So Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands to the LORD; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, that you may know that the earth is the LORD’s.’ ”

Exodus 9:33, “So Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh and spread out his hands to the LORD; then the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain was not poured on the earth.”

By the time of the Kings and Prophets hand raising is a more commonly mentioned practice. It is noted by several historians that hands were raised by pagan nations then as they approached their deities in prayer and supplication. It seems to have signified a reaching out to receive something requested. It appears to have that significance among God’s people as well. It is not a suggested practice in any instructive portion of the Bible, but it is reported as something acceptably practiced and understood in the particular cultures of that time.

1 Kings 8:22, “Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven;

2 Chronicles 6:12-13, “Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands (for Solomon had made a bronze platform five cubits long, five cubits wide, and three cubits high, and had set it in the midst of the court; and he stood on it, knelt down on his knees before all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven);”

Psalms 134:2, “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, And bless the LORD.”

Psalms 63:4, “Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.”

Isaiah 1:15,”When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.”

Lamentations 3:41, “Let us lift our hearts and hands To God in heaven.”

In the New Testament under the new form of the Covenant, and in the First Century culture of the Jews and early church, it is not mentioned often. There is one reference in Paul’s first letter to Timothy that is often quoted in relation to this practice. The mandate there is not to lift up hands, but that hands lifted up in prayer should be holy.

1 Timothy 2:8, “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;”

Some Comments by Commentators

Several commentators cite references in pagan records of reaching out to God with outstretched hands. This is an understandable gesture based upon how people beg for things when they have a need. We see the universality of this when foreign envoys reach out their hands to God for mercy or surrender in Psalm 68:31, “Envoys will come out of Egypt; Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God.”

Several commentators and Jewish scholars interpret this practice as away of showing our purity to God by figuratively offering up hands which are washed so that no dirt or stains remain. The focus was upon presenting one’s self as innocent and undefiled to receive from the Lord. For those truly redeemed it was their profession of a righteousness that is not their own, but given them by grace through their hope in the coming promised Messiah.

The Rabbis had developed complex rules about raising hands in prayer and in worship. It was said that, “it is forbidden a man to lift up his hands above, except in prayer, and in blessings to his Lord, and supplications, …”

The highly respected medieval Jewish philosopher Moses ben Maimon (known as Maimonides) wrote, “cleanness of hands, how is it done? a man must wash his hands up to the elbow, and after that pray; if a man is on a journey, and the time of prayer is come, and he has no water, if there is between him and water four miles, which are eight thousand cubits, he may go to the place of water, and wash, and after that pray. If there is between him more than that, he may rub his hands, and pray. But if the place of water is behind him, he is not obliged to go back but a mile; but if he has passed from the water more than that, he is not obliged to return, but he rubs his hands and prays; they do not make clean for prayer but the hands only, in the rest of prayers, except the morning prayer; but before the morning prayer a man washes his face, his hands and feet, and after that prays.”

In John Gill’s commentary on 1 Timothy 2:8 he states, “The apostle alludes to a custom of the Jews, who always used to wash their hands before prayer;”

In the Notes of Albert Barnes he states that the lifting up holy hands means, “… hands that are not defiled by sin, and that have not been employed for any purpose of iniquity. The idea is, that when men approach God they should do it in a pure and holy manner.”

Adam Clarke reminds us that “it was a common custom, not only among the Jews, but also among the heathens, to lift up or spread out their arms and hands in prayer. It is properly the action of entreaty and request; and seems to be an effort to embrace the assistance requested.” He then adds an interesting conjecture that, “the apostle probably alludes to the Jewish custom of laying their hands on the head of the animal which they brought for a sin-offering, confessing their sins, and then giving up the life of the animal as an expiation for the sins thus confessed. … This shows us how Christians should pray. They should come to the altar; set God before their eyes; humble themselves for their sins; bring as a sacrifice the Lamb of God; lay their hands on this sacrifice; and by faith offer it to God in their souls’ behalf, expecting salvation through his meritorious death alone.”

Today, some see hand raising as evidence
of the moving of the Holy Spirit in the worshiper.

There is no passage of Scripture to support that interpretation. There is no question that the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to stir us to appreciate the awesome work of our Creator who is also our Redeemer and Good Shepherd. No where in the Bible is the raising of hands presented as an evidence of such a special work in an individual.

Outward displays of this sort, even when motivated by a sincere love for the Lord, should never stir us to see someone as spiritually more mature or blessed than others. On the other hand, we should not look upon those who raise their hands as spiritually immature or seekers of personal attention. Arrogance is a sin which can work on both sides of this issue.

What does this practice communicate
to people in various contexts?

What we do communicates things to those within a particular cultural setting. Not all common gestures or greetings mean the same to everybody. Raising hands in ancient times was to show attention to, submission to, and dependence upon some deity or authority figure. This was understood by pagans as well as by God’s people in those ancient settings. In our present array of cultures it is not a common expression of those same intentions. Within certain religious sub-cultures it continues to have that meaning. We need to be aware of how those around us understand our words and actions.

I remember going on a missions trip to the outer islands of the Bahamas back in the late 1960s. Before we had contact with the people who lived there we had orientation lessons to help us understand the way they interpreted gestures and idioms. Little things we do by our cultural up-bringing had offensive connotations to them. We had to be very careful that we didn’t miscommunicate unintentionally and insult the people we were there to help.

What is appropriate in some places my not convey what we are thinking to those around us. When our mission is to represent the truth God has communicated to us in his word, we need to know these distinctives.

While hand raising in prayer is obviously presented in a positive way in the Bible, it is no where commanded or recommended. It is an optional practice which should be used with great caution. It is not required and should not be practiced if this gesture does not express for us what it did in those ancient times.

In conclusion we suggest the following practical guidelines concerning hand-raising during worship:

  • Where it is practiced and understood in a humble God honoring way, it is an acceptable option.
  • Where it is not seen as a humble honoring of God, offense and confusion should be avoided.
  • Where it is perceived as a pagan practice, or understood as a sign of special spiritual sensitivity or status, it should be avoided.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

The Means of Grace

The Means of Grace

by Bob Burridge ©2011
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 88)
(watch the video)

Did you have a good breakfast this morning? They say it helps you to be more alert if you have had a good healthy night of sleep, and something nourishing to eat in the mornings.

When I was in elementary school back in the 1950s the Birds Eye company sponsored a promotional offer with the schools. We had to keep track of our breakfasts every day for what I think was about two weeks. We had to have orange juice (Birds Eye brand was obviously recommended), and along with that there was a list of good breakfast menus to use. We turned in a report signed by our Moms certifying that we had one of their recommended breakfasts every day. Birds Eye supplied rewards which I believe were little metal buttons with pins on the back, and a certificate. The school benefitted because they knew that a good diet to start the day made for more attentive students.

God made us so that we need a minimum daily amount of certain basic nutrients. Doctors, commercials, and cereal boxes tell us that our diet should include a certain daily amount of vitamins, proteins, calories, fiber, minerals, liquids, and such things.

What if few pills could be made to satisfy your intake need for the whole day? They would supply a daily dosage carefully measured to meet all your personal needs by a doctor. You just had to wash the pills down with a sufficient amount of water two or three times a day. You would not have to eat a single meal ever again.

How long would it be before you started to crave some tasty foods? Before long you would be remembering the joy of a good burger or pizza. Maybe you would long for a hot refreshing cup of coffee, or a warm breakfast roll. There would be haunting visions of hoagies piled high with the quality coldcuts, cheeses and all the other things that make it a favorite food. God enabled the body to taste, savor textures, and appreciate good aromas. We were created to enjoy eating, not just to be nourished.

What about our daily spiritual nourishment?

God has provided the means by which we receive what we need for our spiritual health. The answer to question 88 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is, “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption are, his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.”

These provisions are often called the “Means of Grace.” They are the means God uses as channels for his grace to be poured out upon his children. They are not the cause of God’s grace, nor are they things we do to qualify for God’s care. Grace is always an undeserved and unmerited gift of the Creator to those he redeems through the Savior. It was the work of Jesus Christ in his life and death that merits our blessings. In those who are given this spiritual life, he stirs the proper use of these means by which he has ordained to dispense life, spiritual strength, comfort, and hope.

We see a brief summary of the early Christian church in Acts 2:40-47. This section shows what followed Peter’s sermon when the Holy Spirit came in a special way on the Day of Pentecost.

Acts 2:40-47, And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

Notice the means God used in blessing his people in those early days of the Post-Resurrection church. The word of God was spoken, the Sacrament of Baptism was administered, the people formed a mutually helpful community of believers, and they prayed. The standards of the Dutch churches add church discipline to the means of grace which we list as three in the Westminster Standards. If we take that dicipline both as the work of the Elders in dealing with matters of sin, and as the continuing work of the body of Christ to be encouraging and admonishing one another daily, we can see how God uses this as another channel through which he builds up his children and directs his church toward purity. It is all worked in us by his unfailing grace.

The next set of questions in the Shorter Catechism deal with God’s Word (89-90), the Sacraments (91-97), and Prayer (98-99). The questions that follow are a detailed study of each part of what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” In the lessons about the Lord’s Prayer the issue of discipline and care for one another in the church is touched upon. We will cover the details of these sections in our continuing studies of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

These means are to help us satisfy our spiritual nutritional requirements. Like our physical nutritional needs, there is far more than just a fast fix mechanically applied to get us through without giving it much of our attention. We are created and redeemed to enjoy the exercise of these Means of Grace.

When we feel deeply troubled we cannot simply take a quick spiritual prescription and expect the problem to be gone in the morning. Just grabbing a Bible verse, or saying a fast prayer, or a quick weekly visit to church on Sunday morning is not the way God made us to live.

Our fast modern life style centers around things like fast food, instant dinners, disposable utensils, and one-day surgery. We might come to think we can satisfy our spiritual needs with the same kind of simple-to-serve, easy-to-use, instant cure-all.

Man was made to be in fellowship with God, not just to be aware of him. The Bible could have been written as a simple devotional guide with a list of prayers and christian social activities to check off each day. But it was not designed that way. It was written to show us who God really is, and who we really are. It was written to show us how to have a living relationship with God to glorify him an all we do, and to enjoy him forever.

Satisfying Christian living is never achieved by some easy formula. So then, what do we do when the “life” has gone out of our walk with Jesus? If we seemto be lacking spirituial power, and our Christian daily walk seems bland? What can we do?

Properly Making Use of the Means of Grace

As we make our way through the last part of the Shorter Catechism we will expand upon each one of the important means God provides. By way of introduction it serves as a good challenge to consider them first generally, and to make sure we are engaging in them regularly for our spiritual health.

1. We need a daily time for reading the Scriptures.
Acts 17:11 the believers in Berea were, “… more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”

We need a plan that will get us into the Bible every day. It helps to have a set time and place, and to schedule your reading and study so that it takes you through the whole Word of God.

Considering our remaining imperfections in this life before our future glorification, we will not be able to accomplish this on our own. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak and given to excuses, procrastination, and neglect.

To begin with, it is crucial that you are a born again child of God. The Bible will have no real value to those without Christ. You must come in faith admitting to yourself and to God that you are an undeserving sinner. You must be sure that you place your only hope of being made right with God through full trust in Jesus, as the Messiah, that he died to remove your moral guilt. Until you are “born again” you will not rightly understand what is so special about the Bible.

1 Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

2 Corinthians 3:15-16, “But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

If we remain spiritually dead we cannot rightly understand spiritual truth. Jesus told Nicodemus that unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)

Even after we become believers we will sometimes struggle with Bible study. We need to depend on the Holy Spirit when we read the Scriptures. Jesus told the disciples that He would send the Spirit for that purpose. In John 16:7 he said, “… It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.”

Jesus was about to finish the promised work of the cross. He was about to pay the penalty of sin for His people. When this work of atonement was finished, it was to be applied to the hearts of individuals by the Holy Spirit. If Jesus did not go away, then God’s justice would not be met. If there was no atonement made, then the Spirit would have nothing to apply in the conversion of God’s people.

They Holy Spirit is what brings conviction to our heart. Jesus went on to say in John 16:8, “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” Without the Holy Spirit, there is no personal sense of our own need, of the provision of the cross, or of the defeat of Satan at the cross.

The Holy Spirit is what leads us to learn truth. In the 13th verse of that same chapter Jesus said, “… when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; …” God’s truth for us is in the Bible, but it cannot be rightly appreciated or known without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

We need to call for the Holy Spirit in prayer when we read or hear Scripture. Bible reading is not just a reading exercise. It is a spiritual matter. Without the attending guidance and instruction of the Holy Spirit, we will miss the special value of the word of God.

Psalm 119:18 provides us with a good prayer to direct to God as we settle down to do our daily Bible reading. There the Psalmist prays, “Open my eyes, that I may see Wondrous things from Your law.”

We often prepare ourselves in outward ways when we sit down to read something. We take time to be sure we are comfortable, have enough light, and maybe have a snack or favorite drink while we make our way through our reading material. When you read God’s word, don’t forget to also prepare in prayer for the Holy Spirit to minister to you. Set your heart in full readiness expecting the instruction God the Holy Spirit. Prepare to have your eyes opened to behold wondrous things from God’s word.

2. We need a daily time of prayer.
The Bible itself is the best textbook on Prayer.

Matthew 6:6, “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

Psalm 5:3, “My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up.”

What can we do to enliven our daily time of prayer and praise?

The same things can be said as for our Bible reading. Our private worship must be made effective by the Holy Spirit.
First, you need to be sure you are a redeemed child of God. Prayer and praise is a mockery and blasphemy if offered to a god of your own imagination. If you are not made right with the God of Scripture through faith in Christ, your prayer time will not have the power of the Holy Spirit. Your time alone with God will not be like walking with your own Heavenly Father.

Believers also need to depend upon the Holy Spirit during prayer. If your prayer time seems like just an empty exercise, then pray for you prayer time. Ask God to bless it to you. Call upon Him to be specially present with you and for His Holy Spirit to enliven your time with Him.

If you cling mechanically to prayer guides, lists, or formulas, but fail to make sure that your mind and heart are fully focused on the Person of our Heavenly Father, then the most important element is missing. Without consciously clinging by faith to the Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit you cling to nothing that can comfort you at all.

I once watched as a child absent mindedly let go of her mother’s hand in a crowd. The little girl was watching something that kept her mind off what she was doing. She fidgetted and in doing so she moved a little way from her mother but hadn’t noticed. While keeping her eye on what ever had attracted her attention, she reached out again to hug her mother’s leg. but it wasn’t her mother’s! The substitute leg was very similar and wore a dress something like the color of mommy’s, and the girl didn’t notice the difference. The other adult didn’t realize the mistake. She smiled gently, probably flattered thinking the little girl was just showing affection. As the girl got more and more fidgetty, something was wrong. Mom wasn’t comforting or correcting her as she was used to. Not suspecting what she would find the little girl glanced up, and saw an impostor. She didn’t just say, “oh, sorry. Have you seen my mother?” Instead she let out a horrifying scream and cut loose with tears that got everyone’s attention in the room. A confused, and somewhat disappointed stranger and a slightly embarrassed mother quickly got the child back to the right person. As suddenly as it all started, the tears ended with a long close motherly hug.

There is nothing as comforting as our own parent. No substitute, no matter how competent will do. There is also no substitute for the presence of the Living God for our comfort and security. As we come to him in prayer we must be sure we come to the right Person. If we have a wrong concept of God because we have not paid close attention to the teaching of his word, we come to no God at all. If we discover we are clinging to other hopes in our lives, to the false promises of a corrupted religion, we will find no satisfaction for our souls. We need to cry out to the true God to rescue us and to be near to us. This is one of the great promises of prayer.

That little girl may not have done what Emily Post would recommend for proper social conduct, but she settled the issue most efficiently. She cried out most urgently. She did not just hope that mom would happen by. She screamed with all she was worth and mom came immediately.

How seriously do we seek for the blessing of the Holy Spirit in our walk with God? Are we like the parable our Lord told in Luke 11:5-10? Do we come, even at midnight? Do we knock again and again without giving up? Do we make our hunger for His blessing known to the Lord again and again and again until He answers?

Enoch is a good example of one whose walk with God was personal. It tells us in Genesis 5:24 that he “walked with God.” His walk with God was not just ritual or a bland spiritual prescription. His walk did not begin with what he was doing, but with the One he was doing it with.

What if you need to grow in your prayer life and present spiritual weakness and can do no more than to call out to God for the blessing of His Spirit? Then so be it. Many examples in the Bible show us that you are in good company. Several of the Psalms center upon a crying out for God in times of broken-hearted need.

3. We need to partake of the Sacraments.
How can we improve our receiving of the Sacraments? Those truly redeemed in Christ need to understand what the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper mean. They need to appreciate the infallible promises God attaches to them, and come with confidence in those promises. We will examine these more closely when we come to that section of our study.

4. We need the regular ministry of the body of Christ
God placed the members of His church into intimate fellowship so that their various personalities and talents would meet one anothers needs and serve the cause of Christ. We encourage one another to do what God prescribes for us, and with the attitude that should attend those activities. We also need to lovingly and humbly correct one another when we disobey the ways God has told us to live.

Hebrews 10:25, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another …”

When we gather for worship, Bible study, fellowship, or Christian service our coming needs to be in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is his presence among us that makes our fellowship special. Not only is he there to seal us into the one true body of Christ, he is also there to create mutual encouragement and edification.

Philippians 2:1-2 “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”

The power of the Holy Spirit is what makes God’s means effective.

To carry out what God calls us to do, and to be what he calls us to be, we need to rely completely upon the promises and power of our Redeemer.

Without the personal ministry of the Holy Spirit, our Bible reading may seem dead. Our personal prayer and worship time may seem empty. Our christian fellowship may seem shallow and unrewarding. Our corporate worship and partaking of the Sacraments may seem dull and routine. The promise of God is that there is something supernatural that ought not to be overlooked in the use of these Means of Grace.

The psalmist cried out in Psalm 42:2, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. …” In verse 8 of that Psalm God promises his blessing, “The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, And in the night His song shall be with me — A prayer to the God of my life.” Remember what the psalmist began with? “My soul thirsts for God …”

What is the hope promised to those who beg for and call out to God in prayer? Isaiah 40:31 says, “But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

Repentance and Godly Sorrow

Repentance and Godly Sorrow

by Bob Burridge ©2011
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 87)
(watch the video)

People are often very regretful about having done something wrong, particularly when they have to pay the consequences. However, just wishing they did things differently, and regretting the results, is far from truly repenting for what they had done.

While sitting in jail, a convicted felon might be filled with regrets. He might wish he had planned and executed his crime better to avoid getting caught. He might wish he had been able to get away from the police better when they came after him. He might regret hiring the lawyer that got him convicted. When a person is sorry for his sins in this way, he is not repentant. It is nothing more than self-centered regret.

There is a godly kind of sorrow for sin.

Real repentance is not just concern about the personal consequences of mistakes we make. It centers upon the offense to God which our sins produce. 2 Corinthians 7:10 makes a contrast between these two kinds of sorrow. It says, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

The world sorrows over the inconveniences caused by sin. This is a selfish kind of grief. The fact that it offends God only enters the picture in how God might punish the guilty party. When discipline in a society or home is only a matter of rewards and punishments, it trains people to weigh what they do against the cost of the personal consequences. So crime is avoided simply because it “doesn’t pay.” They figure that if they get caught and have to go to jail, it might not be worth taking the chance.

That is the attitude that makes people drive over the speed limit when the police are not around. They easily lie if they think they can get away with it, and if it helps them out in some way. They steal from their taxes, steal from God’s tithe, or shoplift things in stores. It’s why children often risk the consequences to break the rules their parents make.

There is a far greater reason to avoid doing what’s wrong.

Moral judgments should not be based upon what benefit we get from them. They should be measured by how they either please or offend God. We are not here for our own advancement. We advance so that God will be honored.

I often think of Eric Liddell, the Scottish olympic runner whose story was told in the movie Chariots of Fire. He clearly let his fans, friends, and opponents know that he was not running for his own glory. He ran for God, for his honor. In one of the race scenes another runner hands Liddell a scrap of paper. There’s a Bible verse on it: 1 Samuel 2:30, “…he who honors Me, I will honor…” Eric holds the paper tightly in his fist during the whole race.

This is why we should work hard and do our best when we scrub our floors, write our lessons or sermons, do our homework, produce our products, serve our customers, heal the sick, defend the accused, or whatever we’re expected to do here in this life. We owe all we are and have to God and to him alone. Our abilities to work, create, save, and produce are only ours because of God’s mercy.

When we do things that displease God, it ought to trouble us deeply. If we are redeemed in Christ, it ought to drive us to repentance.

Westminster Shorter Catechism question 87 asks, “What is repentance unto life?”
Answer: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”

True repentance is not natural in our fallen souls.
It is an evangelical grace.

Repentance is an ability implanted by God’s gracious work of regeneration. Along with faith in the redeeming work of Christ, and the beginning of real spiritual growth, God makes us able to see our sins for what they are, and to repent of them.

Contrary to popular thinking, the Bible does not teach that first we need to repent, then God steps in because of that to forgive us for our sins. The fallen heart cannot truly repent anymore than he can have a true faith. However, once spiritual life is implanted, repentance cannot be avoided. It is not our deep feelings about sin that save us. It is the work of Christ, and the faith in that work that begins when we are regenerated by his operation upon our hearts. The same grace that makes us believe also makes us truly remorseful to God for our sins.

This is the consistent teaching of the Apostle Paul.

Romans 2:4, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”

A. A. Hodge explains, “Every Christian duty is therefore a grace; for without him we can do nothing ( John 15:5). And equally every Christian grace is a duty because the grace is given to us to exercise, and it finds its true results and expression only in the duty.”

This means that if we truly repent of our sins, God is to be thanked for our repenting. However, we should not just wait around for God to overcome our moods and stubbornness. It is our duty to admit the depth of our sins and come broken before God in repentant confession. Only when we come can we discover that God has so graciously moved our hearts to do so.

It is important to know what a true biblical repentance is.

There are two main Hebrew words in the Old Testament that are translated as “repentance”, and two Greek ones in the New Testament.

The Hebrew word, nakham (נחם), is the key to understanding the word. Dr. Girdlestone explains that it means “to draw a deep breath.” It was used to express a deep feeling that makes us sigh. Sometimes it is that deep feeling we experience when we mourn or grieve in sorrow. Other times it is used for the deep compassion we have in our hearts when we see someone else suffering. The word came to be used for comforting or consoling someone. One of the things that can move us to deep sorrow is when we consider our sins against God.

The Bible sometimes uses this word in reference to what God does. Often it is translated that God repented of something he did or purposed. However, that is not a good translation of the word in that case. God never regrets what he has done or planned. He never makes inferior decisions he later finds out should have been different. He is, however, moved with deep compassion to console his people, and to grieve over their rebellion. It is better to use wording such as, “God grieved,” “God sighed,” or “God was moved with sorrow and compassion” concerning sinful actions that harm his people spiritually.

The other biblical words often translated as “repentance” mean the change in a person caused by the deep emotions of sorrow or compassion.

Latin gave us the word “remorse” which literally means “to bite again.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines remorse as “a gnawing distress arising from a sense of guilt for past wrongs”

When God changes a heart in regeneration
repentance is one of its fruits:

There is an intellectual change. The Holy Spirit uses God’s word to convince us about what is true. He points out through Scripture and by our renewed conscience what is right and wrong. He shows us where we would crossed the moral line. The unsaved only see rules with penalties. The believer sees moral principles that show us what honors God, and what offends him. That is a huge difference. Instead of figuring out which things we can get away with, our deep love and gratitude to God compels us to live for his glory, rather than to indulge our own pleasures.

King David showed this more mature understanding of sin. The Holy Spirit, by the prophet Nathan, opened his heart to understand his offense against God. We see his reaction in Psalm 51.

Psalm 51:3-4, “For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.”

There is also an emotional change produced. When the nature of our sin is revealed, a believer’s heart responds with profound grief and spiritual pain to know how much he has offended his God.

When we repent as we should, God generates in us a relief and joy because of his assurance of forgiveness and comfort. This is what David meant in the same Psalm after he repented.

Psalm 51:14, “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.”

There is also a volitional change. When a redeemed soul is informed about sin and convicted by the Spirit, his desires change. He wants his fellowship with the Lord to be restored. He is not just worried about his own punishments. He knows he deserves them. He also begins to desire to make choices that honor his Creator. David shows this transformation in other verses in Psalm 51.

Psalm 51:11-12, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

Psalm 51:15, “O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.”

It is sad that many evangelical churches
teach a watered down repentance.

Some define “repentance” as if it was only a change of mind about sin, but that it does not require a change in behavior. God does not divide us up as if we were disconnected puzzle pieces. When he redeems us, he does not just inform us mentally. He renews our dead souls. We begin to live spiritually for the first time.

A. A. Hodge says that repentance unto life is, “a change of mind including evidently a change of thought, feeling and purpose corresponding to our new character as children of God.”

If our regeneration is genuine it implants life into our lost souls. That produces a change we called conversion. That will include a true repentance, a deep sorrow over our sins, an awareness of how horrible it is to violate what pleases our loving and gracious God, and a change that makes us determine to stop sinning and strive to do what is right. The regenerate child of God is able to apprehend both the horrors of sin as an offense against God, and the wonders of grace which show the mercy of redemption through the Messiah.

He understands that sin is just plain wrong, not just because it produces unpleasant results in his life and circumstances, but because God is offended.

He sees the fleeting pleasures of sin as having no appeal to him at all when considered in the light of God’s honor (Hebrews 11:25). He understands his own inner moral weakness and wants it changed. He wants to be free from sin and its bondage, rather than just from its personal consequences. He sees his condemnation as just, and only removed by the merits of Jesus Christ in his place.

When we realize that the foolish and wrong things we do cannot possibly make us truly happy or help our loved ones, when we see that God alone is the one offended most by our every sin, we can only then understand the Apostle Paul’s cry in Romans 7:24-25, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! …”

Repentance is not just about confessing and avoiding what is bad. It is about wanting to learn to be good. It is a strong desire to please God at every opportunity, in everything we do.

In Chariots of Fire Eric Liddell says, “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

The godly attitudes that grow in the heart of the repentant fill them with great pleasure to know that they do things God loves them to do. This is why we should love to live morally, to say no to sin, to turn away from temptation, to refuse to indulge our desires in wrong ways, and to give our all to Christ’s service and Kingdom.

The lost want to be free from the consequences of sin, but they care little about their offense to God. The believer will endure justly deserved consequences if he must. His joy is in the promise that he can be progressing out of his sinful ways, and becoming more and more free from offending the God he loves so dearly. He is driven to live every hour of his life for Christ — to please God.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

Reforming Ourselves

Reforming Ourselves

by Bob Burridge ©2011

Reformation Day is October 31st. On that day in 1517 Augustinian monk Martin Luther drew up 95 statements for scholarly debate. He had them posted on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

People from all over Europe were coming there to celebrate All Saints Day on November 1st. They believed they would receive special blessings by looking upon the relics, attending Mass, and by doing various kinds of penance at its reputable church. Superstition dominated the church then, and had enslaved the people with false hopes.

Luther wanted a biblical foundation for the church’s beliefs and practices. He didn’t have any interest in becoming one of history’s most influential people. But what he did on that seemingly average October morning shaped the whole course of Western civilization.

As an Augustinian Monk, Luther struggled with a sense of his own moral guilt. He could see that a perfectly Holy God could not ignore crimes against his created order. What God called “sin” had to be dealt with in some amazingly powerful way.

Luther could see from Scripture that nothing man or church could do would be enough to atone for a person’s sins. His sense of guilt led him into deep fear, self-beatings, and tears of shame and agony. His knowledge of God’s word was confused by the teachings of a popular and powerful church.

He was overwhelmed when he first saw a complete copy of the Bible. It was chained to a podium at the University of Erfurt. For ten years he avidly studied the Scriptures in search of what God actually said, instead of what the popular pastors were saying.

When he rediscovered the truth of grace in that book, he became a Reformer. Since only God’s word could be the standard for what was absolutely true, a sound and accurate knowledge of the Bible was the only way to set people free from lies, false teachers, and manipulative leaders.

The historic meaning of reformation
has been mostly lost in today’s world.

I often have people ask me why anyone would want to reform Christianity. Reforming does not mean revising or updating something. It means taking it back to its original form. It means we honestly examine the way things are, determine carefully what they should be, then try to remove the corrupted parts to restore the original.

In the days of King Josiah, a copy of God’s word was found in the rebuilding of the Temple. The reading of the long ignored word convicted the King and reformed Israel. Worship and daily life were restored to the way God said they should be.

In the days of Jesus the main religious groups had again corrupted God’s teachings. Jesus corrected their errors challenging them to return to the teachings of Scripture. He was the one promised in the writings of Moses, David, and all the Prophets. Those who listened to him returned to those ancient promises and discovered the much forgotten work of grace that changed their lives.

At the time of Martin Luther the church of Rome had again wandered far from God’s truth. New doctrines and rituals had been added which were not based upon the Bible. Luther and the other reformers worked to restore God’s Kingdom as seen on earth to it’s original form.

During the battles of the early 20th Century, Liberalism and Post-Modernism challenged us. Men such as J. Gresham Machen, Archibald Alexander Hodge, Francis A. Schaeffer, and Cornelius VanTil stood up for soundly understanding biblical truth.

Today in the 21st Century there is still a need for reformation. There’s an old Latin saying: Semper Reformanda. It means, “Ever being re-molded, re-formed.” Reformanda is a Latin Gerundive Participle from the verb, reformo. It is not as much about changing things, as it is about being changed.

It means, we should always be submitting our every belief and practice, our every love and goal, to the test of God’s word, then reshaping what we find so that it conforms to God’s truth and ways. Only what God has revealed should be our standard and foundation.

I have often heard this slogan misused, even by ministers who should know better. Some represent it as meaning, “always finding a new shape for things” – as if our duty is to be innovators.

That’s not at all what it means. As a Latin reflexive verb, it is something done to us, not something new we come up with to impose upon something else. Our duty is to be always re-shaping our beliefs and practices back into the original form given to them in Scripture.

Sadly, in our modern world, even among those who might say they are reformed believers, another Latin expression better describes their objectives: Semper Neo-formans. This Latin active verb structure means always forming something new.

Innovation is important. God calls us all to subdue his world for his glory, but it should never go beyond the boundaries set by God’s unchanging standard.

Reformation is not a change in God’s truth, or in the way he calls us to live and to worship. It is a change made in individuals, churches, families, and societies that brings them back to God’s ways.

Ignorance of the Bible lures people to unbiblical beliefs and practices. Some are unaware of how much the New Testament says about the form of worship, and how the church should be governed under the headship of Jesus Christ, and about how we each person should live in their homes, work places, and community.

The tension we see today, is the battle between two ways of looking at life: either we are re-forming our lives and beliefs to fit the form God gave us, or we are making up new forms that better fit a society in love with its own pleasure and comfort.

This principle of reformation is
a clear mandate from God in his word.

Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” What God says, is the only true light. Jesus is called the light of the world because he is the greatest communication of eternal truth into our world from God himself. He came to correct our errors, to show us the right way to live, and to secure our only hope of forgiveness and eternal life by his life and death.

To look for other sources of light, is to end up wandering down a wrong path. Notice how clearly God directs us to use his word as our guide, our only standard, and the only form by which we should direct our practices and beliefs.

Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.”

John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”

2 Timothy 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 complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Reformation is not just a matter of theoretical theology.

Biblical Reformation includes re-molding our lives as individuals, and as the family of God. It brings us back to principles that guide us through our every-day situations.

Our imperfect hearts are easily tempted by the world around us to develop wrong attitudes and behaviors. Each of us needs to be being re-formed into what God lovingly explained in his word.

1. We need to reform how we treat others with whom we come in contact. The attitude of the lost is to see others only as ways of making themselves feel good, or of accomplishing their temporal goals. The fallen nature tends to take advantage of others as long as it can get away with it.

To the lost, reputation becomes something that helps a person feed his self-centered life. They may act in a kind way toward others, and avoid obvious lies because they know it is harder to get what they want from others if people are offended by them or can’t trust them. What they see as “good deeds” are often driven by these very wrong motives. People try to act in a good way so they can get “points with God,” “respect in the community,” or “advantages in business.”

I once knew a couple who seemed very friendly. They had people over for dinner, went up to others in the worship service to greet them, and came to every church service. After some time we found out they were really there to network for their business. They were recruiting sales representatives to help sell their home care products. Once they went through their list of prospects in our church, they moved on to another congregation. They impressed many of us with their friendly attitude, until we chose not to join their pyramid scheme.

The lost might reach out to help others in need, but they do it to avoid facing a troubled conscience, or to fuel self-pride and gain postition in the community.

When self is the reason we do good things, God is no longer at the center or our thoughts and motives. Certainly we want good things in our lives. We should want to help others, and to be able to provide for those facing real needs, but these actions should proceed out of us as service to God, not as fruits of self-serving covetousness and greed.

When we are re-formed into what God’s word says we should be, we have a higher purpose. We pray and work hard while resting in the power of Christ to overcome our self-centered attitudes and behaviors.

Galatians 5:19-21 describes the works of the flesh, the things that issue from imperfect hearts. They are listed as, “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like …”

In their place, we should be cultivating the fruit of the Holy Spirit who works within us. That is what we see described in the next two verses of Galatians 5, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

For those redeemed by grace, honoring God should be first in their lives. It becomes their motive for being good, and for doing good to others.

We are obligated to show these evidences of the Holy Spirit at work in our hearts. This effects how we take part in conversations, and how we respond to rudeness. Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, That’s our mission, our responsibility in life.”

It is easy to walk away, to ignore those who make you uncomfortable, or to strike back at them, but God calls you to be light. He tells you to shine in the darkness, not to hide the light away. Lights are designed to shine in all those dark places. It is this standard that should shape our lives as we strive by the power of Christ to be truly reformed believers.

2. We need to be reformed in how we worship and fellowship with God. We all benefit from getting together on Sundays to sing, to pray, and to hear God’s word. However, worship is not primarily for our benefit. We come together as a congregation to honor God, the one who brought you through the week just completed, and who promises to guide and comfort you during the week ahead.

Biblical worship should be centered upon our Redeemer, not upon ourselves. We should not worship to feel entertained, but to be challenged to appreciate, love, and honor our Redeemer.

3. Being personally reformed effects how we handle our regular responsibilities. Marriage and family relationships and all our duties are not always carried out the way God says they should be. They must be reformed to again take the shape of what God says they should be according to his word.

Our work, studies, family relationships, and occupations are not just to get more things for our own pleasure. God says we are to work as his servants in are we are called to do. We should keep his glory first as we manage our time, resources, and opportunities. A reformed worker is diligent and careful to do his best in all he does. It is Kingdom work, done as citizens of God’s Kingdom as it is displayed here on earth.

In all things we need to be re-shaping our attitudes and behaviors so that they conform to what God says they should be. We do them to show our love and devotion to our Creator above every other goal and motive.

4. We also need to be reforming our private lives. Your alone time, when it is just you and God, needs to be shaped by the mold of God’s word. All your thoughts, secret wishes, opinions, likes, and dislikes, should be constantly re-modeled into what the Bible says they should be.

What do you secretly dream about and hope for? Would it please those around you if they knew? Would it please God? No one else can know what goes on inside your own mind, but God not only knows, he cares.

Reformation is not limited to the great accomplishments of large movements in the course of history. It is not found only in theses posted in public places to challenge the church to examine its doctrines and practices. It is about families making biblical principles the rule in their homes and relationships. It is about people doing their daily chores aware that they are advancing Christ’s Kingdom. It is about believers and their churches restoring God’s word as the foundation of their lives. It is about you bringing every thought captive to Christ, making your moment-by-moment choices in ways that show God’s word as your most respected and treasured guide. It is about showing God that you really love him supremely — above everything else.

When you take time to sit down each day to read your Bible and you pray, look for guidance there about how your life can be different, more honoring to the God you love. Be always being reformed.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

A Practical Kind of Faith

A Practical Kind of Faith

by Bob Burridge ©2011
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 86 Part 2)
(watch the video)

Faith in the most general sense of the word itself is a trust we put in something. The kind of faith that delivers us from sin and restores our fellowship with our Creator is special. It is a certainty God puts into our hearts when we are restored to fellowship with him. The barrier of our guilt is removed because Jesus Christ paid our debt of sin, and clothes us with his perfect righteousness.

This restoration opens our minds to see things as they really are. This true saving faith has God’s revealed truth as its object, and his promises as the rest for our souls. There ought to be practical outworkings of it in our lives and attitudes.

Faith that does not lead us to act upon that in which we say we fully trust, is a rather empty concept. Either we trust in God’s word or we don’t. We may have in immature understanding of what the Scriptures say, but once we know what God has said, we either trust it or dismiss it. There is a practical side of a true saving faith that continues to work in our lives after being adopted into the family of God.

Hebrews 11 is a good place to start in appreciating
that continuing work of Saving Faith.

Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Hebrews 11 is about the practical side of what faith does, rather than defining what faith is. It is a chapter about the heroes of the faith God implants into our hearts. They are individuals who in spite of their backgrounds, trusted what God made known to them, and acted upon it faithfully.

Sadly these words that begin the chapter have been misused to promote and to support a very unbiblical concept of faith. This verse gives us a helpful introduction to an important chapter of God’s word. If we misinterpret it, we confuse all that follows. This verse shows what a true faith accomplishes in us. It is a practical definition, rather than a strict explaining of the meaning of the word.

The verse begins with the word “Now.” This connects back to the previous chapter. There, in 10:38, the writer quotes from the prophet Habakkuk. The prophet had learned that instead of questioning God when troublesome things occur, we should live by faithfully trusting in his promises.

The verse quoted is Habakkuk 2:4, “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; But the just shall live by his faith.” There the word translated “faith” is the Hebrew word emunah (אמוּנה). It is usually taken as meaning, “to be firm, faithful.” The upright, instead of being proud and trusting in himself or in his own judgment, trusts in God and in his promises without wavering from them.

This genuine kind of faith is also what James had in mind in his epistle. In James 1:22 it warns us, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

Then in the next chapter, James 2:17-19 says, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble!”

When someone says he has faith in God, but lives as if his Creator was just a factual part of his life, he does no better than the demons. Simply trusting something to be true is not what saving faith means. Those who have a true kind of faith, show by their lives that it is genuinely produced by God. God never gives true faith to a person without also making changes in his heart and life.

The text tells us that true faith gives a foundation for our hope. It says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, … .” Faith is not just things we hope will happen. It is not a mere wish, fantasy, or dream. It is the “confident reality” of things hoped for. The NASB translates it, “… the assurance of things hoped for …”

The Greek word that modifies the things hoped for in the originally inspired text is hupostasis (ὑποστασις). It is a compound word. “Hupo-” (ὑπο) is that which lies under something as it’s foundation. the word “stasis” (στασις) is that which exists, or stands upon it. Faith is that well supported hope God gives us in his word. True faith gives us confidence in the reality of the things God promises. It applies God’s words personally in our hearts. It goes beyond reciting theoretical creeds.

This confidence is a work of the Holy Spirit in the believer. Faith is listed among the elements that make up the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22.

1 Corinthians 12:3 shows that this inner trust comes only from the Spirit. It says, “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

This verse is not just talking about saying the words “Jesus is Lord”. It means that no one can actually mean that they trust in Jesus as their Lord, unless the Spirit enables them by applying the finished work of Christ to them.

Jesus explained that this coming in faith is exclusively a work of God. In John 6:44-45 he said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”

Faith is not just a blind trust. It is always faith in something in particular. The only proper thing for true faith to trust upon is the word of God. That is why in bringing the gospel to somebody we should not just ask them to have faith in whatever it is they believe God is. We need to make sure they are trusting in God’s promises in Christ as revealed to us in Scripture. We always need to explain to people what the Bible says. They are to trust in what the gospel says, not just in some vague concept of God.

Romans 10:13-17, “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

When the Holy Spirit implants this saving faith in someone’s soul, he will believe whatever he knows God has said. Our duty is to point people to that truth. If they truly believe God and take him at his word, they will not only trust in the promises about salvation, they will trust all the moral principles and truths they know are revealed in the Bible.

There’s another practical outworking
of true faith in Hebrews 11:1.

Faith is, “… the evidence of things not seen.”

There are things we are not able to take into the science lab, things we cannot see, touch, or measure. Spiritual realities are just as real as physical ones. They are not seen with our five senses, or measured with scientific instruments. God testifies in his word. That becomes confident certainty to us.

This is not saying that faith is in itself evidence of unseeable things. We live in an age of religious existentialism and nihilism. Those are fancy words for complicated philosophies. They reflect some very popular opinions which are promoted in movies, music, books, and in our public schools. They teach that just deciding that something is true is all the reality we can know. Having faith in your faith is meaningless nonsense. The Bible does not teach that here or anywhere.

The word for “evidence” here is elenchos (ελεγχος). It means evidence in the negative sense of correcting wrong impressions or understandings of something. It is often translated as “reproof” or “conviction of sin or wrongdoing.” When truth is brought to the light, wrong things are exposed for what they are.

This text in Hebrews 11 teaches that what God says becomes our firm conviction when the Holy Spirit gives us a true faith, confidence that what God says is right, and that anything contrary to it is wrong. This living inner testimony from God is better evidence that scientific measurements. It gives us an inner assurance that God’s written promises can be counted upon and live by.

Saving faith is that convincing proof that makes our hearts accept and trust God’s word simply because we know God said it. It exposes errors and myths about things that come from the vain imaginations of lost hearts.

Faith in what God says brings comfort and confidence which are available nowhere else. Upon divine authority believers take action based upon what God tells them is best. They organize their lives around his advice. They begin to realize the rich spiritual blessings that come to us by grace alone.

Jesus said in John 7:38, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Principally, faith is the accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life by virtue of the covenant of grace (WCF 14:2).

This true faith produces a confidence and certainty that makes us thankfully obey God. We obey with more confidence than what any human reasoning could ever give us.

People are often quick to take human advice and risk all they have by resting upon it. Some make risky investments in the stock market because of a tip or hunch. Some take unproven medicines because of desperation and some partial research findings. People trust their lives to surgeons, pilots, bridge inspectors, restaurant cooks, and to thousands of other drivers when they take their cars out on the interstates. They trust TV infomercials, ads on coupons, the advice of friends who are no wiser than we are, and celebrities who not only act and sing, but tell us who to vote for, what soap to buy, and what foreign policy we should support for America’s future.

Even the best of human advice cannot compare with the confidence we should have in the words of God himself. If he made us and rules the entire universe, it makes no sense for anyone to hesitate to take his advice about the lessons of Scripture that effect our daily lives. He teaches us about responsibly managing our finances, about how his Sabbath Day should be honored, about how we should worship, about sexual morality and the preservation of our families and marriages.

The faith that comes to us by grace in Christ directs us to the one perfectly sure and secure foundation of truth — the word of God. We are fools not to fully entrust all we have and do to that perfect counsel.

Keeping these principles in mind, take a fresh look at Hebrews 11. Notice that each of the heroes of the faith did not simply have a blind or undefined ability to hope all things work out in the end. They did not have a leap-in-the-dark attitude which convinced them that God will do what they wanted him to do. They had a trust, a full confidence, in something specific that God had said. They believed his promises and spoken assurances. Beyond that, they showed the sincerity of their faith by acting upon what God said to them. They each did something in response to the promises of God. Their faith did not stand in a vacuum. It was such a firm trust that they could put their lives on the line knowing that if God said it, it was true and reliable.

This is the fruit our faith should have too. We do things God’s way, trust in his promises, act confidently in all we set out to do, because we are following the instructions and assurances of our Creator, the one who redeemed us undeserving sinners, and adopted us to become his beloved children forever.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism