Posts Tagged ‘Faith


a new year confession… the lord is my helper

‘I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?

A new year opens before us with its fresh prospects and challenges.  Our world is a more dangerous place than it was even a year ago.   How can we enter 2016 fearlessly and with hope?   The answer is simple; we must trust the Lord.

Faith. Trust.  The one thing needful (Jn 6:28,29).  Faith acknowledges God is God. It does what every creature ought to do before their Creator; take him at his word and believe (Hebs 11:1).  It relies wholeheartedly on him.  It is for such faith the ancient saints were commended (Hebs 11:2).  In it and through it they persevered and God was not ashamed to be called their God (11:16).  Faith creates conquerors, over comers (Hebs 11; 1 Jn 5:4). Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebs 11:6).

However, in even the greatest saint, faith is often in short supply; it is generally less in size than a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds  (Matt 17:20). The paucity of it in his disciples who day by day witnessed the miraculous in Christ and had themselves been empowered to perform miracles on more than one occasion drew an exasperated rebuke from their patient Lord (Matt 8:6; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20; Mk 16:14; Lk 12:28, 32).  It is little wonder that the request of the disciples was, ‘Lord, increase our faith'(Lk 17:5).

Perhaps their request ought to be ours too.  We profess to trust the Lord for our eternal salvation but seem to find it difficult to trust him for everyday life.  It is discomfiting.  More, it is an anomaly, an antimony. No wonder it elicits rebuke, loving rebuke, but rebuke none the less.  Which of us does not need to ask, ‘Lord, increase my faith’? It is, however, a dangerous request for it may result in the Lord placing us in difficult situations where we learn to trust; faith is like a muscle, it grows as we exercise it.

The Lord wants us to trust him in every situation of life.  Partly because, as noted, it is the only way to honour who he is as God and partly because he knows it is for us the way of peace and security.


psalm 121

In Psalm 121, the writer exhibits the kind of healthy faith we need to develop.  I thought a brief reflection on it may be helpful; helpful to me at least, and I trust, to you.


faith that talks to oneself

Perhaps the first point to underline is that (embarrassingly, we may be inclined to think) the psalm reveals the psalmist talking to himself.  He reasons with himself.  He is on a journey (probably to a festival in Jerusalem) and as he travels he faces real hazards.  He sees the mountains.  These may be those surrounding  Jerusalem he has yet to scale.  It may be that these remind him his security lies in the Lord (Ps 125:2) or it may be these are the focus of his anxiety.  Perhaps scaling them fills him with intimidation, even trepidation.  In any case, he feels as we all feel when faced with difficult, potentially dangerous, situations (as travelling was in those days); anxiety at some level begins to edge in. Perhaps he looks at the mountains with their hidden menace and his heart begins to fret.  Self speaks to him.

It’s vital to notice that when ‘self’, whether in thoughts or emotions, begins to assert itself the proper way to deal with it is to speak to it and control it.  There is nothing wrong (or embarrassing) about speaking to yourself (even aloud at times), in fact, it is absolutely necessary.  Here, in the psalm, the issue is uncertainty, even fear.  The journey to Jerusalem was difficult and dangerous and his psyche was telling him this in no uncertain terms.  He lifts his eyes to the mountains.  Travelling up into them fills him with foreboding.  He knows the dangers that lurk there.  Thus he asks himself the question (or perhaps better, self asks him the question), ‘where does my help come from?’

How will I cope with this?  This is scary?   I’m not up to this?  It’s all a bit too challenging, too demanding.

Notice how the psalmist handles this anxiety.  Or rather, notice how he doesn’t handle it.  He doesn’t allow the anxiety to keep whirling around his mind unchecked just increasing his stress and anxiety until it controls him.  This is the mistake we so often make.  No, he immediately addresses it.  He speaks to himself (firmly?) about why he has no need to be anxious – his help comes from the Lord.

What is he doing?  He is thinking in faith categories.  He is combatting fear with faith.

Where does my help come from?     

My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth

the lord

Notice his baseline faith-affirmation:  ‘My help comes from the Lord.’

His trust is in the Lord.  It is ‘the Lord’, the One with whom he is in a special relationship, that he trusts. The Lord had promised to be with his people.  He had solemnly promised to be their Helper, their Shield, who would guard over them and protect them (Gen 15:1; Deut 31:6,8;  33:29; Josh 1:9; Psalm 121:4.  Cf. 125:2).  Everything the Lord had promised and done for his people in the past was contained and confessed in the expression ‘the Lord’.  And he adds to it the further faith-affirmation – the Lord is ‘the Maker of Heaven and Earth’.  He is no tribal deity, limited in power to a particular location.  He made and owns all things.  Everything and everywhere belongs to him and is ruled by him, including these dangerous mountain roads on which he must travel.

‘The Lord is my help‘ is ever the first and most fundamental answer to our needs and fears.  It is the instinctive assertion of faith.  Whatever may be built on top, it is the substratum, the bedrock, the solid ground upon which all else rests.  Whatever the test, the dilemma, or the difficulty, anxiety is unnecessary. Why?   ‘The Lord is my help‘.  When fears arise this is both our confession and rebuke to our own trembling hearts.  We may strengthen our confession by reminding ourselves just how great the Lord is (as the psalmist does… he is the Maker of heaven and earth) which will deepen and strengthen faith but the basic faith affirmation is the same for every believer… the Lord is my help.
The rest of the psalm is simply an application of this affirmation to specific fears.

Sometimes it is helpful if we have vague general fears to identify the specific components and to apply ‘the Lord is my help’ to each one.  This is what the psalmist does.  He identifies three specific anxiety triggers and in each case reminds himself the Lord ‘watches over him’.  In fact, five times he reminds his heart the Lord is ‘watching over’; he is guarded.  When anxiety is pressing in we may need to remind ourselves many times that we are kept by the Lord.  This is part of the fight of faith, the fight to conquer anxious unbelief and be strong in the Lord.


anxiety about the road

He will not let your foot slip—

he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.   (v3)

The mountain tracks were dangerous.  They were no doubt precipitous.  He would often walk on scree. Rocks, roots, and ruts were ever present dangers.  If his concentration slipped he could have a serious accident.  There was no mountain rescue team.  He was on his own and injured, a nasty situation.  It was an altogether understandable concern.  He was not being neurotic.  The danger was real.  Faith does not pretend that dangers do not exist rather it asserts that in all such dangers the Lord is in control (Matt 6:25-34).  The psalmist’s confidence is not in his own prowess and concentration but in the Lord.  The Lord will not let his feet slip.  He may get tired and lose concentration but the Lord will not.  He does not sleep.  He tirelessly guards his people.  The Lord guards and watches over him.  Every detail of our life is under his careful watch.

The danger of a foot slip was so common it became an image for any kind of trouble where the godly felt vulnerable and ready to go down (Ps 38:16; 66:9).  In every case the resource for faith is the Lord.  As panic is rising the heart of the believer looks firmly and resolutely to the Lord.  In him, whatever the danger, he finds support, encouragement, even joy.

When I said, “My foot is slipping,”

your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.

When anxiety was great within me,

your consolation brought me joy.  (Ps 94:18)


anxiety about the elements

The journey to Jerusalem was dangerous not least because of the weather.  This is the second articulated fear of the writer.

The Lord watches over you—

the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,

nor the moon by night.

Sun and moon were dangers in themselves but they also serve as a symbol for all weather that may be faced on the journey.  We must remember these were days before, cagoules, lightweight tents, sunblock, hillwalking boots and GPS.  Weather was a good reason to think again before travelling.  For most too travelling would be by Shanks’ pony; searing sun, sudden storms and flash floods, and bitterly cold nights were only some of the difficulties to be faced.  Fluttering anxiety was all too understandable.

The psalmist faces his fear.  He does not repress it (pretend to himself it does not exist) which is dangerous (it means lying to one’s self) but suppresses it.  That is, he answers fear by faith.  His response to rising fear is as before – the Lord watches over me.  His resource is the Lord and he is completely adequate.  If he needs shade then the Lord is his shade.  The Lord who had been to Israel as it journeyed a pillar of cloud  by day (protecting from the sun) and a pillar of fire by night (lightening up her way) is the same Lord who watches over him.  All who hide in him are safe.


anxiety about people

The Lord will keep you from all harm—

he will watch over your life;

‘Harm’ or ‘evil’ seems to normally refer to danger from people (Ps 140:1,2; 14:4; 10:7-10). Brigands and bandits lay in wait for easy pickings (remember the parable of the Good Samaritan).  How does the pilgrim handle this fear.  His confidence lies completely in the Lord.   He will keep him from all harm and ‘watch over’ his life.  Indeed ‘all harm’ widens the scope of his trust to the widest aperture.  The Lord will protect and watch over him not only in this journey but on all journeys, including the journey of life itself.

the Lord will watch over your coming and going

both now and forevermore.

As the psalmist has acknowledged and faced his faith by asserting again and again his confidence in the Lord to keep him his faith has grown so that he can affirm the Lord will be his Shield in every situation every day of his life (and beyond).  His faith muscle has strengthened by use. His trust is in his Lord who will never leave him or forsake him (Deut 32:1,2).



This is the kind of faith for which the ancients were commended (Hebs 11:2).  It was no abstract theoretical faith about the future that had no bearing on the present but a faith in the invisible God and his promises that brought him into the whole of their lives.

But what if God does not rescue?  What if the pilgrim does slip and break a leg?  What if he does get swept away in a storm?  What if bandits do attack him?

Firstly we should note the psalmist makes no room for these possibilities.  His confidence is firmly in the Lord and he refuses doubting questions that undermine this.  Yet it is true the Lord does not always keep his people safe in the way they expect, however, he always keeps them safe.  In Hebs 11 some of the witnesses to faith had miraculous preservation but some did not (Hebs 11:32-38).  Some died horrible deaths.  Did the Lord fail them?  Did he forsake them?  No, he didn’t.  He remained their helper and protector.  This is the apparently paradoxical truth that Jesus highlights when he says:

But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.  Luke 21:12-19

They may be put to death but not a hair of their head would perish, a colloquialism for their entirely safety (cf. Lk 12:7).  In the most extreme of circumstances the Lord is with us, helping us, keeping us, watching over us, guarding us (Isa 43:2).

Faith says with the men about to be thrown into the fiery furnace: we believe that the Lord will deliver us but if not…  Faith says with Job, though he slay me yet will I trust him (Job 13:15). And in this type of faith fears are stilled and the peace Christ gives is realised and rules in our heart. Dependence dispels dread.  It develops determination and daring.

May we enter this new year with such dependence, such trust.  May we say daily in the words of another psalm,

The Lord is my light and my salvation—

whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life—

of whom shall I be afraid?  

Psalm 27:1


preaching about suicide

First of all, a further apology for such a time between posts.  Productivity is likely to remain low over the next couple of months so apologies again in advance.

On a recent Sunday past, a group of students from a nearby Bible College were responsible for our Morning Bible Hour.  Their preacher was a young Dutchman who  spoke ably.  His topic was interesting, indeed arresting.  He spoke in a general and pastoral way on Psalm 23 and made a number of pertinent comments.  He related the Psalm to a very personal and moving account of his young, pregnant sister-in-law’s tragic suicide some three years previously.

The juxtaposing of Psalm 23 and the suicide of a confessing believer in Christ was startling and provocative.

Psalm 23 extols God’s providential care of his people.  David, a literal shepherd in his youth and in his adult life, as King of Israel, a shepherd of a different sort (for kings in Israel were regularly described as shepherds of God’s people), confesses rightly and humbly, ‘the Lord is my Shepherd’.  The Psalm extols the shepherding care of God in David’s life.  Whether in pleasant times (when led by still waters) or difficult dark times (in the valley of the shadow of death) the Lord is his protector and keeper.  David need fear no evil.  Indeed in the very midst of his enemies, when threatened on every side, David’s faith depicts the Lord seating him at a banquet; the Lord’s provision makes a mockery of his enemies and every fearful situation.  David is safe in the epicentre of the storm because the Lord provides abundantly.

The question hangs begging in the air.  Why then did the young Dutchman’s sister-in-law commit suicide?  If God protects his people then why did he not prevent this young mother (and mother-to-be) from self harm?  Where is the God who gives banquets to his troubled and beleaguered people?

It would be a foolish person who did not see that here we are in deep waters.  Deep waters for faith that is.  This kind of topic is neither easy (or safe) to preach or post on for not only is suicide a subject that sends a chill down the spine of most but, more pertinently, who knows whether those who hear or read are themselves contemplating suicide or have a relative who has taken this tragic course. Discoursing on suicide means we must be particularly conscious of our audience.

So what points ought preachers to make when grappling with the subject of suicide of a believer?  Let me suggest a few.

1.  Preachers should stress the need for those who feel suicidal to see their doctor, and soon.  Many suicides arise from clinical depression.  Clinical depression is an illness that drastically skews our thinking.  It is not merely the normal experience of being down in the dumps.    People who are clinically depressed are unable to raise their mood however hard they try.   For whatever reason something has ceased functioning as it ought in their brain or nervous system that results in a mind flooded with dark thoughts and a mood that is deeply depressed and perhaps anxious.  They have a sustained disturbance of mood that is tangible, abnormal, and profoundly affecting their sense of well-being.  Medical attention can help dramatically.  The depression and symptoms can be treated (and significantly alleviated) and the underlying cause diagnosed and tackled.  Clinical depression is pathological; it is an illness and should be recognised as such.

Preachers should stress that just as a heart condition or blood pressure or a broken leg requires medical treatment (and perhaps lifestyle change) so too does clinical depression.  The depressed person is as clinically ill as is the person with say angina.  And while there may be spiritual issues that the illness reveals or creates (as there may be in any illness) the whole story is not likely to be spiritual.  The advice to see their GP soon and speak openly must be clear and unambiguous.  Where symptoms of depression or anxiety are persisting and are moderate to severe in intensity a visit to the doctor is a must and preachers must avoid suggesting the whole matter is spiritual and must be handled at that level.

Let me say it once again, preachers who preach about suicide and depression and other depression related topics must impress, as part of their message, the value of visiting the doctor, to fail to do so is irresponsible.  Medical attention can help dramatically.

2.  Preachers should not pronounce whether the person who has committed suicide is presently in heaven or hell.  They should avoid this for reasons both theological and pastoral.  They should avoid pronouncements for the simple reason that they do not know.  Preachers simply do not have the authority to pontificate for the Bible gives no sure word on this. Preachers have no theological mandate.

At one time the almost uniform view was that no suicide has eternal life.  Nowadays the opposite view prevails.  Preachers tend to fall over themselves to assure those who grieve that their loved one is in heaven. Such diametrically opposing views exist because pastors go beyond what Scripture reveals. On the one hand those in Scripture who commit suicide (like Saul and Judas Iscariot) are hardly comforting company.  It is those faithful unto death who are promised the crown of life (Rev 2:10).  Scripture affirms that it is those who stand firm to the end who are saved (Matt 24:13).  Endurance in faith is a hallmark of the redeemed (Hebs 6:11; Cf Rev 13:10). At the same time, God is not unrighteous and will not forget their work and love (Hebs 6:10).  More could be said here but for brevity’s sake I shall say no more.

Save this…

Pastorally it is disastrous to affirm those who commit suicide will be in heaven.  For the believer in the audience with suicidal thoughts such cavalier assurances act like green lights.  For some, the only brake on suicide is the worry that they may end up somewhere worse.  This is a healthy fear and is no bad deterrent and preachers should not undermine it by pronouncing where they have no word from the Lord.

Where the Bible remains silent we should remain silent.  In this way we avoid encouraging possible suicides or devastating grieving relatives and we stay within the bounds of ‘it is written’.

3.  Preachers should make clear that suicide is always an expression of a collapse of faith.  I imagine I hear shocked protest.  However, we must be blunt and unambiguous.  It is never faith that leads to suicide.  Faith trusts God.  It never gives up.  It never despairs.  It never loses hope.  Faith endures.  Suicide results from a loss of hope.  It flows from despair.  It happens when the pain (emotional or physical) is so great that the person no longer believes the resources are available to cope with it. When pain exceeds pain-coping resources, suicidal feelings are the result.  To believe we have no resources is the essence of unbelief.

Now it may be that the mind which commits suicide is so overwhelmed and distorted that all personal responsibility is gone.  None of us knows – only God knows.

I speak about this subject with some personal insight.  I have known deep depression that created suicidal thoughts.  I know others who have similarly suffered from depression and experienced suicidal thoughts.  In my case, profound and deep though the depression was, insistently mind-altering though it was, I did not lose completely the sense of personal responsibility and accountability. Indeed it was faith asserted when I did not understand and when my mind was screaming otherwise that preserved me.   To have succumbed to suicidal thoughts would only have been possible had I finally (however briefly) abandoned faith.

Perhaps there are depths of depression where such abandonment is inevitable and leave the person without any responsibility for their actions.  I do not know… and neither do you.  What we can say, is whether faith is abandoned knowingly (and so culpably) or otherwise, it is nevertheless abandoned and it is this that frees the person to commit suicide.  Where there is clinging faith there is hope and no suicide.

Of course, the person who commits suicide may have such distorted thinking that he believes he is doing the best/right/believing thing.  He is convinced he is a burden on others etc.  We should be clear (and preachers should make clear)that such ‘convictions’ are not true faith but a deception of Satan.  Again, true faith clings to God and what Scripture has revealed even when the mind and spirit are being swamped by all kinds of deceptive lies.

Again, I ask, is there a point at which the lies become so overwhelming, so compelling, that all personal responsibility is gone?  Only God knows.  But one way or another, either culpably or otherwise, faith has collapsed and the preacher, let me repeat, should make clear that this is the case.  We do none any favours by shielding them from this harsh reality.

This collapse of personal faith by the suicide is what helps us make sense – at least to some extent – of the tension that seems to exist between the announcement of Psalm 23 that God is the shepherd who protects his people and the suicide of a believer.  Why does David feel secure when threatened on every side?  Is it because he is super-brave?  No.  It is because of his faith.  It is because David believes that the Lord is his Shepherd that he is strong in spirit and stands firm.  It his resolve to believe and trust that gives him strength and resilience.  If his faith were to collapse then David would be overwhelmed and crushed.

Yes the Lord keeps his people but he keeps them through faith (Roms 11:30).  It is faith that gives us victory (1 Jn 5:4).  It is the shield of faith that defends us against the fiery destructive darts of Satan (Eph 6).  It is faith that enables us to endure (Hebs 11:27, 12:3; Rev 13:10).  Where there is faith there is endurance and divine keeping and protection.  It is those who trust the Lord promises to keep.  Not those who trusted in the past but those who trust now.  While we trust we are invincible.  When we trust we shall never be put to shame.  It is when we cease to trust we fall and sometimes catastrophically.

Of course, this does not answer all questions.  We are still left asking why the Lord allows faith to collapse.  Why did he allow the Dutch preachers sister-in-law to commit suicide or for that matter the preacher who married my wife and I?  But that question is but one of a whole parcel of such questions.  Why did he allow the young child prayed for and loved to die?  Why did he allow the cancer that took away a loving and needed father?  Why did he allow the pastor to commit adultery?  Why the genocide in Rwanda, the killing fields of Cambodia, the WW2 concentration camps?  Why did he permit Job to lose all that he had?  Indeed the most basic question of all – why did he permit Adam to sin?

To these questions no answer is given.  Such questions are too wonderful for us.  We are but creatures and God alone is the Creator.   In him alone are found the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.  Like Job we may in our confusion and pain question God and even, fools that we are, impugn his righteousness.  But like Job we will finally need to learn that God is God and we are but men.  We will need to hear the Lord say to us tenderly but firmly,

Job 40:1-8 (ESV)
And the Lord said to Job:  “Shall a fault-finder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” … “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?

Like Job we will need to humble ourselves and discover that what faith really requires is not answers but a fresh vision of God himself, a fresh realization that God is trustworthy even when we are in the dark, that God is righteous and every man a liar and unrighteous.  Then like Job we will confess,

Job 42:3-6 (ESV)
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

In Christ, we have a far greater grasp of the ‘godness’ of God than Job had.  We have far more reason to trust unconditionally. And faith does this; it trusts Christ because of all he is and is content to forego understanding in a host of other areas.

The preacher who discusses suicide will want to make this point, and the previous ones, and perhaps others that I have not considered.  Are there any you feel ought to be included?


faith works


questions we must shelve

It has become quite trendy to assume asking questions in the Christian faith is a good thing. And of course by and large it is.  However, not all questions are good.  We saw in the last post that questions ostensibly asked to inquire can really be intended to subvert.  Satan is a master at this type of question.  His, ‘Has God said’, in the garden has been asked a million times since.  The motivation behind a question must be discerned.

Some questions are asked merely to trip up.  Jesus was asked questions he refused to answer because he recognized the motivation was insincere and ulterior.

Luke 20:1-8 (ESV)
One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.” He answered them, “I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” 

Some questions are simply not ours as creatures to ask.  The big question we hear people ask is, ‘How can a God of love send billions of people to endless punishment in hell’.  It is essentially the question Jesus was asked by someone as he travelled through Judea and he refused to answer it.

Luke 13:22-24 (ESV)
He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

Jesus didn’t answer it because the question was merely philosophical and not related to the inquirers own eternal well-being.  What real business was it of his whether few or many were saved?  What good would it do him to know the answer?  There are issues that belong to the Creator that not ours as creatures to judge or know.  Jesus tells the inquirer the real matter that should concern him is ensuring he is one of the number who are saved – be they many or few.

There is an arrogance and impropriety about the question that asks ‘Can we really believe in a God who consigns billions to hell’.  It is hardly surprising that an improper question pursued leads to conclusions that are as inappropriate and as audacious as the question; irreverent questions lead to irreverent conclusions.  We are told that since many are not converted in this life in the life to come (in hell) they must have further opportunity to repent and believe.  This assumption flies in the face of what Jesus goes on to say.  Having said, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door.’ he proceeds to say, ‘For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.’

But that is another issue for the next post.


learning to lean

Not I, but a friend of 'greater faith'.

An illustration

About 30 years ago (can’t believe it is so long ago) I decided to learn to windsurf (or boardsail).  I needed to do something physical for the good of my health and windsurfing seemed sufficiently edgy and ‘cool’ (though I don’t think the word existed then) for a dude like me.  Anyway so much for the rationale.

I am not a natural when it comes to sport (or unfortunately anything else) so learning to windsurf was quite a steep learning curve.  At first it was about matters of basic technique: learning to stand on the board and stay standing; learning to pull up the mast (with sail) and keep it up; learning to know where the wind was coming from; learning not to panic when I fell into the water and a sail landed on top of my head  suffocating me, and so on.

In windsurfing, the first really sweet moment is when everything comes together (more by accident than skill) and you are standing upright, holding the boom, the sail fills with air, and you move forward in a straight line.  I guess when I first managed that I was a windsurfer.

From there many further skills need to develop but the most basic of them is this – learning to trust the sail with your weight.  In windsurfing the sail when full of wind is impossible to hold (through the boom) unless you lean back and act as a counter-weight.  This is the really, really hard thing to do.  It’s not hard physically, but psychologically.

When first learning.  it’s pretty easy (after you’ve mastered a few basics) to stand upright in a light wind and keep the sail upright by simply holding the boom.  In a sense, at this point, you are windsurfing.  You know it is the sail and the wind that matter and you are holding firmly on to both.  You are moving forward travelling through the water more or less going where you intended.   But at the same time you have both feet firmly anchored to the board.  Your trust is divided.   It’s how many of us are in early days of learning to trust God isn’t it?  We know we ought to trust him and to an extent we do, but we are  cautious.  We are timid.  We rely a lot on ourselves for security too.   We are tentatively trusting the sail but should anything seem at all shaky we will quickly fall back on our own resources.

In boardsailing, such a ‘double-minded’ position is unstable in all its ways.  Progress is only possible when weight is transferred from the legs to the sail.  The novice windsurfer has to learn to lean back and trust his weight to the sail.  It’s scary and against every natural instinct but if he doesn’t do so he’ll (she’ll) never survive in anything but the lightest winds and even then everything will be precarious.   Any pressure on the sail, any rise in the wind and a ‘wipeout’ is certain.  Well, the parallel is obvious in’t it.  We make progress in the Christian life as more and more we entrust ourselves to God.  Our confidence must be in God and not ourselves.  We must learn to have ‘no confidence’ in ourselves and every confidence in God.  For it is only as we lean on him and not our own understanding we begin to move forward in the Christian life.   Only then do we find stability and security.  Only then do we begin to ride the waves.

Of course, as we progress, we are able to face more extreme and demanding conditions.  We are able to face mounting waves and winds without ‘wipeout’.  A storm may whip up and the skies become ominous but we are safe and secure in hostile seas because we have learned how to lean.  We have learned to let the sail deal with the difficulties.

Yes, of course the analogy is imperfect, every analogy is.  But it has validity.  As we move from baby steps in Christian living to become more confident Christians God will develop our skills (maturity) in Christian living by placing our lives in more and more exacting conditions.  We will face winds and waves and hostile conditions.  In this way our heavenly Father will deepen our ability to lean by placing us in contexts where more leaning is ever more vital.

The life of faith is a life of leaning.  Faith looks to God in Christ for every resource to enable surfing the sea of life.  The windsurfer could get nowhere without his resources.  The board, the sail, the mast, the boom and lots of other things are the vital factors in sailing.  Without them he cannot even begin.  In the life of faith the story is the same.  All our resources lie outside of ourselves and we are called to trust them and employ them appropriately in the life of faith.  If we do so we will be safe and we will know the deep exhilarating joy  – the abundant life – that is only for those who dare to move out beyond the shallows and learn to lean.

Prov 3:5 (ESV)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, ​​​​​​​and do not lean on your own understanding.

storm leaning

storm leaning... same guy


do this and live

The Law, that is, the Sinai Covenant,  in the words of the NT, is ‘not of faith’ (Gals 3:11).  God’s covenant with Abraham relied on God’s promise for its fulfilment received simply by faith (Gals 3:17-19, 22).  Law, by contrast, depends on human ‘works’.  It is a covenant of works and so Paul  speaks regularly of ‘the works of the law’ (Gals 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10; Roms 3:20).  Law and promise are not merely two different covenants they are covenants based on two different principles (Gals 3:18).  Promise rests entirely on righteousness  and life gifted from God while Law depends on righteousness and life gained by man.  Promise requires only faith in the Promise-Maker; Law demands faith in self.    And so Paul juxtaposes ‘the works of the Law and the hearing of faith’ (Gals 3:2)

Despite the NT consistently and clearly presenting the Sinai Covenant as a works covenant many doubt that it is.  It is hard to understand why.  The evidence seems overwhelming.  For instance at the inception of the covenant we read,

Exod 19:1-8 (ESV)
On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”  So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.

The Lord makes clear that the covenant with all its promised blessing (you shall be my treasured possession…) depends on their obedience and faithfulness to the covenant laws.  Israel understood this, for the people rather too self-confidently affirm, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do’.  The covenant depended on works; it was a covenant of ‘he who does shall live’.  That is precisely the point made in Lev 18.

Lev 18:1-5 (ESV)
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

The covenant did not assume obedience as the consequence or effect of life rather it promised it as the cause or means of life.  This law-works perspective of the covenant is repeated regularly through the OT.  When Moses repeats the covenant to the generation of Israel about to enter the Land we read,

Deut 4:1 (ESV)
“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.

and again,

Deut 8:1 (ESV)
“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.

Life, and life in the Promised Land depended on ‘doing’ the covenant commands.  Moreover, it depended, not in keeping them approximately, but completely.  They must be careful to do, ‘the whole commandment’. The curses of a broken covenant fall on those who fail to do ‘all‘ the commandments of the Lord (Ex 15:26; Lev 26:14,15; Deut 5:29; 6:2; 13:18; 27:26; Gals 3:10).

Ezekiel reiterates the covenant conditions to those of his day.  That life depends on obedience could scarcely be clearer.

Ezek 18:5-9 (ESV)
“If a man is righteous and does what is just and right- if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully-he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God.

Indeed, Ezekiel states a principle that Paul reiterates in the NT – that judgement (life or death) is according to works (Roms 2:6-10).

Ezek 18:21-24 (ESV)
“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.

In Ezekiel 20, the Lord tells how Israel had been warned in her infancy that God’s blessing depended on obedience – ‘if a person does them he shall live’ – yet Israel had disobeyed and God’s judgements had fallen on them in the wilderness – that generation did not enter the Land.  In Ezekiel’s day similar failure meant exile from the land; life in the land was contingent on obedience… this do and live.

Ezek 20:10-13 (ESV)
So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned. “Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them. (Cf Ezek 20:21)

So unable are Israel to keep the covenant and thus gain life that Ezekiel foresees (as did Moses in Deut 30) a new covenant.  In this New Covenant God would allot by grace what Israel could not achieve by works.

Ezek 37:14 (ESV)
And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

The key point of the New Covenant is that any ‘doing’ that is required, God does it.

Sometimes it is suggested that the life promised in the OT is simply temporal life in the land and not eternal life.  In one sense, this mistake is understandable for the OT perspective on life and death is in the main physical and this-worldly.  However, by the NT, the understanding of life and death has considerably enlarged.  Life in its fulness is ‘eternal life‘ and likewise death, is ‘eternal death‘.  Jesus’ discussion with the lawyer who hoped to trip him makes this plain.

Luke 10:25-28 (ESV)
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.

Notice the context.  It is clear the discussion is framed within the terms of the OT Sinian Covenant.  The lawyer is thinking of life earned through law-keeping.  He speaks in the language of the Law – ‘what must I do’. That he means ‘do‘ in the sense of law-keeping is clear, for Jesus asks what the Law requires and cites the Lev 18 text ‘do this and live’ (Cf. Matt 19:18).  Yet, the lawyer conceives this law-life not merely as temporal but as ‘eternal life’ (cf. Matt 19:16-25).

Furthermore, in the NT letters, when law-life and faith-life are contrasted, the contrast is not that one is temporal and the other eternal but that one is possible and the other impossible.  Righteousness and the ensuing life cannot be attained by Law for law-keeping is impossible.  The Law does not effect righteousness rather it  exposes and excites sin (Roms 3:20; 7:5).  Righteousness and life are always gifts from God (Roms 3:21-26; 5:17) and come only through faith.  And so Paul writes,

Gal 3:11-12 (ESV)
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”


Rom 10:5-13 (ESV)
For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

This last text is an important one.  For here, in NT language, we have the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant to which Ezekiel alluded (Ezek 37) and of which Jeremiah spoke.

Jer 31:31-33 (ESV)
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Obedience is no longer an impossibility (who shall ascend…descend) but entirely possible (the word is near and in your mouth and heart).  In the Roms 10 text, Paul takes a text from the OT (Deut 30) that refers to the Law (old covenant) and speaks of it as gospel (new covenant). How he can do this must wait a future blog.  The purpose of this post is simply to establish, by glancing at the OT, the truth of Paul’s contention that

Gal 3:12 (ESV)
… the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”


eschatology precedes everything

In theology eschatology comes first. That is, in God’s plan, the End precedes the Beginning. Or, if you like, the End shapes the Means.  God’s eternal plan to head up all things in Christ frames everything that goes before.

Thus new creation precedes and explains creation; the New Jerusalem precedes and explains the Garden; Christ precedes and explains Adam.  Adam is ‘the type’ of ‘the One who is to come’ not vice versa.

Some novelists write unsure where their narrative will take them.  They become authors at the mercy of their characters and plot.  Not so God.  He planned the final chapter before the first and it drove the whole plot.  Before the Beginning, the End existed.

1Pet 1:19-20 (ESV)
… a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you

Rev 13:8 (ESV)
… everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

Everything is explained from the vantage point of the End. Christians truly live by faith  and with God’s perspective when they see things eschatologically, that is, from the perspective of the End.  Faith is future hope.

Heb 11:1 ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’

Our faith collapses into confusion and compromise when the End is not our controlling cypher.   It is the dénouement that frames and forges faith.   Thus Noah built an ark, Abraham looked for a city, Sarah waited for a son, Joseph gave instructions about his bones, Moses chose affliction with the people of God…

All these endured because they saw the End.  In the words of Hebrews,

Heb 11:13 (ESV)
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.

Look frequently at the End for it is it that steels us in the present; it makes sense of history and shapes our resolve.

the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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