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Sinclair Ferguson on God's acceptance of us

In today’s Bible reading, John says something that is difficult to grasp. “These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. … For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his plan by having one purpose and to give their kingdom to the beast until the words of God are fulfilled.” Revelation 17:13,17 (CSB)

What’s difficult to grasp is that these kings give their power and authority to the beast because God put it in their hearts to do so. Did they not have a say in the matter?

Is there anywhere else in the Bible where something like this occurs? Look at the story of the Exodus. When Moses asked Pharaoh’s permission to take the Hebrews to the desert to worship God, Pharaoh hardened his heart, right? Yes. (Exodus 8:15, 8:32, 9:34)

And yet, no.

But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had told Moses.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may do these miraculous signs of mine among them,
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the Israelites go.
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was unwilling to let them go.
Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his land.

(Exodus 9:12, 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10 CSB)

We want to think that we are completely independent and can do whatever we want. After all, we have free will, right? Not so fast.

Jeremiah tells us that our hearts are wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) and Isaiah says that our righteousness is worthless. (Isaiah 64:6) The Fall affected us to the core of our being. Human beings were radically corrupted by the Fall in Genesis 3. The Reformer Martin Luther pointed out that even our will was affected by The Fall. So no, our will is not as free as we think it is!

God is capable of bending our will. And He must do so if we are to hear and respond to the Gospel message. Otherwise, we will never respond to His call to salvation. Because of The Fall, our natural inclination is to choose other than God.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,
and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:44 (CSB)

Application

Without God’s intervention, human beings — you and I — are lost. We are destitute. We are objects of God’s wrath. We are separated from God. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We are enemies of God. We are hopeless! (see Ephesians 2 for the condition of those without Jesus)

Sinclair Ferguson said, “It is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather, He accepts us despite the way we are. He receives us only in Christ and for Christ’s sake. nor does He mean to leave us the way He found us, but to transform us into the likeness of His Son.”

Praise be to God that God accepts us despite the way we are! Spend a few moments today praising God for His grace and mercy.

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humble repentance

In today’s Bible reading, we see more trumpets blown and more calamities sent to earth. Each is worse than the previous one. One-third of the people died. (Revelation 9:18)

And yet, those remaining two-thirds of the people do not repent.

If you’ve ever read 2 Chronicles 7:14, you’ll remember that God promises to hear from heaven, forgive sin, and heal the land if His people will simply humble themselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from their evil ways.

That’s a tremendous promise! But the promise comes in the context of a response to God bringing calamity on His people because of their wickedness. Before this verse, God promises to bless His people. But if they turn away from Him, He will bring hardship. If they respond with humble repentance, God promises to act.

In our reading, God brings calamity, but no one repents. (Revelation 9:20-21)

How incredibly sad.

Application

Indeed, God’s promise to answer the prayers of His people, forgive their sin and bring restoration to their land is a tremendous promise.

As I type this on Tuesday Night, the US House of Representatives has handed down two Articles of Impeachment against the President of the United States. I’m not going to go into my feelings about this other than to say that the Articles — even if glaringly true — do not qualify as treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors, the only provisions in the US Constitution for impeaching the President.

The United States is in a crisis. It’s (past) time for God’s people to cry out to Him in humble repentance, to pray, to seek God’s face, and to turn from our wickedness.

Nothing short of this will restore civility to our beloved nation.

This is not a Left vs. Right political problem. This is a spiritual problem. And spiritual problems can only be remedied with spiritual solutions.

Spend a few minutes right now, asking God to bring conviction of your sin. As He reveals areas where you have sinned, confess those sins (“God, I am a sinner. I was wrong. I did ___.”) and repent (something like, “God, forgive me. Give me a renewed heart and fill me with your Holy Spirit that I might follow you.”) If God leads you to periods of extended prayer and/or fasting, don’t delay. Obey Him immediately!

Ask God to unite His people and draw us to Him. Ask God to raise up a mighty army of men and women who are committed to following God’s prescription in 2 Chronicles 7. Ask God to bring another Spiritual Awakening and revival to our country.

The big application here is to repent whenever God brings correction.

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humility

Peter closes his first letter in today’s Bible reading. He reminds the elders how they should lead their churches: with humility.

Humility goes a long way in leading people! Humility recognizes accountability to someone else.

In any organization, everyone is accountable to someone else. Unless you’re working for yourself, someone else has the ability to terminate your employment. And even then, if you’re working for yourself, you’re selling some kind of product or service, so you are accountable to your customers. The CEO/Chairman of the Board is accountable to the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors is accountable to the stockholders. Everyone is accountable to someone else.

It’s true in a church as well. Everyone is accountable to someone else. Everyone needs to clothe himself/herself in humility. What does that look like? It looks like living the Golden Rule with those under your care. It looks like recognizing my place and recognizing that for everything I do and say, I will give an account before God Himself. And that’s a heavy thought!

That’s what Peter was trying to convey to his elders in 1 Peter 5:1-5, with verse 5 echoing Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 5:21.

submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.
Ephesians 5:21 (CSB)

Application

John Donne famously said, “No man is an island.” Each of us is connected to all the others. If Peter were a Southerner, his command, verse 5 would sound something like, “Now all y’all need to look after each other! Don’t be all uppity. God’s watchin’ you.”

Everyone is accountable to someone else. If you’ve been given authority over someone, always remember that you’re accountable to someone else for how you lead those in your care. This applies to church elders. It also applies to parenting and employment situations as well as others.

To whom are you accountable? Live the Golden Rule with those under your care.

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Several months ago, we read through Paul’s letters to the Church at Corinth. We saw that one of the Corinthians’ biggest problems was their focus on themselves. They were consummate narcissists. As a result, the Corinthian church was extremely dysfunctional in the way it ministered to itself. In today’s Bible reading, Peter echos Paul’s concerns about the proper use of spiritual gifts.

A spiritual gift isn’t for the individual who has the gift. Instead, the individual who has the gift should use the gift in the strength that God provides so that God alone is glorified. (1 Peter 4:10–11) That’s it. And it applies to all individuals and all of the gifts.

And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Ephesians 4:11–13 (CSB)

God has blessed me with a primary spiritual gift of teaching. Clustered around that central gift, He has also given me gifts of shepherd, exhortation, wisdom, and intercession. My task is to use these gifts — in the power of the Holy Spirit — to work together along with my personality mix to build up the church I pastor so that our people can do the work of ministry.

Did you catch that? I’m not supposed to do all the work. Neither is anyone else! But unfortunately, I have seen many pastors and their families abused by churches who think the pastor is responsible for everything. And when things don’t get done, guess who is blamed? It’s shameful.

I have been very blessed to serve in churches whose members have rolled up their shirtsleeves to do God’s work. Right now, the church where I have served for over three years (Fellowship Baptist Church in Weatherford, Texas) is in the process of merging with a sister church (Heritage Baptist Church) right across the road from our church. Both churches prayed about how God is moving among us and “it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 15:28a) to combine our church bodies. We sensed that we can do more together as one than we can do separately. And now, God is bringing out the gifts and personality I haven’t needed to draw from in the past. In some ways, I’m intimidated. But I’m also encouraged that God is entrusting to me as pastor, the task of uniting these two bodies into one.

I’m sure that as we move forward, there will be challenges. But like Peter says, everyone should use their gift for the good of the church body. We should all, use our gifts “to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10 CSB) with the primary goal of bringing glory to the Giver of those gifts. (1 Peter 4:11)

Application

Every believer has at least one spiritual gift. What’s yours? If you are a Believer and don’t know, just ask God. He’ll show you that you may not know what it is, but you use it every day. That is, if you are actively involved in your local church, and actively pursuing God, you probably use your gift(s) all the time. Ask your church friends what they think your gift(s) is/are.

There are also resources available that can help you and your church to evaluate your spiritual gift(s). But when it comes down to it, all those resources do is reveal how you have functioned in the past and recently. Don’t obsess over discovering your gift(s). Instead, obsess over loving God! And obsess over actively using your gift(s) and yourself to glorify Him.

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military submission

Peter continues his discussion of submission in today’s Bible reading with the words, “In the same way” on how wives should submit to their husbands. (1 Peter 3:1) He also concludes his thoughts on submission with the same words when addressing husbands, telling them to live with their wives in an understanding way. (1 Peter 3:7)

Depending on your translation, you may read, “In the same way”, “In like manner”, “Similarly”, or “Likewise”. Peter says, “Wives, just like everyone is to submit to human authorities, submit to your husbands.” I have pointed this out elsewhere, but everywhere a New Testament writer commands a woman to submit, it is always in the context of a relationship with her own husband specifically. Women — in general — are never told to submit to men — in general. And the command is always given to the wives to submit themselves. Nowhere does a Biblical writer tell one person to make sure another person submits.

Missing these key points leads to distortions of what the New Testament writers clearly say.

Application

Submission is a good thing. Relationships (from marriage to military corps to workplaces to churches) don’t work if everyone thinks he/she is better or deserves a higher than another person and fights or murmers until they get what the “position” they want.

Submission follows proper leadership. Everyone must humbly find his/her position under God’s authority. No one gets to do whatever they want.

And the result? Everyone benefits and is honored as they take their place.

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