by Mike Ratliff
Pe. Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments. Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name. Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. Redeem me from man's oppression, that I may keep your precepts. Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes. My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law. (Psalms 119:129-136)
Many "evangelists" in our Western culture preach a gospel of Easy-Believism. Their "gospel" is one of temporal focus. This "Easy-Believism gospel" draws those who want to claim salvation, but do not intend to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ except in lip service only. This "cheap grace gospel" does not preach the need to repent because sin is never an issue. The pastors and teachers of this "cheap grace gospel" advise those who suffer from a guilty conscience to ignore it because guilt is nothing more than a holdover from listening to too many hell-fire and brimstone preachers. Since sin is not a problem, there is little, if any, emphasis on sanctification. Why bother since all who believe in Jesus are going to Heaven? The message coming from the pulpit is God loves us just the way we are so enjoy life. Do not worry about that repentance stuff. That will just make you feel guilty again. All that justification and sanctification stuff is for theologians. Just remember to tithe as God makes you rich.
The word gospel is Greek for "Good News." The good news of the gospel is Jesus Christ paid the price for the sins of His elect. Salvation is for those whom God draws to believe on Jesus via "costly grace." Salvation is a free, but those who are truly His give their lives to their Lord as living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1) That means living their rest of their lives as His disciples. Jesus bought them with the price of His blood. He did not go to the cross to save people who refuse to repent.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. (Hebrews 13:8-15)
Those whom Jesus bought with His blood must also repent and live lives that glorify Him. Once the Holy Spirit regenerates the heart of the new believer, he or she does indeed repent and turn to Christ for salvation. At that moment, God the Father justifies that believer then adopts him or her into the family of God.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)
Does this sound like Easy-Believism to you? Salvation is necessary because all descendants of Adam are lost in their sins and cannot save themselves. (Romans 3) Without this salvation all are lost, forever cutoff from God. The gospel is very good news to those whom God foreknew, predestined and called to believe. At the moment of the effectual call, the sinner now has the ability to repent and believe and does so. As the sinner repents, God the Father justifies, adopts, and sanctifies him or her. Glorification awaits them in Heaven in the ultimate fulfillment of predestination.
Justification is a work by God alone to declare the sinner righteous according the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Grace is amazing. All whom God justifies are adopted and sanctified. Sanctification is a cooperative work between God and the Born Again nature of the believer. This process will go on for the rest of the believer's physical life. The believer's cooperation with this process is what we have been referring to throughout this book as walking the Walk by Faith. The more we cooperate the more mature we become and thereby walk the Walk by Faith effectively. However, we may not cooperate as we should which will cause our spiritual maturation to stagnate.
I laid out this condensed version of the "Ordo Salutis" to introduce the next stanza we will look at in Psalm 119 entitled, "Pe." The first line in this stanza is, "Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them." As the Holy Spirit regenerates the heart of the sinner so he or she can repent and believe He takes up residence there. Spiritual growth from new birth to mature Christian is not instantaneous. The ongoing sanctification process is a maturing work that will change the heart of the believer from hardheartedness to tenderheartedness by softening and cutting away the layers of callousness separating the conscience from the soul. At each step of submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ by believing God and stepping out on faith the Lord cuts away more and more of the callousness. This opens up the soul to God's value system residing in the conscience.
One of the changes this process accomplishes in the heart of the believer is a love for the Word of God. God does this because He uses His Word to accomplish much of His sanctifying work.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
As we study and meditate on the Word of God, the Holy Spirit does His sanctifying work in our hearts. If we neglect scripture memorization and meditation, we cut ourselves off from a tremendously edifying blessing. The post-modern Western Church is spiritually immature because its Bible knowledge is shallow if not nearly nonexistent.
The second line in this stanza is, "The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple." Is there a lack of godly wisdom in the majority of what we call the Western Church? Much of what I see in Christian bookstores is geared to feed the natural Man not the spiritual Man. Of course, the spiritually shallow Soul-led believers gobble them up. Sadly, after a short period those self-help books are passé and become the latest Christian fad that has run its course. Then, someone must come up with the next thing that is all the rage within our churches. Those who spew these things out are guilty of entertaining the goats instead of feeding the sheep.
Godly wisdom comes from God not from the doctrines of men and devils. If we need His wisdom, where do we start?
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)
When we ask God for wisdom, where does He lead, guide, and direct our hearts to pursue it? In v130, we read that the psalmist knows what the Word of God does for our hearts. The more scripture we have internalized the quicker this process will be. As we find ourselves in these situations where we must seek the Lord's wisdom it should be obvious we are in the midst of a God designed test or trial. These tests and trials are the circumstances God uses to grow us spiritually. Sanctification can be quite painful sometimes especially where we must humble ourselves. These circumstances will always seem costly to the immature believer because they are still struggling with pride issues much more than the more mature believers are. As we grow in grace, our hearts become more and more tender. Pride cannot grow in a tender heart. It thrives only in the hard, rocky, and sour soil of the hard heart. Sanctification removes what is not of God from our hearts and replaces it with godly treasure such as the fruit of the spirit. Christ-likeness is the goal. (Romans 8:29) Bible knowledge must become deep so Christ-likeness will develop in our hearts. As God matures us unto Christ-likeness, He will also give us an abiding hunger and thirst for righteousness along with a deep love for His Word. We see this in the third line in this stanza, which is, "I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments." The Soul-led believer does not have this overwhelming love for the things of God because he or she is completely self-focused. When God is ready to mature them, He will draw them into the processes that will accomplish it. He will give them a hunger and desperation for holiness and maturity. If they pursue God obediently, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, He will bless them with more and more hunger and thirst for Him.
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)
Yes, as we pursue God in our thirst and hunger for His righteousness we will be satisfied. This satisfaction is fulfillment. We do not experience this once and that is it. Instead, God will continually draw us to go deeper and deeper with Him each time. This will build more and more hunger and thirst for Him. We do not develop this hunger and thirst ourselves. He gives it to us.
As we grow in grace, God kicks our old support systems out from under us. What used to look steady and secure is now rickety and unsure. We are being lead to trust Him alone for our fulfillment and security. Old comfortable religious beliefs and doctrines of men no longer work. God's truth comes hard upon them and we are dragged kicking and screaming into its light. Suddenly, God's light shines into proper doctrine which most people see as old fashioned and risky, but God gives us the wisdom and insight to grasp them and see that God's ways are not our ways. Salvation is all by and through Him and all for His glory. Christianity is for our edification and His glory foremost. As we mature, God will direct our paths into the proper understanding of Him and His ways. Sanctification is the process whereby God takes away our self-imposed spiritual blindness and deafness as He gives us eyes to see and ears to hear the truth. The catch is that we must be willing and obedient enough to follow Him down the path of discovery as He leads us into the Valley of Humiliation. For it is when our pride is on the ash heap that we can see and hear the truth. We must eradicate self-confidence through the mortification of our sin nature. God's wisdom is apparent to us only to the extent we are humble and Spirit-led. If we allow self-confidence to drive us we immediately stop being humble. Our confidence must be 100% in Christ and 0% in us for us to be able to hear Him effectively. However, let us be honest. If we are "lucky," we are 50% in Christ and 50% in us. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we must admit we are walking through this life in complete self-dependence as we call on Him for help only when we come to the end of our capabilities. This should not be. We must resolve in our hearts to put ourselves in position to hear Him so He can change us.
The psalmist understood this. The fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh lines in this stanza are, "Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name. Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. Redeem me from man's oppression, that I may keep your precepts. Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes." The disciple who is committed to personal holiness has it right. If they believe they are able to do that by and through self-will and determination, failure awaits though. In addition, that in no way glorifies God. However, as we determine we cannot walk in the spirit by trying hard to be godly we make the first step in the right direction. The Spirit-led walk is empowered by the Holy Spirit as we focus our hearts on God and His glory. We must never stop learning what He directs us to learn. We must repent of whatever He shows us. We must walk in all humility with a complete lack of self-protection. This is impossible for us unless we are Spirit-led.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-25)
If we cooperate with God as He takes us through the sanctification processes He lays out for us, we will grow and mature in grace to the point we will walk through life consciously within His grace. As we stray into any of those ugly fleshly pursuits we see in the passage above God will draw us back to Him. If we refuse to obey that call, we will suffer a hardening of our hearts. Repentance is inevitable, but the longer we stray the harder it will be. Not only that, but we will lose precious time in our spiritual growth because we are backsliding when we are not growing.
The eighth line in this stanza is, "My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law." As we mature, our love for God grows continuously. When we are God focused like that, we also take on His values. After all, they are resident in our consciences and the more mature we become the more apparent those values are to our souls. As we walk through our lives in this mode, the desires of our hearts match His. What hurts Him hurts us. What delights Him delights us. What angers Him angers us. You get the idea. When the ungodly trample all over God's law, it is a hateful thing, but when the Soul-led Christian does it, it is a hurtful thing. When we see the deceived Church spewing out its humanistic gospel as hordes of deceived people flock to edify themselves we should shed streams of tears.
God's law, the moral law, is still very much in effect. It reveals God and His standards and ways to us. Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law in Himself, but the Ten Commandments will stand forever. When we see people who call themselves Christians belittling sin by saying repentance is not necessary we should wear sackcloth and sit among the ashes. We should tear our clothes, pull out our hair and beards, and sit appalled all day like Ezra when he found out about the apostasy of the people upon coming to Jerusalem. Why? If the apostasy of the Church does not offend us then we are in serious trouble because it most definitely offends God. We must pray for a Great Awakening to come upon us. We must pray for God to raise up the Christian leaders to preach the truth in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Church must refocus back to God and His glory.
Oh Lord God, how can you stand us? We have sinned, Oh Lord. We have taken your wonderful good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and turned it into something Man does instead of a gracious gift from You. Please forgive us Lord. Please raise up prophets amongst us who will preach and teach the truth in the power of the Holy Spirit. Wake us up Lord. All of your glory Lord—Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.