by Mike Ratliff
Taw. Let my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word! Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word. My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes. My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right. Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight. Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments. (Psalms 119:169-176)
When I was a teen in our church's youth group I heard time after time the following phrase, "Once saved, always saved." The implication from that was once a person decided for Christ their troubles were over because no matter what happened in his or her life they could never lose their salvation. I suppose that is the Southern Baptist non-Reformed view of eternal security. I believe this shadow of the truth is a residual holdover from the SBC's Calvinistic roots. Most SBC churches hold a doctrine that, in some areas, resembles Calvinism, but in others, is Arminian. Thankfully, there is a growing movement within our denomination to rediscover our original foundational Reformed doctrines. There is backlash to be sure, but most Southern Baptist's consciences are bound to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. When we prayerfully expound God's truth from scripture, there may be resistance from some, but the Holy Spirit does His work in their hearts just as He did mine. Those who refuse to listen are Soul-led. They are practicing selective rationalization. We will look at that self-delusional method of reasoning in the next chapter.
The Reformed doctrine of Preservation of the Saints is not the same thing as "Once saved, always saved." The latter says those who decide for Christ cannot lose their salvation no matter what they do. They can live any way they want and it would not matter because they said that sinner's prayer and submitted to baptism. The former says those who are saved by grace are Born Again at the moment of regeneration. This makes them new creations in Christ. God changes their hearts so they now have the ability to choose to not sin. It also means they now love God and are actively working out their salvation with fear and trembling.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
Working out our salvation is our cooperation with God in the sanctification processes He has us going through. The truly saved believer does not live like the devil during the week while acting like a saint on Sunday. There will be noticeable spiritual growth over time. Tests and trials come into the lives of God's children so He can build their faith and remove ungodliness from their hearts. This does not mean there will not be seasons of discontent and rebellion in the life of believers. There will also be periods of time when it seems we are stuck in a dry and thirsty land cutoff from God. However, God does not forsake those who are His. His will is for each of us to learn to walk in the spirit with the Holy Spirit leading us in our Walk by Faith unto righteousness. As we obey our Lord by walking the Walk by Faith this way, He is glorified. We must grasp the fact that our submission to the Lord's sovereignty is always for His glory. He saved us for His glory. He preserves us for His glory. He matures us for His glory. He will glorify us unto the image of our savior for His glory.
We have reached the last stanza in Psalm 119. I pray we have gained a deeper perspective of the role of the Word of God in the continued spiritual health of the maturing believer. The Word of God is our source of God's revelation of Himself and His ways. It is complete and inerrant. The doctrines of grace are based entirely on God's revelation of salvation found in His Word. To learn and grasp these doctrines requires proper exegesis of scripture. Those who oppose them must use eisegesis in their reasoning. Exegesis involves an extensive and critical interpretation of scripture. This process never reads one own interpretation into scripture. Proper exegesis uses scripture to interpret scripture and never takes it out of context. Eisegesis, on the other hand, relies completely on self-interpretation. Some call it reading the white space between the words and lines to get their meaning. In any case, any whom desire to attack the doctrines of grace must employ some methods other than proper exegesis. These include eisegesis, traditions of men, extra-Biblical sources, and human common sense. All these add up to be nothing more than another form of selective rationalization.
I am convinced all believers have spiritual blind spots. I will never forget the day God opened my eyes to the doctrines of grace. The day of my salvation, the day God circumcised by heart and the day God showed me how to walk in the spirit were huge days in my Christian walk. The day God opened my spiritual eyes about the doctrines of grace ranks right up there with those days. They are beautiful doctrines that reveal the truth of God's sovereignty and Man's complete dependence upon God's grace in order to repent and believe. I have been a believer since 1986. When I look back over those years, I can see God's hand in everything in my life. He has drawn me into this understanding. He has made its understanding in my heart profound and precious treasure to me. He has also shown me the desperate need for this truth to be made known to His people. He desires for His people to turn their hearts back to Him. The Western Church is full of believers who are Soul-led, self-focused and spiritually immature. They believe they made "decisions for Christ" by exercising their free will to generate enough faith to repent and believe. They believe they made the right choice while the lost people have not. With this attitude, it is no wonder they think they are in control of their own spiritual walk. They live for self instead of for God's glory.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12)
God is going to accomplish His will. He is going to raise up those who will proclaim the truth of His sovereignty to His people. The Holy Spirit will do His work in breaking the hearts and opening the eyes of those who listen. Let us pray that it will be soon.
The title of the last stanza in Psalm 119 is, "Taw." Your Bible may say, "Tau." The first, second, third and fourth lines in the stanza are, "Let my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word! Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word. My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes. My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right." As we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, (Philippians 2:12-13) there will be times when our circumstances defy our understanding. When that happens we must seek the Lord's face as the psalmist did. Why? The Lord has allowed this problem in our lives for His purposes. One of those purposes is to develop our character unto Christ-likeness. For this to happen we must learn all we can grasp about God and His ways. Where do we learn this? God reveals this to us from His Word. However, the Holy Spirit must give us Divine Illumination from His Word so God's purposes in our hearts bear fruit according to His will. We need wisdom from God.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:2-8)
An undivided heart that asks God for wisdom in faith gets it. A divided heart full of unbelief will not. This is a key component of working out our salvation with fear and trembling. Our fear is that we will fall away from God or not live for His glory. We fear this because our focus is the Lord's glory coupled with the full knowledge of His sovereignty. This is the fear of God we must have firmly planted in our hearts. In fact walking the Walk by Faith begins with the proper fear of God.
Walking the Walk by Faith
- Fear God (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Come to Jesus (Matthew 22:28)
- Take on the Yoke of Christ (Matthew 22:29)
- Learn what Christ teaches (Matthew 22:29)
- Present our bodies as living sacrifices by the mercies of God (Romans 12:1)
- Keep the Lord’s commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Renew our minds and become transformed unto Christ-likeness (Romans 12:2)
- Discern God’s Will and submit to it (Romans 12:2)
This process continues until the Lord takes us home. The more diligent we are in our submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ through this process the more we mature. The Lord builds up our faith and we mature to almost unimaginable levels of spirituality. As the Lord takes us through these tests and trials, we learn to live to worship Him. Praise for Him is on our lips continually. Why? We worship Him with a thankful heart because we are content and fulfilled as we remain in His presence through it all. Never forget that the Spirit-led believer lives for God's glory alone.
The fifth, sixth and seventh lines in this stanza are, "Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight. Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me." The more mature we become the more dependant upon God's grace we become. In fact, the closer we get to that day when this part of our journey is over the more our self-confidence diminishes. As we mature, our confidence shifts from us to God. This is, of course, God developing Genuine Humility within our character. The longer this takes the longer we must be refined. God's refining and cutting away of our ungodliness produces His godliness in our character. This transforms us unto humble obedient bondservants. The Lord's bondservants live for His glory. They have no confidence in self. They depend utterly upon the grace of God in all things. Their lives are acts of praise and worship of their King.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:21-23)
As the Apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the Philippian church, he was in prison. He had matured to the point he was ready to go home to be with His Lord, but if the Lord was not ready for that then he was ready to remain and serve him. In both circumstances, the Lord was glorified and that was all that mattered to him. To become the Mature Christians God wants us all to be, we must make this attitude ours. The Mature Christian has given up all focus on the temporal for fulfillment. Suffering for Christ is sweet pain.
The eighth line in this stanza is, "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments." The Arminians teach that piety leads to perfection. They say our goal should be perfection. Any less and we could lose our salvation since it is completely up to our obedience to retain it.
I am so grateful to my Lord that that doctrine is a complete fabrication of those who have refused to submit to the sovereignty of God. God saves us by grace through faith not of ourselves at all. (Ephesians 2:8-9) God holds regenerate believers in His hands and no one can snatch them out. (John 10:28) Perfection awaits us in Heaven when we are glorified. Meanwhile, the best we can do is to learn to walk in the spirit. While we are Spirit-led we do not sin, however, we will revert to Soul-led mode eventually because our old sin nature is still with us. (Galatians 5:16-18) When that happens, we are like the psalmist in this verse who sees himself as a lost sheep who has gone astray. No matter how mature we become we will have this problem. We must seek to be Spirit-led and cry out to God to help us not sin then obey Him in all things by His grace. We will fail at times, but the more mature we become the more consistently we will be able to remain Spirit-led.
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.