Monday, January 2, 2017

Turning Your Gaze Away From Yourself

The following words written some 66 years ago by the last of the great Princeton theologians J. Gresham Machen couldn't be more relevant to our moral therapeutic culture and gospel-light churches (and to the men to whom we minister:
Turning Your Gaze Away From Yourself

If you want health for your souls, and if you want to be the instruments of bringing health to others, do not turn your gaze forever within, as though you could find Christ there. Nay, turn your gaze away from your own miserable experiences, away from your own sin, to the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered to us in the gospel. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Only when we turn away from ourselves to that uplifted Savior shall we have healing for our deadly hurt.

It is the same old story, my friends—the same old story of the natural man. Men are trying today, as they have always been trying, to save themselves—to save themselves by their own act of surrender, by the excellence of their own faith, by mystic experiences of their own lives. But it is all in vain. Not that way is peace with God to be obtained. It is to be obtained only in the old, old way—by attention to something that was done once for all long ago, and by acceptance of the living Savior who there, once for all, brought redemption for our sin. Oh, that men would turn for salvation from their own experience to the Cross of Christ; oh, that they would turn from the phenomena of religion to the living God!

That that may be done, there is but one way. It is not found in a study of the psychology of religion; it is not found in “religious education”; it is not found in an analysis of one's own spiritual status. Oh, no. It is found only in the blessed written Word. There are the words of life. There God speaks. Let us attend to His voice. Let us above all things know the Word. Let us study it with all our minds; let us cherish it with all our hearts. Then let us try, very humbly, to bring it to the unsaved. Let us pray that God may honor not the messengers but the message, that despite our unworthiness He may make His Word upon our unworthy lips to be a message of life.

(J. Graham Machen, “The Importance of Christian Scholarship,”
What Is Christianity? [Eerdmans, 1951])

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Best Way to Begin a New Year

I look forward to the day we own our house free and clear. We have been making payments on the mortgage since the day we moved in, but the end is finally in sight and four or five years from now we should be done at last. (An advantage of buying a small house and staying in it!) The moment the bank withdraws the final payment, we’ll be free and clear: free from further financial obligations and clear of all liens or other encumbrances. It will be ours all the way. We trust this will put us in a good position to transition into the second half of life—the half when we need to devote attention to our children’s education, marriages, and independence. And, of course, the time when we may finally be able to upgrade that worn parquet flooring that was installed before we were even born.

A new year is coming, and the best way to begin a new year is to know that you are free and clear. This morning I was reflecting on the great words of Isaiah 43:25, where God says, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Here is a great promise about the extent of God’s forgiveness. God blots out our transgressions so he can forget our sins. He deliberately erases from his accounts every record of what we have done wrong. As the records disappear, so too does his memory of the misdeeds. Ray Ortlund points out that “God locates his very identity in blotting out our sins and remembering them no more” and then, by way of illustration, works up a helpful little scenario:

Satan, the accuser, comes before God and says, “Look at that Christian down there. Why do you still love him? Don’t you remember what he did to you last week, and again on Tuesday, and then again yesterday?” And God says, if you’ll allow me to put it this way, “No, I don’t remember. Gabriel, where does that believer stand with us? Check the database.” Gabriel logs on, but the only information that comes up on the screen is the righteousness of Christ freely credited to that sinner, because that’s how God honors himself as God. “I blot out your transgressions, I splice your bad plays out of my game film, for my own sake.” So God says back to Satan, “I’m not saying your facts are wrong, but you’re not telling the whole story about that Christian. What matters most to me, for my own sake, is not that person’s record but Christ’s record for him.” That is grace. That is God.

That is God, indeed. And why does God do this? He does this for his own sake. In fact, he must do this for his own sake, for there is no other reason to do such a noble deed. He cannot do it for our sake, for we have no right to such grace, we have no righteousness to plead. No, it must be done for God’s sake and God’s glory. God loves to display his glory before us, his people, so we can direct our praise, our adoration, to him.

If you have turned to Christ in repentance and faith, you are free and clear. You are free of all the burden of the sins you’ve committed, clear of all record of wrongdoing. You are now free to live for God’s glory, clear from the need to earn your own righteousness. There is no better way to begin a new year than with the knowledge of your freedom and the desire to live for the glory of the one who has extended such grace. Christian, you are free and clear.

Tim Challies serves as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario, and is a co-founder of Cruciform Press.