Articles from May 2020

We Are Sons of God

There is nothing more debatable in Christian theology than the assurance of salvation. Assurance is the doctrine that teaches that Christians can truly know that they have been justified by God and will ultimately make it to heaven. For certain, Catholic teaching as well as many within protestant denominations with an Arminian theological bent (Assembly of God, United Methodist, some Baptists, Wesleyan, Pentecostals, Nazarene, and others) deny that assurance is a real possibility for any believer. But when you study the Scripture deeply, you find that assurance is actually a great gift that God gives His children. It is also a necessary gift in this journey of life to ensure that we are effective. As Hugh Latimer wrote to Nicholas Ridley (two bishops who were martyred in 1555), “When I live in a settled and steadfast assurance about the state of my soul, methinks I am as bold as a lion; I can laugh at all trouble; no affliction daunts me; but when I am eclipsed in my comforts I am of so fearful a spirit that I could run into a very mouse hole.” Latimer understood the power of assurance which makes the believer bold while the lack of assurance debilitates the believer’s service.

Definitive Declarations
It is clear from Scripture that not everyone is a child of God. There is a sense in which the Fatherhood of God makes all people His children and the world seems to jump on that teaching (“We are the World” song lyrics, “We’re all a part of God’s great big family.”) But Scripture really opposes this ideology teaching that there are only two groups of people in the world, those who are the children of the devil (Jn 8:44), and those who are the children of God. But the question for believers in Christ is, can we know for certain that we truly are in the right camp? Can we know for certain that we are truly sons of God?

When you look at the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to the Romans in chapter 8, you hear his definitive declarations. After laying out all that has happened to those who have put their faith in Christ in v. 1-13, he makes clear statements. First, he says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (v. 14). Then again in v. 16 he says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” There is no question in Paul’s mind that what has happened to believers is that they have definitively been put into God’s family and made “sons of God.”  It is significant that Paul doesn’t use the phrase “sons and daughters.”  The short of it is that the son was an heir. So being a son of God means that we are heirs with Christ. Daughters of Christ are also “sons of God.” If you would like to read more about this, here is a great article by Stanley on the Desiring God website.

How do we know?
These are objective statements, but the question for us who have believed is, “How can I know personally that I am truly a Son of God?” And Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. In Romans 8:14-16, he gives the very clear evidences that give every believer assurance that they are truly saved. He tells them that every son of God has three vital things that happen to him on a regular basis: Every son of God is 1) led by the Spirit, 2) liberated by the Spirit, and 3) assured by the Spirit. The whole key to the Christian life is of course the work of the Holy Spirit. When the third member of the Trinity permanently indwells the believer (Rom 8:9-11), He ensures these glorious activities.

Led by the Spirit: First, every believer is inevitably led by the Holy Spirit. Paul says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (v. 14). In other words, those who are not led are revealing that the Holy Spirit is not present in their lives. When the sovereign Spirit indwells a person, He indwells with the purpose of leading. He doesn’t do so with violent brutality (i.e. He doesn’t brow beat those He indwells, nor does He drag us along). But the Spirit gently persuades us and moves our desires, will and emotions. And He does this primarily through the written Word of God. Jesus told us in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” This is the mission of the Spirit in the believer, to lead us into all the truth. And inevitably, the Spirit will use the very Word of God that He inspired the Prophets and Apostles to write (2 Peter 1:20-21). The Spirit uses the Word to lead in two ways. The first leading work of the Spirit is illumination to inform our minds to understanding. Spiritual truths are foolishness to the natural man (1 Cor 2:10-12), but the Holy Spirit anoints us so that we can comprehend the “things of the Spirit” (1 John 2:20, 27, Eph 1:17-18). This illumination inevitably will bring the Word of God to have an impact on our thinking about ourselves, our sinfulness, the glory of God, the identity of Christ, the essential work of the cross, our great purpose in the world to bring glory to God, and so much more. The Holy Spirit will use the Word to illumine the great truths of the Bible in our hearts, which serve to change our desires. The second work of the Holy Spirit is sanctification, whereby He persuades our desires and leads us to deny ungodliness and to mortify sin in our lives. Galatians 5:17 is a crucial passage describing the Holy Spirit as militating against the flesh. Paul says there, “the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh.” The desires of the Holy Spirit actually militate against the desires of the flesh in our lives. In this way God is working in us (Phil 2:12-13). The Holy Spirit jealously yearns for our spirits to be freed from the bondage of sin (James 4:5) and teaches us how to deny ungodliness (Titus 2:11-13). So here is the first way we know we are Sons of God. The Holy Spirit is leading us by His Word to understand the great truths of the Bible and to be sanctified from sin.

Liberated by the Spirit: The second evidence that we are sons of God is that the believer “did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but [has received] the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). In short, the believer has been liberated or set free from a spirit of slavery in their sin. This is a clear description of the believer’s previous life in an unregenerate state. Before he came to Christ, the believer was in slavery, and bondage to the old sinful nature and as a result he lived in fear (Heb 2:14-15). But when the Spirit came to dwell in him, He gave the unbeliever a new Spirit of adoption. This is a glorious description of the new position we have as believers. We were once not a part of the family of God (but of Satan), but now we are placed in the family of God with full privileges, rights and blessings. Before we were believers we could not call God our Father. But when the Spirit indwells the believer, he is able to call God his “Abba! Father!” Abba is the Aramaic word for daddy or papa. There is a totally new relationship established. Sons of God are able to cry out, or pray with diligence to their heavenly Father who loves them and cares for them!

Assured by the Spirit: The third work of the Spirit that gives the believer evidence that he/she is a son of God is the assuring work of the Spirit. Paul says in v. 16, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” The presence of the Holy Spirit constantly provides an inner testimony. The Holy Spirit doesn’t subcontract out this work with the help of an angel, prophet or preacher, but is willing and ready to assure the believer Himself. While there are external evidences of holiness that affirm the believer, there is also an internal personal witness that the Holy Spirit is willing to give. This is hard to explain, but seems to be an internal peace and deep persuasion of the Father’s acceptance and our relationship to Him. The Holy Spirit’s witness may come at different times in the believer’s life when the He brings peace, conviction of sin, affirmation of forgiveness, a spirit of praise, a willingness to serve, and so much more. While it is not necessary to have this inner testimony to be a son of God, it definitely is a joy that strengthens the believer in his journey toward heaven. Furthermore, the experiential nature of this testimony must always be validated by Scripture and particularly the other more objective validations of sanctification and leading.

Are you a Son of God?
So, the natural question to all of this is, “Are you certain of your salvation?” The Apostle Paul was not the only Apostle who believed we could be sure. The Apostle John wrote his first epistle with assurance in mind. He says he writes “these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). When you study 1 John you will find that John says we can “know” a multitude of times, giving us evidence that we are truly “born again.” The Apostle Peter also exhorts all believers to “confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10). In other words, make sure that you are truly a son of God. Ask yourself, is the Holy Spirit doing a work in me? Do I see and sense His leading? Do I have the Spirit of adoption in my heart and desire to cry out to God in intimate terms? Do I have an inner testimony and peace that I am a child of God? While assurance is not necessary to truly be saved, it sure makes the journey to heaven a whole lot more enjoyable and truly equips us to be bold as a lion!

 

A New Way to Live

There is a great assumption in Scripture that those who have been saved by grace through faith will inevitably begin a new way of living, a journey of sanctification, a transformation to holiness. God saves His children to make them holy and transform them into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). And while this transformation will not be perfect in this life, God equips every true believer with everything they need in order for this transformation to take place. God makes every believer a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).

God Equips Every Believer
At the moment of conversion, the Holy Spirit permanently indwells every believer! And as a result of that inhabitation by God Himself, several radical blessings are given to every believer ensuring that they will be transformed into the likeness of Christ. While these blessings are not experiential, the declared truths are the foundation that equips every believer. Here are a just a few of these declared truths from Romans 8:

  • Pardon: Jesus pardons every believer so that the condemnation of God is totally removed (Rom 8:1), and they no longer have to live in fear of God’s wrath!
  • Freedom: The Holy Spirit sets every believer free from the principle of sin and death (Rom 8:2), so that the power of sin is broken and they are no longer obligated or indebted to live in the flesh (Rom 8:12, 7:6). Every believer is moved out of the realm of the flesh and placed into the new realm of the Spirit (8:9) giving life to their own spirits (v. 10, Eph 2:5).
  • Righteousness: By sending His Son, God provided the righteous requirement of His Law which is fulfilled in and imputed to us through faith (Rom 8:3-4).
  • New Mind & Affections: The presence of the Holy Spirit gives every believer a new mind (1 Cor 2:16), and new affections toward the “things of the Spirit” (Rom 8:5, 14).

With all of these declared blessings in place, every believer is put on a path toward holiness and transformation. In fact, it would be inconceivable that a genuine believer would not inevitably produce some fruit of godliness and holiness. Jesus himself taught that you would know the difference between false prophets and true prophets by the fruit that they bear. He gives a very profound principle in that context. Trees are known by their fruit. Every good tree bears good fruit while every bad tree bears bad fruit (Matt 7:15-20). The continual presence of bad fruit is a clear indication that the root of the tree is corrupt. This is why all of the Apostles in their writings give stern warnings to those who make professions, but are practicing lawlessness (Matt 7:23). Paul warns that the “works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, division, 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” (Gal 5:19-21, see also 1 Cor 6:9-11). The Apostle John teaches the same truth when he says, “no one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him [the Holy Spirit]; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:4-10). Paul reiterates this in Romans 8 by saying, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.” Those who live and practice living in the realm of the flesh, and act accordingly will experience eternal death, but those who live according to the Spirit and put to death the deeds of the flesh will experience eternal life (Rom 8:13).

Notice that neither of the Apostles tell us that Christians don’t fall, sin or live imperfect lives (1 Jn 1:8). But they do tell us that the practice of true believers is holy, and that there is no unchecked sinful lifestyle that has taken root in their life. And if sin does cause them to stumble (which is inevitable), they will not stay there, but do everything in their power to kill sin. They are giving evidence that they are born again and that the Spirit resides within them.

Our New Practice: Killing Sin
So, killing sin is the great new practice and way of living for the believer. Sin is not absent from our lives as our sin nature still resides in us, battling against us. The Apostle Paul was quite aware of the sin nature that still resided in his flesh waging war against his mind and desires (Romans 7:17-25). It was this sin nature that prevented him from doing the things he desired to do. But Paul tells us the key to this new way of living in Romans 8:13. He teaches that everyone who lives “by the Spirit” will “put to death the deeds of the body.” To “put to death” means to kill, snuff out, to take away the principle of all its strength, vigor and power so that it cannot act or exert or put forth any proper actings of its own.

John Owen in his classic treatise of Romans 8:13, says, “Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? You must always be at it while you live; do not take a day off from this work; always be killing sin or it will be killing you” (John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, Banner of Truth Trust, 2001, pg 5). This is the heart of every true believer.

Two Important Ways to Mortify Sin
How do believers go about this great task? The Apostle Paul gives us two insights. First, since we have the Spirit in us, we “set our minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:6). The things of the Spirit are clearly the Words of Scripture (see 1 Cor 2:13-14 where the same phrase is used). When we set our minds on Scripture we take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17) and we hack our old fleshly desires to death with the promises of Scripture. This is exactly what Jesus did in the wilderness when He was tempted by the devil for forty days (Matt 4:1-11). He quoted Scripture over and over, bringing His mind under the authority of Scripture. This is why it is so important to know what God says in His Word. In the time of temptation, the Holy Spirit will inevitably bring to our minds what He says in His word and will provide a “way of escape so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13). So here is the first key. Allow the Word of God to dwell in you richly (Col 3:16).

Then secondly, we must yield to the Spirit’s leading (Rom 8:14). The Spirit wants to lead us. He will not drive us! And if we are to have victory over sin we must yield, walk according to, obey, or be filled with the Spirit (Gal 5:16, Eph 5:18). We must work hard to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). We must learn to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

So, this is the new way of living for believers. It is a daily and continual struggle and fight against sin. Inevitably we will have both defeats and victories. But as obedient children, we must make it our life long pursuit to “be holy as He is holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16). And as we do, we will have assurance that we are truly “sons of God” (Rom 8:14). We will have peace and “His Spirit will give witness with our spirit that we are “children of God” (8:16).

 

Only Two Kinds of People

It is true that there are all kinds of people in the world. There are different colors of people: red, yellow, black and white people. There are nice people and mean people. There are rich and poor, short and tall people. The list could go on and on. But interestingly, the Bible categorizes everyone into one of two kinds of people. It could be said many different ways, but the final analysis is the same. Here are a few ways the Bible states it. People are either “born again,” or not “born again” (John 3:1-8), “children of God” or “children of the devil” (1 Jn 3:10), “of the Spirit” or “of the flesh” (Rom 8:5-9), either the “spiritual man” or “natural man” (1 Cor 2:14-16), “believers” or “unbelievers” in Jesus Christ (John 3:18) and lastly “found & saved” or “lost” (Luke 15). In God’s world, He says there are only two types of people. People may look the same on the outside, but inside determines who they are! So how then does one identify the distinguishing features of these two types of people? Romans 8:5-9 is one of the most descriptive passages that describes the differences between the two groups. It is clear that they both have a very different mindset, a very different disposition toward God and His word, and in the end a very different destiny.

Very Different Mindsets
The Apostle Paul says that the two types of people first “set their minds” on specific things. People in the flesh set their minds on the “things of the flesh” while people in the Spirit set their minds on the “things of the Spirit” (v. 5). There couldn’t be a bigger contrast. When Paul uses this phrase, “set their minds,” he is describing the principle that is governing a person’s life. To set your mind on something means that a person is absorbed with or sharply focused on a particular view of life. This is not a description of an occasional glance, but an absorbed desire to pursue a certain lifestyle.

The person who lives in the flesh is absorbed with and governed by the “things of the flesh.” So, what are the things of the flesh? The Apostle John tells us that the “world and the things in the world… the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life– is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-17). To put it short, worldly people love worldly things; the world is all they have. The unregenerate unbeliever is only concerned with the things of the world: material possessions, fleshly desires, prideful attitudes, secular beliefs, self-interest and self-promotion. In addition, they are opposed to anything spiritual. Not only do they not understand spiritual things, but spiritual things are foolishness to them (1 Cor 2:14).

On the other hand, the person who has been changed by the grace of God, the person who lives according to the Spirit, has a new mindset; he has the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). According to Paul this new mindset is set on the “things of the Spirit.” So, what are the things of the Spirit? The things of the Spirit are the things that belong to God: The Kingdom of God, the Son of God, the Word of God, the Truth of God and the will of God. The man who is “in Christ” and made a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17) has a new mind for spiritual things. Because we are “of the Spirit” we desire to know and glory in the things of God. Jesus said in the sermon on the mount that the unbelievers naturally worry themselves about food and clothing. But we as believers don’t worry and rather we “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt 6:33). Because we are tempted to seek the things of the world, Scripture commands us to “set our minds on things above, since we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:1-3).

Very Different Dispositions
Second, very telling of these two kinds of people is their disposition toward God and particularly His Word. Again, the Apostle Paul tells us in v. 7-9 the stark contrast. Paul gives four descriptions of the person who is still in the flesh. First, they are “hostile toward God.” This hostility may be either an active or passive hostility. Either way, this person doesn’t want God interfering with their life. Second, they do not submit to the Word of God. In short, the unregenerate person doesn’t want God telling them what to do. Their motto in life is “I’m the boss of me!” And as a result, they are unwilling to listen and obey what God’s Word says. It shouldn’t surprise us that there is a worldwide conspiracy against the Bible to redefine marriage, the family, gender, ethics and faith. The world hates what God’s Word says. Third, the unregenerate are “unable to submit” to the Law of God. This is very telling, because it speaks of the deadness of their volition or will. According to the Apostle, the unregenerate man has no ability to submit to God outside of the grace of God. Fourth, ultimately the lost person “cannot please God.” But Paul goes on to say, “however,” believers are not in the flesh but in the Spirit (v. 9), and as a result have the power of the Holy Spirit which enables them to do exactly opposite of the world. Not only do believers have a desire, but they also have a power to obey the Word of God. They have faith which enables them to “please God” (Heb 11:6).

Very Different Destinies
Lastly, and tragically, these two kinds of people have two very different destinies. The person in the flesh is promised spiritual “death” while the person in the “Spirit” is promised eternal “life and peace” (v. 6). While this may not be politically correct in our day, the truth of God’s Word is clear. Those without Christ will go to everlasting death in hell, which is a real place. It is a place of torment and a place of no return (Luke 16:23-31). Hell is a place of unquenchable fire where the worm never dies (Mark 9:43-48). Hell is a place of internal anguish seen by the gnashing of teeth (Matt 13:43). It is also a place of eternal darkness and eternal punishment (Matt 25:30-46). However, those who are no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit, redeemed by the grace of God, will go to eternal life and everlasting peace with God. These are the promises of Scripture (Jn 3:16).

Which Kind of Person Are You?
After reading this particular text of Scripture, the obvious question should be, “Which kind of person am I?” The answer to that question should be obvious. Ask yourself what you have “set your mind” on in this world. Ask yourself if you have a desire for the things of God. Secondly, ask yourself what your attitude is toward God and His Word. Particularly ask yourself what you think of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Do you love God’s Word, and while you may not obey it completely are you striving to obey it by faith in Christ? The answer to these questions will determine your destiny, either hell or heaven. These are not trifling matters, but the most important questions of life. Please take stock of your life (2 Cor 13:5). There are only two types of people in the world! Every one of us is one or the other!