Holiness
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Holiness

From Series: Lessons for Life, Volume 2

Hebrews 10:10-17  (ID: 2927)

The pathway to holiness emerges from reflecting on the wonder of the saving work that Jesus accomplished on the cross. In this message Alistair Begg focuses on the truth that He has done all that is necessary in relationship to sin, to God, to Satan, and to us. In light of this truth, we should then we respond with a life marked by holy devotion, feeding on the Word of God, living in the fear of God, and resting in the grace of God.


Sermon Transcript:

Let’s take our Bibles and turn to Hebrews chapter 10. I essentially want to speak to you tonight, and speak to myself this evening, about the matter of holiness. The Bible says that “without holiness no one will see the Lord.”[1] And here in Hebrews chapter 10—and I haven’t taken the time to read it, but I hope you’ll open your Bibles and keep them open to it—you find that in verse 14 we read these words:

“By one sacrifice he”—that is, Jesus—“has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

And up in verse 10:

“And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Now, the writer to the Hebrews makes very, very clear in this chapter, as elsewhere, that the holiness of the child of God is both achieved by and grounded in the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The holiness of the child of God is both achieved by and grounded in the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. And any calls to holy living or any attempts to live a holy life that fail to give due consideration to that fact will render the individual on that road living in the realm of futility and living in the realm of sterility. I think it would be possible to make the case and justify it that every kind of misguided and confused teaching on the subject of holiness may ultimately be traced to a false or inadequate view of the atonement—that what Jesus has accomplished on the cross is the foundation upon which all of the superstructure of Christian living is then built. Consequently, if we get it wrong at the most foundational level, then we should not be surprised if the building of our lives creaks and groans and totters and threatens to crumble upon us.

If a life is going to be marked by holy devotion, then there needs to be a stirring in the heart of the believer. And the stirring in the heart of the believer will be as a result of our being renewed and refreshed in the truth of the gospel. And therefore, it is important that we are always proclaiming the gospel and hearing the gospel and loving the gospel—the wonders of God’s plan from all of eternity in putting together a people that are his very own, and that it is the utterly undeserved privilege of each one in Christ to be included in that number.

And you ought to be very concerned, and I should be too, if when we hear the gospel being proclaimed, we find ourselves punching out and saying, “Oh, of course, this is evangelistic; this is for somebody else.” When the gospel is proclaimed, there ought to be such a sensitivity in our own hearts to the wonder of it all that we feel that we would love to become a Christian all over again when we realize the glory and wonder of what Jesus has done. And the hymn writer says,

I love to tell the story;
For those who know it best,
Seem hungering and thirsting
To hear it like the rest.[2]

Now, what I’d like to do is simply walk you through a section here of chapter 10 and then make some applicatory comments in drawing it to a close.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us in this chapter about the achievements of the priestly work of Christ. And he says to us essentially two things: in this sufficient work of the Son, all that God wants has been achieved, and all that we need has been accomplished. In the sufficient work of the Son, all that God desires has been achieved, and all that we need has been accomplished.

Everything in Relationship to Sin

Now, let me tease that out for you by showing you that just why it is we’re able to say that—noticing, first of all, that Jesus has done all that is necessary in relationship to sin.

In the sufficient work of the Son, all that God desires has been achieved, and all that we need has been accomplished.

If you look at the contrast between verse 4 and verse 12, you will see that this is the case. Speaking of the sacrifices in the Old Testament: “Those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins”[3]—verse 4—“because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” But in verse 12, in contrast to the priest who offered and reoffered and reoffered, “when this priest had offered”— notice the phraseology—“for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” The repetition that marked the priest in the old covenant spoke of inadequacy. The blood of bulls, the blood of goats, was ultimately insufficient. These sacrifices were able to foreshadow, but could not accomplish, an atonement. For a person was needed in order to substitute for people.

For the ultimate citadel of sin lies in the fact that our wills consent to sin. And Christ comes to do what had never been done previously, and his sacrifice is commensurate with all of his divine dignity. In the words of the psalmist, he says, “I have come to do your will, O God.”[4] And as he walks on his journey, eventually, down the Via Dolorosa and faces Gethsemane, he is now about to live out that which he gave an inkling of to his parents when they found him in the temple, as we mentioned the other evening, and he said, “Don’t you realize that I have to be about my Father’s business?”[5]

How, in the wedding at the Cana of Galilee, when his mother comes to him and says, “We have a problem here with the wedding reception,” and he says to her, “Woman … my time has not yet come.”[6] And she must have walked away and said, “What in the world does that mean? I was only saying to him, ‘We have a problem here, insofar as the provisions have run out.’” And what Jesus is saying is this: “The real issues that I’ve come to deal with is not in the provision of that which we will drink and be thirsty again, but it is that which I will eventually do when I reach that place on the cross.”

Now, the implications of this are very, very real. Verse 12: “When [he] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down.” “He sat down.” I heard of a young man who left his job, and when someone asked him why he left his job, he said that he wasn’t allowed to sit down. Well, of course he wasn’t allowed to sit down! He’s supposed to stand up. He’s working! He can sit down when he’s finished, but not until he’s finished. And the priest stands and goes to the head of the line and offers a sacrifice and comes around and takes his place at the end of the line and offers a sacrifice. And Christ comes, and in his death upon the cross—one sacrifice, once for all—he does everything that is necessary in relationship to sin.

Now, the implications of this are obvious:

I need no other [sacrifice],
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that he died for me.[7]

I do not celebrate the Mass, which, irrespective of what people tell you, is clearly in some element regarded as sacrificial. It is therefore ultimately blasphemous, because Jesus has done all in relationship to sin.

Everything in Relationship to God

Secondly, he has done all in relationship to God. Notice where we’re told that he sits. He sits down “at the right hand of God.” He sits in acceptance, because he is the propitiation for our sins. Until God is satisfied, there can be no salvation. God is a sin-hating God, and therefore, we’re in need of salvation. And you may never have considered this, because of the way the gospel is routinely proclaimed, but it is the satisfaction of God’s wrath which is the driving force in the atonement, not our human predicament. If God were complacent about sin, there would be no need of satisfaction, and we would not be in need of conversion.

In The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church, David Wells says this: “Without the holiness of God, sin is just failure—but not failure before God! It is failure without the presumption of guilt, without retribution, indeed without any serious moral meaning at all.”[8] You see, the issue is not that men and women have lost their way and they’re up a dead-end street. The issue is not that men and women somehow or another need a purpose in their life. Clearly they do, and clearly they are up a dead-end street. The real issue is that the wrath of God has been revealed from heaven,[9] and that men and women are rightly and justly under his wrath and are in no way able to deal with that, to set it aside, to placate it, to do anything to earn acceptance.

And Christ comes and does everything in relationship to God. When there is a loss in the consciousness of a generation—as I suggest there is in the contemporary scene—of the sinfulness of sin, then there will be an accompanying impact on the way in which the gospel is preached or is not preached. Professor Carson, in The Gagging of God, says,

Weigh how many presentations of the gospel have been “eased” by portraying Jesus as the One who fixes marriages, ensures the American dream, cancels loneliness, gives … power, and generally makes us happy. He is portrayed that way primarily because in our efforts to make Jesus appear relevant we have cast the … dilemma in merely contemporary categories, taking our cues from the perceived needs of [the] day.[10]

In direct contrast, when we realize the magnitude of what Christ has accomplished, then the only logical response is that of holy devotion:

Upon that cross of Jesus
My eye at times can see
The very dying form of One
Who suffered there for me:
And from my smitten heart with tears
Two wonders I confess,
The wonders of his glorious love
And my unworthiness.

And then,

I take, O cross, your shadow
For my abiding place:
I ask no other sunshine than
The sunshine of your face;
Content to let the world go by,
To know no gain nor loss;
My sinful self my only shame,
My glory all the cross.[11]

That’s something very different from, “Jesus put the zip into my life”—an offering of the gospel which comes to people and says, “You know, wouldn’t you like a little something in your life?” To which the answer is probably, “I have a little something in my life. Let me introduce you to her.”

“Well, wouldn’t you like to have a little purpose?”

“I have a lot of purpose.”

“Well, wouldn’t you like direction?”

“I’m clearly directed.”

“Well, wouldn’t you like to know satisfaction?”

“I’m actually very satisfied.”

Well, where are we going next with this story? Where is the point of contact? Where does the gospel intersect with the contemporary successful male?

See, we’ve nothing now to say—unless we say what the Bible says: “I’ve got bad news for you. And I have to tell you the bad news before I tell you the good news, because if you don’t understand the bad news, the good news won’t mean anything to you.” à la Peanuts: Charlie Brown holds the banner, says, “Christ is the answer,” and in the bottom frame, Linus holds the other banner, and it says, “What is the question?” Are we going to people and say, “He’s the answer, he’s the answer, he’s the answer!” People said, “I don’t understand the question.” So when you go to people on the basis simply of their felt needs—and Jesus meets needs, but that’s not what he came to do.

Now, if you doubt that, just read the Gospels. Four guys let the man down through the roof, paralyzed. What’s his need? Apparently, he needs to walk. “We’ve got to get him to Jesus.” Place is full. Garden path is logjammed. “Only one thing we can do: let him down through the roof.” And down through the roof he comes. And into the middle of the thing. And Jesus is teaching, and he stops. And he says, “[My] son, your sins are forgiven [you].”[12] I can’t wait to get to heaven to ask this guy what he felt when Jesus said that to him. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he said to himself, “That’s not the issue. That’s not the issue. The issue is, look at me in this bed. This is my obvious predicament. This is my need.”

Now, why did Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven you”? Oh, he healed him; he got up and he went on his way. He was making the point that what the man thought was his real predicament was subservient to the reality. And if we brought him back from heaven tonight, and he could come and give his testimony right here at Cedarville College, and he showed up here and he said, “Hello, good evening. I’m the man who was let down on the bed. And I was sure they were going to drop me—they weren’t that strong in the first place—but they finally let me down, and I was full of anticipation, and I never forget the fact the Lord Jesus looked at me and he said, ‘Your sins are forgiven you.’ Well, of course, that wasn’t what I had in mind at all, because I wanted so desperately to walk. But I’ve lived in heaven now with Jesus for two thousand years, and I wanted to come back and tell you that I would gladly have lived the rest of my earthly life as a cripple for the joy of knowing my sins forgiven and the reality of eternity with the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Everything in Relationship to Satan

Jesus has done everything in relationship to sin. He’s done everything in relationship to God. In verse 13, he’s done everything in relationship to Satan: “Since that time,” when he made that sacrifice, “[he’s waiting] for his enemies to be made his footstool.” He waits contentedly for the inevitable submission of a defeated foe. Back in 2:14, he says, “Since … children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

And the power of Satan is broken as to its ultimate effect, but it is not yet—and clearly not yet—wiped out of existence. And in his death, Jesus made the final move, as it were, on the chessboard, and it’s checkmate. And the devil can move his pawns and his rooks and his bishops around as much as he pleases, but he cannot alter the ultimate outcome. He is a defeated foe. He’s out at the back door, waiting for the garbage truck to finally usher him into a lostness of dark, deep despair.

So don’t go rummaging around in this stuff. Don’t get yourself into all this nonsense about Satan getting involved with you and everything else. You don’t need to go reading those books. I’m not going to mention authors by name, but there’s a tremendous amount of stuff written about this, and I believe it’s largely due to the fact that the authors do not understand that when Christ died upon the cross, he did everything in relationship to Satan. You need not fear him. C. S. Lewis referred to him as “Smutty Face.” And when he comes as the accuser of the brethren, you tell him, “Go back to hell where you belong. I don’t need to deal with you today. You’re a defeated foe.”

When I delivered groceries as a seventeen-year-old, there were a number of places I was fearful to go. Dogs—vicious brutes they were, barking like crazy behind garden walls and fences—and being the timorous person that I am, I many times just left the groceries and made a run for it. And my boss was disgusted with us. He said, “Mrs. So-and-So had to come out halfway down the driveway to get her groceries. What was that about?”

“Oh,” I said, “well, the dog.” I said, “I didn’t see it, but what a noise it made there.”

“Oh,” he said, “you can go in.”

I said, “You can go in. I’m not going in.”

“No,” he said, “you don’t understand. The dog is chained to a stake, and the length of the chain is such that it can make a dreadful noise, but it cannot reach the garden path. Go in.”

And Satan is on a chain that is chained to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he cannot reach the path on which we walk. He’s done everything in relationship to Satan.

Everything in Relationship to Us

And fourthly, he’s done everything in relationship to us. Verse 14: “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” It’s an interesting juxtaposition, isn’t it? “Perfect” and “being made holy.” Complete and yet incomplete. Saved and yet being saved. This is the real truth about us. And we have it on the highest of authorities. Because in verse 15, it is the Holy Spirit who “testifies to us about this.” And the Holy Spirit takes the words of Scripture in Jeremiah 31, and he applies them on the basis of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross. And the Holy Spirit bears witness to what is true concerning us.

If ethics is the call to try and be what you’re not, then Christian living is the call to become what you are.

And what is true concerning us as believers? Well, we’ve been changed inwardly. We’ve been given a new heart. We’ve been given a new heart that is fashioned in the same shape as the law of God, and it’s a perfect fit. There is no conflict between that heart and the requirements of holy living. Indeed, the whole journey of the Christian life is making progress into a life of obedience to God’s law—not in order that we may be justified by it, nor that in that law is there the dynamic whereby we are sanctified. But it is on the basis of the finished work of Christ that he says, “I will put my law in your hearts, and I will write them on your minds.” If ethics is the call to try and be what you’re not, then Christian living is the call to become what you are. And what verse 14 is essentially saying is this: “You are holy, so become holy. Become what you are.”

If we had a longer time and a different context, we could unpack this. If you go to 1 Corinthians 1, where it speaks about those who are sanctified, in the second verse of 1 Corinthians 1, the tense that is used there is a very specific tense, referring to the point at which these saints were included in Christ. And having been included in Christ and gathered up in Christ, it is now the journey of our lives as we grow in grace and in a knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, becoming increasingly like him and being transformed by the renewing of our minds and evincing a holiness which is not about a certain kind of suit or a certain kind of clothing or a certain list of things that somebody dreamt up. But it’s a dynamic, attractive, wonderful thing where people say, “What is this?” And the answer is, “By God’s grace I have been made what I am being made.”

You see the word holy, when you look at it first of all in the Old Testament, doesn’t refer in the first instance to a moral state; it refers to a relationship. Cities are described as holy cities, vessels as holy vessels, buildings as holy places. What does that mean? It means that they stood in a special relationship to God. And so it is that in redemption, we have been put in a special relationship to God. We have been set apart from what is common to a holy use. First Corinthians 6: “You’ve been bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”[13]

You had girlfriends before you were married, or you will. Or boyfriends. But on the day that I was married, on the 16th of August, 1975, whatever had been in my past, and people that I took to the prom, or the high school thing, or whatever the thing it was—it’s all over and done with and gone and finished! Because on that day, I was united. I was made new. I came as an individual; I left as married. And twenty-seven years of married life is ratifying the commitment that was made in those vows.

Do you think you can make vows to the Lord Jesus Christ and then just treat him any way you want? Fool around? Play fast and loose with the Bible? Fast and loose with purity? Fast and loose with truth? Fast and loose with the nature of worship and obedience and evangelism? You can’t do it. If you’re doing it, you may not be a Christian. You may be an almost-Christian. Like Herod, who loved to hear John the Baptist preach, and enigmatically the King James Version says, “[And] he did many things.”[14] So you have the picture of this man who has some kind of sensitivity to the things of God, he likes to hear the preacher, the preacher preaches, it stirs him up a little bit, and he begins to change things around. But he was never changed—not by the power of God.

And some of you may have come to this institution, and you filled out the form, and you told of how you came to faith in Jesus Christ, but there’s a gigantic gap between whatever that means and the reality of your life. And so what you’re trying to do now is—by your own effort—is close the gap. You need to consider the possibility that the reason there is a gap is because there is a gap this wide in your life, and it’s the gap that is left by the absence of Christ. Because “without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

And the process is not only construction but is destruction. And it’s a renovation that goes on forever. For when you go to Britain, you see the places where the royal coat of arms is there. And they’re up above buildings and houses and establishments. And whenever you see the royal coat of arms, you can know this: that before the coat of arms was placed in prominence there for public display, behind the scenes royalty had taken the initiative; royalty had made a purchase; royalty had established ownership. And then the renovation work began to make the purchase fit for the dwelling place of the king.

That’s what’s happening in our lives. It’s not gonna happen in a great surge of emotion. It’s not gonna happen as a result of a great cataclysmic event. All these emotions and events and things may be swept, in the goodness of God, into his purpose for us; they may help us along the journey. But they can’t take the place of the painstaking, day-by-day working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.[15]

“For,” says Paul to the Romans, “if you live according to the sinful nature, you[’ll] die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”[16] The Puritans called that “the mortification of the flesh.” I haven’t seen a book on the mortification of the flesh for some time. In fact, the average evangelical Christian, if you gave them a blank sheet of paper and wrote across the top of it “the mortification of the flesh:” and asked them to fill in everything that they knew about that phrase, would be hard-pressed to give you anything at all. More’s the pity. And the mortification of the flesh—the putting to death the deeds of the flesh—doesn’t happen automatically. It doesn’t happen unconsciously. It’s not a process of osmosis. It’s not something that you just wake up one morning and whoo! But it happens in this way: that the Spirit’s prompting and the Spirit’s enabling reminds us that we have to deliberately and consciously weep over our own sins, and repent of them, and turn from them, and keep on.

The Westminster Confession of Faith says helpfully that the Christian is involved in “a continual and irreconcilable war”[17]—at war not just with those sins that are gross and obvious but also with the inward sins: envy, pride, malice, hypocrisy, self-righteousness. If you like, evangelical sins. And it’s a wonderful day when God shows us the ugliness of all of this and prompts us to tackle it.

And I’ll tell you how you need to tackle it. You need to tackle it the way a junior higher tackles zits. You hear the blood-curdling cry coming from the bathroom: “Oh, oh, ohhh!”

You rush to the door to ask, “Are you okay? Are you okay? What happened? Did you fall down the bath?”

“No, no.” And eventually, out she comes with a great protuberance sticking here and whatever the latest cream is for it. “I’ve got to get rid of this. I have to get rid of this. If he sees me with this…”

“Would you quit pressing the jolly thing? It’s five times bigger than when you started. There’s a way to fix this, but it’s not your way.”

“Oh, but I must get rid of it, and I must get rid of it now.”

“Okay, fine. Let me help you.”

Well, I’m trying to get rid of it immediately. I’m trying to get rid of it ruthlessly. I’m trying to get rid of it consistently. That’s the way you deal with sin: ruthlessly, immediately, consistently.

As Billy Graham says, it’s not the first look at the girl as she rides past on her bicycle that’ll get you; it’s the second look. It’s the refusal to allow my eyes to wander, my mind to conceive, my heart to settle on that which turns me away from what it means to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

And when this kind of holiness begins to take root in our lives, we shouldn’t look for it in becoming august and judgmental and unbending. We should look for it manifesting itself in graciousness and in pleasantness and in beauty. We should look for it in a growing ability to resist temptation. We should look for it in an increasing love for our brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, when any of our desires after Christ distract us or divert us from the body of Christ and from God’s people, then we’re on the wrong track altogether.

Living a Life of Holy Devotion

Now, you’ve listened very carefully, and it’s time to put down the landing gear. And I understand that, so fasten your safety belts, and we’re making our initial descent now into the Cedarville area.

When in Hebrews 12 it says, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord,” it’s reminding us of this: that a holy life is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Said William Gurnall, “Say not that thou hast royal blood … in thy veins, and [are born] of God, except thou canst prove thy pedigree by [daring] to be holy.”[18]

You see, what is a Christian? Is a Christian somebody who just added Jesus to the sum of his happiness? Is Jesus just, you know, “I’ve got the right one, uh huh”? “You got the wrong one, I’ve got the right one”? This is so trivial. No wonder so many of our thoughtful friends are turned off. “What is this nonsense?” they say. Because our presentation of the gospel is so thin, it’s so weak, it’s so anemic. And people turn away from it, they say, “That sounds ridiculous to me.” And we’re so conscious of the fact that we’re trying to make sure that we don’t put any stumbling blocks in their way. I mean, we don’t want to give them any foolish stuff about a Christ who died upon the cross as the only Savior. We don’t want to tell them that they’re under the judgment of God. We don’t want to let them know that the law of God confronts them with the fact that they’re without God and without hope in the world. We don’t want to tell them that they’re dead men walking. We don’t want to tell them that they have no hope. But we want them to have Jesus. Why? Why? You don’t tell me any reason why I need him! Do you think we’re going to be able to preach the gospel like this for another generation and build a church for the twenty-first century in North America? No. It won’t happen.

Each of us needs to be feeding on the Word of God. An army can’t march on an empty stomach.

That’s why I’m so excited to be here with you. Because we have drawn down significantly on the theological and spiritual capital of a generation that is about to go to heaven. And we have been held in the framework of their concerns and their commitments and their prayers and their devotions and their understanding of the things of the faith. But coming behind it, I’m not so sure that we fastened onto it in the same way. I’m not sure that we have the same convictions as our forefathers have had. I’m not talking about the glory days now; I’m just talking about the way the gospel has been guarded and kept and passed on. And I don’t mean to be alarmist, and I’m not trying to be silly either. But a group like this—three thousand young people like this—if you would get serious about Christ, get serious about the Bible, and go out into the sciences, and go out into the arts, and go out into the community, living a life that is one of transparent holiness… and who knows but that God will look from heaven and pour out a blessing such as there won’t even be room enough to contain. It seems to me that unless we’re to slide into some dreadful demise akin to Western Europe, then we only can hope that God in his mercy would revive his church in the midst of the years.

“Well,” you say to me, “what do you think, then, I should pay attention to in order that I might live my life in such a way as to be marked by a holy devotion?” Well, let me just give you this and I’m through.

Each of us needs to be feeding on the Word of God. Feeding on the Word of God. An army can’t march on an empty stomach. I love Vance Havner, his memory. I only heard him a few times when I was privileged to come here—that wonderful Southern accent of his. And he used to hold up his Bible. You maybe heard him—I’m sure he spoke here—and he said, “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.”[19] “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly or stands in the way of sinners or sits in the seat of the scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”[20] Feeding on the Word of God.

Secondly, living in the fear of God. Living in the fear of God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”[21] Not a servile fear but a filial fear. The psalmist says, “With you there is forgiveness; therefore you are [to be] feared.”[22] Paying careful heed, then, to all of the warnings of the Bible—not least of all, those that come in Hebrews. “We need to pay more careful attention, therefore,” says the writer, “to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”[23] Do you realize that that is a warning there for you and for me? Because what do you know? Not everybody who professed faith in Jesus Christ stayed true to the end of the journey. People who taught the Bible to us have turned their backs on it. The foremost evangelical expositor of Scripture, to whom I looked, from whom I learned, whose books I devoured, left his wife and his teenage children, in a homosexual relationship. The key guy. Our best guy.

“Pay careful attention, therefore, to what you’ve heard so that you do not drift away.” Do you remember Jesus with his disciples at the final supper? They’re all eating, and he says, “One of you [is going to] betray me.” And “they were saddened,” Mark says, “and one by one they said to him, ‘Surely not I?’”[24] “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”[25]

Feeding on the Word of God, living in the fear of God, and finally, resting in the grace of God. Learning not only to heed the warnings, which are there for our benefit, but also to trust the promises. When Paul prays for the Thessalonians, he prays that they would “be kept blameless”[26]—that the Holy Spirit’s work within their lives would be providing for them a supernatural habit or principle which can’t be acquired by fulfilling our duties but which is preserved by the fulfilling of our duties. And he says to the Thessalonian believers, “He who calls you is utterly faithful and he will finish what he has set out to do.”[27] In other words, Paul says to them, “Live in the awareness of the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit, so that you may be sure of the process being accomplished.”

Verse 17: “[The Spirit of God] adds, ‘Their sins and [their] lawless acts I will remember no more.’” I was saying to the young fellows last night in one of the dorms, “This is the great and amazing thing of the gospel: the wonder of grace. That as we turn from sin and rest in Christ, when the Evil One comes and insinuates and reminds and seeks to drag us down and to discourage us, we need to respond not by creating a list of things that we’ve been doing very well, because then we give the impression that we’re actually Muslims and that what we have are scales and not a cross. The symbol of Islam is scales: more good than bad the hope of heaven. The symbol of Christianity is a cross, reminding us that from start to the very end, we are utterly, entirely dependent upon the amazing grace of God which has come to us in the predicament of our wanderings.

And when we go back to the Father and say to him, because our consciences have been troubled even on a night like tonight, and we go out of here, and we wish we hadn’t remembered something, and we go out walking down the road, and we’re speaking to God from our hearts, and we’re saying, “Father, you know, I’m sorry about that thing three years ago. I’m sorry about the high school thing.” And the Father says, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Why? Because “their sins and their lawless acts he remembers no more.” He presses the Delete key, and there is not a computer genius in the universe that can go find that stuff again. Because it is buried in the depth of the oceans;[28] it’s as far away as the east is from the west.[29] It’s the simplicity of our childhood songs:

Wide, wide as the ocean,
And high as the heavens above;
And deep, deep as the deepest sea
Is my Savior’s love
For I, though so unworthy…[30]

I just read in Spurgeon this morning that Carey on his tombstone had—and I meant to bring the thing, and I’ve forgotten it now—but he had on his tombstone something to the effect of, “Buried in this grave is a poor old sinner entirely dependent on Jesus.”[31] This is Carey the great missionary. This is Carey, the one who saw the wonders of God in India. This is Carey who establishes the Baptist Missionary Society, who fronts all those hyper-Calvinists who said to him, “Carey, if God wants to redeem people in India, he can do it very well without you.” And Carey said, “A pox on you silly fellows,” and he took his Bible, and he went off to India. But at the end of the day, what was he doing? He wasn’t relying on his prestige. He wasn’t relying on how many sermons he preached. He wasn’t relying on his grades. He wasn’t relying on anything. Except he was relying on the same thing that he relied on the day that he trusted in Christ:

I have no other sacrifice
And I have no other plea.
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that he died for me.

That’s what we will say. “Why should I let you into heaven?” “You shouldn’t let me into heaven. But I’m here because of the invitation of the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is all grace. It is all God. It is all what Jesus has accomplished. Do you have a grip of this?

If you go for a golf lesson with anyone who knows anything at all about teaching golf—and I’m sure the same would be true of tennis and other things—the very first thing the person says to you is this: “Grip the club. Show me how you hold the club.” And any skillful diagnosis will quickly pick up on stuff just by the way an individual takes ahold of the club. And until you learn how to grip it properly, everything else is extraneous information. Once you’ve got a grip, now we can move to stance, we can move to posture, we can do all of the rest.

Do you see what I’m saying to you? You don’t become holy as a result of buying a book that tells you how to be holy. The pathway to holiness emerges from thinking down upon the wonder of what Jesus has done upon the cross. And to the extent that you’ve never thought that, use these early days of your semester to consider it, to ponder it, to ask Jesus to make it real to you in a way that it’s never been before.

This is the end. When Spafford—H. G. Spafford—planned the trip to the United Kingdom from the States, you will recall that the ship bearing his wife and his four daughters set off from the Atlantic port for Le Havre in France. He stayed behind to deal with circumstances. He received a telegram from his wife which simply read, “Saved alone.” Spafford now responds to the fact that he had previously lost his son, and now he has lost his four daughters, who have drowned in the Atlantic Ocean. He makes haste now to join his wife. You can only but imagine the mixture of emotions in the heart of the man as he sets out on a vessel going right across the same territory that his wife and daughters had gone and where his daughters had been lost. And indeed, history records that they brought the ship to a halt at the point in the ocean where the vessel had gone down. And somewhere in the midst of all of that, Spafford presumably retreated to his stateroom, and he took out his pen and he wrote, “When peace, like a river, attends my way, and when sorrows like sea billows roll”—probably the tears coursing down onto the page—“whatever my lot, you have taught me to know, it is well with my soul.”

The gospel is the greatest news available in the whole world, and it has been placed in your hands and in your lives.

Now, we’re familiar with all of that. But what about the [third] verse? He doesn’t write a sentimental song about the loss of his children. Where does he go next? “My sin.”

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to your cross, and I bear it no more.[32]

You see, he brings eternal verities to bear upon the exigencies of life, because these are the issues. And if you read the history of him, he, like a solid dad, took no nonsense from those same daughters, and took them to an evangelistic crusade, although they did not want to go. And in a matter of months before they made the transatlantic voyage, each of these children had committed their lives to Jesus Christ. And Spafford says, “This is the great issue. For to lose my children in time is a tragedy, but to lose them for eternity…”

The gospel is the greatest news available in the whole world, and it has been placed in your hands and in your lives. Give yourself up. Give up every small ambition. Ask God to make you all he desires for you to be, so that you may live to the praise of his glory.

Father, out of all of these words, oh, please help us to hear what you would say to us. We’re here, a variety of people tonight, from all different backgrounds. Some of the children are small and 80 percent of it went over their heads, but maybe the reminder about those girls will rest with them—the importance of knowing and loving Jesus. And some of us have been fooling around, frankly; we’ve been playing the game, we’ve got the language down, we’re able to get by, but there’s a big gap. And we pray that tonight may be a means of closing the gap in our lives. Take our lives, O Lord, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.


[1] Hebrews 12:14 (NIV 1984).

[2] Kate Hankey, “I Love to Tell the Story” (1866).

[3] Hebrews 10:3 (NIV 1984).

[4] Hebrews 10:7 (NIV 1984). See also Psalm 40:8.

[5] Luke 2:49 (paraphrased).

[6] John 2:4 (NIV 1984).

[7] Eliza E. Hewitt, “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place” (1890).

[8] David F. Wells, The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1995), 12.

[9] See Romans 1:18.

[10] D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 221.

[11] Elizabeth C. Clephane, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” (1868). Lyrics lightly altered.

[12] Mark 2:5 (NIV 1984). See also Matthew 9:2; Luke 5:20.

[13] 1 Corinthians 6:20 (paraphrased).

[14] Mark 6:20 (KJV).

[15] See Philippians 2:12.

[16] Romans 8:13 (NIV 1984).

[17] The Westminster Confession of Faith 13.2.

[18] William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armor (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2015), 16.

[19] Attributed to John Bunyan. See, for example, H. A. Ironside, Studies on Book One of the Psalms (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1952), 123, and Elisabeth Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (1958; repr. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1979), 38.

[20] Psalm 1:1–2 (paraphrased).

[21] Proverbs 9:10 (NIV 1984); see also Psalm 111:10.

[22] Psalm 130:4 (NIV 1984).

[23] Hebrews 2:1 (paraphrased).

[24] Mark 14:18–19 (NIV 1984).

[25] Hebrews 3:12 (NIV 1984).

[26] 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NIV 1984).

[27] 1 Thessalonians 5:24 (Phillips).

[28] See Micah 7:19.

[29] See Psalm 103:12.

[30] C. Austin Miles, “Wide, Wide as the Ocean” (1914). Lyrics lightly altered.

[31] Quoted in Charles Spurgeon, “August 29—Morning,” Morning and Evening, ed. Alistair Begg (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003). Paraphrased.

[32] H. G. Spafford, “It Is Well with My Soul” (1873). Lyrics lightly altered.

Copyright © 2020, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.