Archive for March, 2009

To the new believer

Posted in Gospel of Grace on 2009/03/31 by howtobesaved

SO, you’re a new Christian! The greatest thing that could ever happen in anyone’s lifetime just happened to you and you’re thrilled. Your eternal destiny was permanently changed in an instant of time. Your lost condition had sentenced you to be exiled from God forever, but God Himself went to Calvary and paid the wages of sin for you, bought a place in Heaven for you, and gave you, as an absolutely free gift, a new and permanent relationship with Him.

Many other wonderful things became true for you at the instant you trusted Christ that were not true a minute before. Each of us would like to inherit a billion dollars, but every one of the things that became ours through the crosswork of God’s Son is worth infinitely more than a billion dollars! Now you have the awesome privilege of beginning a lifetime of adventure learning just what these priceless possessions of yours are.

But first, just how did you become a brand new son, or daughter, in the family of God? What I am about to say may shock you. You may have prayed a “sinner’s prayer” but that didn’t save you. Your salvation was provided for you nineteen hundred years ago on the cross of Calvary and was just waiting for you to “pick it up.” As wonderful as prayer is, it wasn’t necessary to ask God to save you as He was wanting to save you even more than you were wanting to be saved.

All that was lacking was for you to believe God concerning His Son’s death; to trust that death as yours because He died it for you. You may have asked Christ to come into your heart, I did that years ago when I also prayed the sinner’s prayer, but that isn’t what saved me! My salvation, too, was already completed and simply waiting for me to exercise faith in the finished work of Calvary. Perhaps someone encouraged you to “commit your life to God” or “give your heart to Jesus,” but the fact remains that you were instantly, completely, and eternally saved the instant you ceased to trust anything else and began to trust only what God did for you through the crosswork of His Son!

How about some helpful suggestions for starting out in your new life–suggestions that can guarantee that new life will be an adventure? ‘First, make the Word of God your Number One Priority! Our Lord, in His earthly ministry said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”‘ In the Bible God has given us a “Handbook of Salvation” to explain His plan of salvation to us and to help us explain it to others. It is called the Book of Romans.

Devour it! Study it until its tremendous truths come out of your ears! Wise Christians have devoted themselves to a lifetime study of this Epistle. I always recommend that new believers begin their Bible study here. Begin in Romans and go on to the other Pauline Epistles. Learn their message and THEN you will be able to go anywhere in the Bible and benefit from your study. You will see from your study of the Pauline Epistles that Paul is peculiarly YOUR Apostle. The entire Bible is FOR us, but his books are TO us and ABOUT us.

Another hint. Take a highlighter and highlight every verse that tells you something about yourself as you study. Two highlighters would be even better. For instance, you could use a red, or pink marker to highlight verses that tell you how lost we were before God’s Grace found us, and a yellow highlighter to emphasize what is true of us now that we believe.

Secondly, PRAY–prayer doesn’t have to be begging! As a matter of fact, Paul’s prayers seem to begin with thanksgiving–and sometimes end there. Every time you read a verse that tells you how lost you were without Christ you can thank God that is no longer true. Whenever you come across something you have highlighted in yellow you can thank God that this great truth is NOW true of you! Most good prayer is simple thanksgiving. The more you and I learn of the Grace of God, the more our prayers will be genuine, happy giving of thanks to our Father, too. Thanking Him for regenerating us, forgiving us, uniting us to Christ for Eternity, refusing to credit sin to our account, or giving us a new and permanent standing as sons and daughters and fellow-heirs with His Son will not only deepen our affection for Him but give us a fresh and accurate perspective on life and ministry.


How to stop worrying

Posted in Gospel of Grace on 2009/03/31 by howtobesaved

Worry is a killer. It can kill you. It may be KILLING YOU RIGHT NOW! The early death that worry brings to millions of Christians, is unnecessary. Billions of man-hours that could have been spent serving Christ during the last nineteen centuries have been squandered on the useless and destructive habit of worrying. Billions more have been lost through the untimely death of believers whose lives have been tragically shortened by what amounts to a senseless waste of time.

Life is a gift from God. Is worry robbing you of this priceless gift hour by hour, day by day, year by year? Is it destroying your physical well being, your emotional stability, and your mental health? Worry can sap your vitality, depress your spirit, and bum your wishes, dreams, and plans to ashes. Worry interferes with our most important human relationships–husband and wife, parent and child, sibling and sibling, friend and friend. It clouds our life-purpose (magnifying Christ), colors our attitudes, distorts our goals, and impedes our progress. Actually nothing good can be said about worry, it has NO redeeming features.

Worry seems to be a universal malady. What, then, can you and I do to prevent its vicious attacks, its destructive results, in our lives. Much, indeed, for God has not left us without His help on this critical battlefield of life. On the contrary, God has made a perfect provision for you and me to live as Adam’s progeny, in Satan’s world, in an evil age, through a difficult time, beset with problems, and filled with conflict. The bottom line in YOUR life is NEVER the degree of difficulty but, always the extent of supply. If this minute, you were facing greater problems than anyone else in the world, the extent of God’s supply for your need would still be enough and to spare! God has not left one single believer with one single excuse for accepting defeat. God has not left one of His warriors on the battlefield with broken supply lines, obsolete weapons, or incompetent leadership. The victory is ours, even over worry, if we follow commands, use our weapons, and draw on our supplies.

“Be careful for nothing,” says our English version in Philippians 4:6; but this is a present imperative with a prohibition in the original Greek. This construction – warns against the forming of a habit and forbids the continuance of an action already going on. Also, in a Greek sentence the first word is in the position of major emphasis. “Nothing” is the first word … NOTHING! NO THING is to continue to produce anxiety in the believer!

The antidote to worry was not in Limbo awaiting the invention of modem psychology. It has been in God’s Word all along.

It is interesting that God and Paul do not tell us to stop being anxious in verse six until they have told us in verse four, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice.” Two present tenses, each indicating linear action. Literally, “Keep on rejoicing in the Lord always; and again I say, Keep on rejoicing.”

“Keep on rejoicing” is in the emphatic position. In case we missed the significance, God adds the word “always,” and then, at the end of the sentence, the second most emphatic position, repeats the command. This, to the Greek-speaking Philippians, meant that God was loading up the emphasis on continual rejoicing. In English we would have to resort to Italics, capitals, and a host of exclamation points. But joy must have an object, and God does not leave us in doubt as to the object of our joy … it is to be the Person and work of our Savior. Religion is about churches; God’s Word is about Christ! Tradition is man-centered; salvation is Savior-centered!

If we are constantly to rejoice in the Person and work of our Lord, we must know something of Who He is and what He has done. Knowing a little gives one a little grounds for rejoicing, knowing more gives more grounds, knowing much gives much grounds.

Must Believers confess their sins?

Posted in Gospel of Grace on 2009/03/31 by howtobesaved

While there are a thousand shades of opinion regarding the matter of just what a believer is to do when he is conscious of having committed a sin, there are really only two major views on which to base opinions. The first, and by far the most commonly held, might be called “Short accounts”; the second, “Total forgiveness.”

The short accounts view teaches, essentially, that when the believer sins a barrier is erected between the believer and God which can only be taken down by confession. Confession is held to be either mentally or orally citing the sin in prayer to God. There are great differences of opinion among those who hold this view as to the seriousness of the rift that occurs between God and the believer when the latter sins. Some hold that fellowship is broken to some degree, while others insist that much temporal and some eternal blessing is forfeited until and unless the sin is cited in prayer. Frequently, in this view, the blood of Christ is seen as the basis of forgiveness for the sinner and confession the basis of forgiveness for the saint. Some who hold this view see God as exercising two kinds of forgiveness, judicial and familial. These contend that God forgives the believer’s sins, in the forensic sense, for all eternity at the moment of salvation on the basis of Christ’s shed blood, but now that the believer is in the family of God, he must have forgiveness–in the “family matter” sense–on the basis of confession. One author says that if his son were to offend him he would withhold forgiveness until his son came to him in contrition and sought a restoration of fellowship. He assumes that God would only do the same. But IS THIS GRACE? Does not God forgive believers “…for Christ’s sake” ? (Ephesians 4:32) When believers are instructed to forgive others (same reference) are we to understand that God means us to withhold forgiveness until these others cease to act like enemies and make some kind of amends? And what of the injunction to “bless those who persecute you” ? (Romans 12:14) Are we to withhold blessing until persecution stops, or, is the plain meaning to bless during the persecution?

It is interesting to observe that when men teach “short accounts” they invariably rush to 1 John 1:9 for a major proof-text. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I would like to suggest some things that we MUST note if we are to UNDERSTAND this important verse as God meant it to be understood when He placed it in His Word.

First, John is an apostle of the Circumcision writing to Jews as Jews and not to the Body of Christ. This is plain from Galatians Two, where, having just come to recognize the new and unique apostleship of Paul and Paul’s new and different message of Grace, he, with Peter and James, agrees to confine his ministry to the Jews while the new apostle, Paul, undertakes a new and unprophesied worldwide ministry to Gentiles.

Second, these Jews that John was addressing would know exactly what John was talking about when he conditioned forgiveness and cleansing on the confession (acknowledgment) of sins. They had a purification rite–the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins–and by the act of submitting to this “washing” ritual, they were admitting their sinnership, acknowledging their sins. Without speaking a word, they were confessing their unworthiness to enter Messiah’s Kingdom of Righteousness…the frequently predicted and long awaited reign of Heaven on earth.

Third, every Scripture has a context, and 1 John 1:9 is no exception. “A verse without a context is a pretext.” It is widely conceded that the book as a whole, and chapter one in particular, is a refutation of incipient gnosticism with its denial of the existence of the sin nature and the reality of personal sins and their consequent need of forgiveness. But the immediate context of verse 9 is the section incorporating verses 7 through 10. In verse seven, the Jewish believer commits sins but continues to walk in the light because he continues to be cleansed by the blood of God’s Son. This believer, though he continues to sin, does not walk in darkness, nor is his fellowship broken. A good concordance will reveal that darkness is always associated with the unsaved, never the saved. A believer cannot walk in darkness, nor can his access to the Father be interrupted becuase he has his access on the grounds of God’s Grace and not human merit (Romans 5:1-2). Also, the contrast in this passage is not between a believer who names his sins mentally or orally in “confession” to God and one who does not. The contrast is between the unbeliever who denies having sin (singular, the sin nature) and committing sins (plural, individual acts resulting from the fallen Adamic nature) and the Jewish believer who, by submitting to the Jewish purification ritual–water baptism–has acknowledged (confessed) his sinnership with its resulting sins.

Fourth, no one could possibly cite ALL of his sins to God…no one ever has. Even the earnest attempt to do so would leave you and me without time to sleep, eat, or brush our teeth. And even if it were possible to enumerate ALL of them, we would still have our sinful natures militantly opposed to God and His Word (Romans 8:7).What would confession do for that? Romans shows us that the REAL problem is Sin, the nature, not sin, the act. Monks hid under their beds rather than take a turn hearing Martin Luther’s confession, for, while they finished reciting their own sins in five minutes–or thought they did!–this sensitive monk kept on for an hour and a half and then was back in twenty minutes with more that he had forgotten. Most “short accounters” admit the inability to confess all and then resort to shameless evasion instead of sound exposition to cover the obvious. There are sins of omission, sins that we forget that we committed, sins of ignorance, and sins of stubbornness…sins that we go to our graves refusing to admit are sins. The problems with this view are legion, and they are immense!

Fifth, if John really taught short accounts in this passage, and if this Circumcision apostle had the Body of Christ in mind, why aren’t the Pauline Epistles full of instruction about “confessing” one’s sins in order to procure forgiveness and “restore fellowship”? Instead, we read, “…having forgiven you all offenses” (Colossians 2:13 lit.). Tomorrow’s sins are included for they, along with our past sins, were still future when our Lord died for them and, hence, are no harder for God to forgive.

Now, the CRUNCHER! Won’t teaching TOTAL FORGIVENESS instead of short accounts encourage sin on the part of the believer? On the contrary! The divine principle is that the one who has been forgiven much, LOVES MUCH (Luke 7:36-50). And the question that needs to be asked is, are you and I, as believers, such ingrates that the infinite love and total Grace of God displayed at Calvary cannot move us to love our Savior deeply and serve Him faithfully? Now that I have a new nature, am indwelt by the very Holy Spirit of God, and have the divine dynamic of the Word of God to energize me: AM I SO POORLY EQUIPPED THAT I CANNOT PRESENT MYSELF TO GOD AS ALIVE FROM THE DEAD, but must continue to present my members as instruments of unrighteousness to Sin? (Romans 6:13) HEAVEN FORBID! The Pauline Epistles call each of us to a higher life than that!

But if we shouldn’t invite God into our spiritual laundromats by naming our sins to Him in prayer, WHAT SHOULD WE DO when we are conscious of having sinned? The answer is there in every one of the Epistles of God and Paul. They begin with a foundation of the great Positional Truths that teach us our perfectly secure status beyond the reach of Sin and of Law. THEN comes the appeal to build my life upon this foundation in a God-honoring manner. What God has done for me is always the motivation for what I am to do for Him. “If Jesus Christ be God, and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him!” (C.T. Studd).

The return of the dog…

Posted in Gospel of Grace on 2009/03/31 by howtobesaved


(2 PETER 2:22)

Doug was a zealous personal evangelist, to say the least. It wasn’t easy to find college students interested in holding open-air meetings on the Providence Mall, even though they were “preparing for the ministry.” But Doug was always raring to go. With a Bible in one hand and a fistful of tracts in the other, he would set out to convert metropolitan Providence at the drop of a hat.

After one semester Doug dropped out of school. I assumed that he had returned to his home in another state. But then, months later, I encountered him once more on the Providence Mall. He was not there to preach this time, he was there to pick up girls. It was obvious that he had been doing some serious drinking and his language left much to be desired. Between puffs on an eight inch cigar he said that he was no longer a Christian,” that he considered Christ irrelevant to modem society. And that, since life was short and ended at the grave, he intended to “live life to the hilt,” while he could.

Was Doug a saved person who lost his salvation? I learned later that his parents had sent him to a Christian College in the hopes that he would be influenced to trust Christ and be saved. They did not consider him a believer. At home he skipped church, avoided believers, chose the worst of companions, drank excessively, and fornicated.

Once at school he sought to “dive” in by using the evangelical language that he had learned from childhood and engaging in “Christian activities.” But an unsaved person can distribute tracts, quote Scripture, defend a doctrinal position, and mouth orthodox clichés. Thousands do daily.

Notice that the dog in Peter’s illustration never ceased to be a dog. He was a dog when he wandered away from his vomit and he was still a dog when he returned. The sow was washed but never became a sheep. A bath didn’t change her inner nature, only her outward appearance. Morality is not Christianity and reformation is not salvation! Every year millions of people profess Christian faith and their lifestyles change dramatically. Some are truly saved, but many are merely “washed.” The dog returns to his vomit because it is his nature to do so. The sow may be bathed a thousand times but the hog-wallow remains her natural habitat. Doug passed for a believer for one semester. Some pass for believers for a lifetime, but their natures have never been changed.

Surely, there are many believers whose conduct is indistinguishable from that of the unsaved … the Corinthians come to mind, but that is not what the circumcision Apostle Peter is talking about in his second letter to Jews of the Diaspora. He is talking about people whom he called “false teachers” (2 Peter 2: 1). That they are unsaved is clear from their description in the chapter, especially the references to them as “unrighteous” (unsaved), “irrational beasts by nature,” (lit.), and “waterless fountains” (v. 17), which could never be said of believers as we have the Holy Spirit who never leaves us and is our guarantee of Heaven.

The passage says that they deny the Lord (gr. Despot) who bought them (v. 1), and some think this proves that they had once been saved. But the word “bought” is the word “paid for” in the Greek, and not the intensified form of the verb that would mean “purchased them out of the market place.” Christ died for all, but not all will be saved because not all accept His paying the price for them. Peter compares their case to the “Angels who sinned,” to the “ancient world” of Noah’s day, and to the “cities of Sodom and Gomorra,” none of whom had salvation and then lost it.

They are said to have forsaken the right way and gone astray (v. 15), but not said ever to have embraced the right way. They temporarily escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of Christ as the sow temporarily escaped the muck of the wallow, but the sow remained a sow despite her bath and these remained unsaved despite their moral reforms.

The dog left his vomit temporarily to pursue other interests but never became a sheep, though he may have spent some time in a pasture. Wolves wear sheep’s clothing in Scripture in order to fool the sheep, but a wolf is not a sheep nor a sheep a wolf. They have radically differing natures!

Salvation that cannot keep one safe from any possibility of future condemnation would not be salvation at all! It would merely be probation. It would be a fresh start, a clean page, a second chance, but it would not be salvation. No one has ever been saved and then lost, because salvation cannot be lost! “He that hears my words and trusts in Him that sent me, has everlasting life, and does not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

This or that

Posted in Gospel of Grace on 2009/03/31 by howtobesaved

Most religionists teach that man is saved by works. The idea being that a person must produce enough good works to outweigh his bad ones. A tiny minority of teachers insist that we are saved only by God’s grace — without any regard for our own merit or demerit. A third group, comprising the vast majority in Christendom, hold that salvation is achieved through a mixture of God’s grace and human merit — God contributing part, and we contributing part of our salvation. This third view is called Galatianism — the attempted admixture of Law and Grace.

What does the Bible say? Actually the Bible teaches two ways of salvation — an impossible way and a possible way. Man’s merit, or salvation by works, is the impossible way, and this was made clear by the giving of the Law which no person, except Christ, ever kept. God’s grace, or salvation through the cross- work of Christ, is the possible way; possible because God, through the cross-work of His Son, provided a perfect righteousness which He gives us freely in response to faith. He will not refuse any person who comes to Him in the only way that He has given us to come.

To be saved by works, one would have to keep the Law perfectly because Law works are the only works that God could accept, the Law being the only works program that He ever instituted. Religious men mistakenly contrive works programs for their salvation that omit all or part of the Mosaic Law, forgetting that sinners who wish to meet God on the ground of their own righteousness must submit that righteousness to God’s test — and that test is the perfect Law of the Lord. Is your righteousness good enough to qualify you to stand accepted in the presence of an infinitely holy God? The only way to find out is to test your righteousness on the ground of God’s own choosing…Law ground!

Before God instituted the Dispensation of Grace the Jew was “locked up” (Galatians 3:23) under the Law…not any law, but the Law that God had given at Sinai; and the Jew was the only one with access to God! (Ephesians 2:11-12).

Most professing Christians today are seeking to be justified, or have a right standing with God, by keeping — or attempting to keep the Ten Commandments; but Law-keeping can neither produce righteousness nor give life. A perfect Law becomes a death sentence to imperfect sinners. A holy Law can only condemn unholy people. A just Law can only slay the unjust. A good Law is bad news for bad people. A spiritual Law is infinitely beyond the reach of the flesh to keep. Because a just law cannot mark on a curve, but must demand absolute righteousness (James 2:10; Galatians 3:10; 5:3), the Law of the Lord can never give life (Galatians 3:21), but must always pronounce doom (2 Corinthians 3:7,9). A law that could overlook even one small sin would not be perfectly just — it would be imperfect and unjust.

The Law shows man what he must be in order to be acceptable to God according to his flesh — perfect. God has a right to demand perfection of man. That man cannot produce perfection is not God’s fault. God made man perfect. It is man who made himself imperfect and consequently unable to meet the just demands of God. This is why man needs a Savior. We dare not stand before the bar of Heaven on Law ground…the ground of our own merit. The last thing that a criminal needs is a day in court!

If the Ten Commandments cannot save me, it is certain that I cannot save myself. It is here on the ground of God’s Moral Law that the flesh must sink or swim. Standing condemned by the only perfect law, I cannot move over to the new ground of a law of my own making. God recognizes no law but His own. Nor can any church save me, for no church can diminish the Law’s demands once I stand on Law ground. Nor is any church needed once I stand on Grace ground, for on Grace ground God does everything necessary for my salvation leaving no more for a church to do than He has left for me to do.

In view of man’s abject ruin, his totally lost condition, God must do all the saving and man must “do” only all the being saved. Scripture says that we have been “saved by Grace through faith.” Grace is God doing all the difficult part of our salvation and leaving us to do the only thing that we can “do” — without “doing” anything. Grace is God fully meeting our need at Calvary without any help from anyone. Faith is simply our trusting in what He has done. Faith is actually our ceasing to do anything by beginning to trust Him for all of it. It has to be one or the other…either Christ died my death, as the Bible says, or He didn’t. There is no middle ground here, no gray area. Either He saves me completely by His death on the cross, and that alone, or He leaves something additional for me to do. If He left something for me to do, then I am unsaved until I do it, and, when I have done it I have saved myself. If He did not do all the saving on the cross, then He left me unsaved. It was impossible that He should save me part way by that death that He died. To be even 99% saved would be to be 100% lost.

God is not glorified by a way of salvation that any sinful man could concoct. Man’s reason tells him that good works on his part can offset his bad works; that he can “buy” his way out of Hell and into Heaven with his merit. One large and ancient church tells us that if a man in deadly sin does a good work God will respond by giving him grace. Now, having received grace, he can do another good work that puts God in his debt, making it necessary for God to give him eternal life. The first good work caused God to give the sinner grace because of Who and What God is; the second required God to give him eternal life because of who and what the sinner had become. What horrid trashing of the cross-work of God’s Son! What a trampling of the Son of God underfoot! What despicable treatment of the Holy Spirit and His message of Grace! All of it is not only foreign to Scripture but militantly opposed to the Word of God.

If I am perfect, a law for righteousness can give me life. Since I am not perfect, but totally ruined by the Fall and completely lost in sin, I can neither win grace by my works nor, having won it, put God in my debt and so merit eternal life.

The Law condemns! Christ saves! I must come hat-in-hand to Calvary!

The Best is yet to come

Posted in Gospel of Grace on 2009/03/31 by howtobesaved

“Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble.” (Job 14:1) That sounds pretty negative and pessimistic, doesn’t it? Well in a sense, it’s all that any of us can expect. Living with a fallen nature in a fallen world can be difficult and full of trouble. But is that all there is? The apostle Paul writes, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men, most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) As believers, we know that there is more than just the three score and ten years of this life. Our hope is for that which is to come.

The natural man is indeed without God, without Christ, and without hope in this world. That’s a pretty bleak outlook, and unfortunately even Christians sometimes mirror that outlook and sing the blues along with everyone else as though they have no hope…as though this physical life is all that there is.

The Apostle Paul understood the hopelessness of this life of trouble and faced it realistically. He recognized the weakness of the flesh, but balanced that with what is yet to be accomplished in the Spirit. “Though our outward man (the physical) perish (is dying), yet the inward man (the spiritual) is renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) And then he went on to write, “For our light affliction (trouble), which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) The bottom line then for the believer, is that the best is yet to come. There is a happy ending!

As believers in this dispensation of Grace, there’s nothing that says that we are programmed to escape trials and tribulations. We are not exempt from sorrow, disappointment, suffering, disease, or accidents. But we are equipped to survive in a fallen world. And beyond that, to look forward to when we will be with the Lord forever and ever in Glory; not because of what we’ve done or not done, but by God’s marvelous Grace and all that was accomplished on our behalf by the crosswork of Christ. “God who cannot lie, has promised us eternal life.” (Titus 1:2)

Rather than be distracted or defeated by the troubles of this life, the Apostle Paul writes, “For me to live is Christ,” and quickly adds, “and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) He has no reluctance to live, which to him means to serve Christ. And, further, he has no reluctance to die. For dying means to be present with the Lord, which is far better. To be sure, even in a fallen world, with all of the difficulties that we may encounter, there is much pleasure and much happiness that comes our way. But all of the pleasures and happiness of a whole lifetime cannot be compared to the joy to be experienced in one moment of that which is “far better.”

Only the believer in Christ can truthfully say, “And to die is gain.” For only the believer has the assurance that at death or rapture they will be ushered into Heaven’s glory. “And so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) No room for hopelessness. No room for despair. Be encouraged, and encourage one another. The “blessed hope” is ours. The best is yet to come.

In Thy Presence is fullness of Joy!

Posted in Gospel of Grace on 2009/03/31 by howtobesaved

Psalm 16:11 says, “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”

Do you have fullness of joy? If not, ask yourself, Am I in His presence? Maybe you don’t feel fullness of joy if you recently lost a loved one, suffered a broken relationship, or had your job terminated. This is normal. It is difficult to feel joy in the midst of a funeral, a divorce or a firing.

I have always had a problem relating to people who never seem to feel any emotion–who never laugh and never cry. Ecclesiastes 3:4 tell us there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” This suggests that there is a legitimate time for sorrow and grief. It is just a time, not a lifetime. Be careful not to deny those who suffer a great loss an appropriate time to grieve. After all, God is the one who created us with emotions.

But, the Bible is clear that joy is also our right as believers and we are not to live a miserable life. I worked at a Christian college for a time when I was first married, and met a young man, a fellow employee, who always appeared depressed. He would shut other employees out of his life by ignoring them, looking at the floor a lot, and seeming “down” every day. When someone would question him about his depressed attitude, he would often reply with a scripture, taken out of context, to make others believe he was more spiritual than they. He believed that to be spiritual, one should not laugh or smile or have fun. It has been twelve years since then, and my husband still sees this man at work regularly. He has gotten worse. He never smiles or laughs and rarely speaks to anyone. He is a poor testimony to the love and joy of Christ. His behavior is not Biblical; it is insane. He appears to believers and unbelievers alike to be clinically depressed and beyond help. Although he believes himself to be more spiritual than the rest of his peers, he reflects not the joy of Christ, but a borderline psychosis. The most severe psychotics are those who are called catatonic. They have withdrawn so fully from the human experience that they many times don’t speak at all, don’t participate in any “normal” activities, and appear to feel absolutely no emotion at all. They are the hardest cases to reach.

As believers, we are supposed to exhibit and reflect to others the joy we have due to Christ! Not due to our problem-free life or our unrealistic optimism. Acts 16 tells us of Paul and Silas’s imprisonment due to their preaching the gospel and their subsequent beating (v. 22, 23). After receiving “many stripes upon them,” they both prayed and sang hymns in their prison cell. And the Bible says, “…the prisoners heard them,” (v. 25). What a great testimony! The prison keeper trusted Christ due to their witness!

When I am tempted to feel down or depressed, I often repeat this portion of the verse to myself: “…In His presence is fullness of joy.” Then I ask myself the very two questions that began this article:

* Do I have fullness of joy?
* Am I in His presence?

I believe one cannot have fullness of joy without being in His presence. People and circumstances can only give you partial joy because the world is not perfect and people are flawed. Frederick Price, a television preacher out of Los Angeles, says that one study tool he has found helpful to better understand scripture is simply to flip-flop a verse or phrase. If “In His presence is fullness of joy,” then out of His presence is not! It is that simple. Apart from Christ, life can be miserable. My mother and father always told me “Don’t look to people to make you happy. They will always disappoint you. Only look to Christ.” They are so right!

My parents tell me that I cried the entire first week of my life. Perhaps they wanted to give me back to the hospital that week! The doctors found no reason for me to be so upset. I guess I never did like change! But, as a melancholic, it is often difficult to maintain a joyful attitude. I cannot do it without help from the Lord through prayer and Scripture. It is His presence. It is His fullness. It is His joy.

Wherever you are and whatever is going on around you, you can choose to be in His presence and know His fullness of joy. Even at a funeral. Even in a crisis. Even through your tears. Maintain your close relationship with Him through prayer, Bible study, and regular attendance at a sound, Bible-teaching, Grace assembly. Meditate on His Word. Memorize Scripture. Fill your heart with hymns. Stay in His presence and you will have fullness of joy!