Our transformed lives: what are we to make of good works?

In this post: On professing Christians who seemingly bear no fruit; Paul Washer on our unbalanced understanding of Christianity; Of those whose lives do seem to bear fruit in keeping with repentance; Bonus comments: Brief study of assurance in 1 John 3:14–20; Is it right to share our testimony of a changed life?

In my article, Dangerous pragmatism – why a transformed life is not proof of salvation, I argued that we should not point people to their good works for definite assurance of their salvation. I closed that discussion with these remarks:

Point me then, not to my own works, but to the exceedingly precious promises of Christ that are mine through His finished work on the cross. Call me daily to repentance, and tell me of the forgiveness of all my sin that has been accomplished through Christ’s death and the shedding of His blood. Exhort me not to look inward to myself, but outward to the one with whom I was buried through baptism into death, the one who was raised from the dead for my justification and even now causes me to walk in newness of life (cf. Romans 6).

In his comment on my article, my father made several observations on this topic to which I thought it would be helpful to respond.

On professing Christians who seemingly bear no fruit

My father wrote:

From where I sit, the problem is not so much people claiming to be Christians who have not truly trusted in Christ as Saviour yet exhibit lives that have been radically changed for the better, but people claiming to be Christians who continue to indulge in blatant sins and whose lives are indistinguishable from those ‘in the world’.

James tells us that ‘faith without works is dead’ (James 2). If there is no fruit, no sign of repentance, there is most certainly cause for concern.

Perhaps some of these people are famished sheep, starving to be fed properly with God’s word rightly divided. Others might be goats who have been given false assurance that they are sheep.

Paul Washer of the HeartCry Missionary Society is very clear about his diagnosis of the likely problem:

Whether or not the people whom my father describes are saved, they need to hear the Law preached in all its severity, to confront them with their sin and to show them their true state before their holy and just Creator God. They need to be called to repent, and warned of the day of judgement that is surely coming:

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:30–31, NKJV)

And then they need to hear the Gospel, proclaimed in all its sweetness, that they might believe in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross, in His righteousness put to their account.

I am beginning to sound like a broken record – whatever the question, my answer seems to be the proper proclamation of Law and Gospel, rightly divided. But the Church is called to preach only repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ. This is what we all need to hear. And so I do not apologize.

The Christian life is one of continual repentance and trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, in His righteousness put to our account. What sustains us believers in our lives is the ongoing proclamation of Law (keeping us in repentance) and Gospel (building our trust in Christ alone).

Of those whose lives do seem to bear fruit in keeping with repentance

My father made the point that:

…the drunkard who becomes sober and claims that the change is due to his faith in Jesus does at least merit a hearing.

Perhaps. But I should rather hear him because he preaches the true Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead, than because of his changed life. For if a changed life is cause to hear such a person, why should I not then give equal credence to a Mormon who is able to give a similarly dramatic testimony?

And what if I were to trust in Christ because I believed the compelling evidence of the reformed drunkard’s transformed life? What if I were subsequently to discover that he has fallen away and reverted to his drunken ways?

What then would become of my faith?

And if my trust in Christ were affected by such an event, would my trust ever really have been in Christ alone, or would it have been shown to have been placed in the testimony and changed life of a mere fallen sinner?

The pattern we see in the New Testament is instructive. Yes, the Apostles continually talked about what they had seen. But they always directed people to trust in the facts of the Gospel, not in the Apostles’ own experiences. They called people to repent and believe the Gospel, not upon the basis of their own transformed lives, but because that Gospel was true, as proved by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. To quote again from the message Paul preached at the Areopagus:

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.’ (Acts 17:30–32 )

And so we see the great twin dangers of asking someone to believe in Christ on the evidence of a transformed life. Firstly, the objective basis for the claims of the Christian faith is eliminated, leaving a mere subjective appeal to experience – the same as every other religion. Secondly, there is a risk of making false converts who are trusting not in Christ alone, but in transformed lives.

The antidote to these dangers is to preach boldly the facts of Christ crucified for sinners and raised from the dead. No other religion teaches this gloriously offensive doctrine.

Let me be clear. I affirm that true faith results in good works, and that many lives have been transformed by the gospel being worked out in people’s lives. My caution, however, and the point of my earlier article, is that a transformed life is not ipso facto proof of a true conversion. The absence of good works in a professing Christian’s life is cause for concern; their presence is no reason for complacency.

We rejoice when people are saved, and we are encouraged when we see their lives bearing ‘fruit in keeping with repentance’ (Matthew 3:8). But we should never look to a transformed life for final assurance of someone’s salvation. Rather, we constantly point ourselves and others to Christ, the fact of His life, death and resurrection, and the sure and certain promises that are ours through His finished work.

My father continues:

I have met such people and to me at least their testimony and changed lives speak eloquently of the transforming power of the Gospel. Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road is surely such a case?

Do we pay regard to St. Paul because of his transforming life experience on the Road to Damascus? Or rather because his testimony concerning the crucified and risen Lord is true?

I knew a man who had severe drug and alcohol problems. Stuart was apparently saved, and gave his testimony at one of the first few church services we attended after having moved to the Isle of Man, back in 2004.

For a time, his life was turned around, and he visibly transformed over a period of months from a haggard shell of a creature to a man with a healthy countenance (albeit still bearing the marks of a hard life).

A year or two back, I was driving into town with my wife, and Stuart was at the roadside thumbing for a lift. We stopped to pick him up. It transpired that he had fallen back into alcohol dependency (and probably worse). We took him to his destination and parked. We talked to him in the car for over two hours, as he drifted in and out of bouts of lucidity. We prayed with him before he went on his way.

Some time later, we heard that Stuart had died.

Now, I neither cite his transformed life as proof of salvation, nor his falling away as proof of his damnation. I simply do not know his eternal destiny. His salvation (like ours) was neither predicated upon what he did, nor upon what he did not do, but upon whether the Holy Spirit had regenerated him and caused him to trust in the merits of Christ for favour with God and the forgiveness of his sin. I hope that I shall meet him one day in eternity, although I fear I might not.

The point of this is that true faith produces works, yes. But the apparent presence of those works tell us nothing definitive about our eternal state.

And even if I were to exhibit great works today, acclaimed by millions, there might be any number of reasons why I may not be walking in them tomorrow: sickness, war, persecution – and yes, even sin. All could bring an end to my works. And thus, if I had been looking to them for assurance of salvation, my crutch would have been removed the moment those works ceased. Where then would my assurance rest?

The problem is even worse than this.

Jesus tells us if that if we love Him, we shall keep His commandments. But since I sin daily, that leaves me with a problem if I am looking to my works for definitive assurance of salvation. For how can my works soothe me, when even the best of them is stained with sin?

Yet how comforting to know that my salvation depends not upon what I do, but upon what Christ has done for me.

And so I shall finish where I started:

Point me then, not to my own works, but to the exceedingly precious promises of Christ that are mine through His finished work on the cross. Call me daily to repentance, and tell me of the forgiveness of all my sin that has been accomplished through Christ’s death and the shedding of His blood. Exhort me not to look inward to myself, but outward to the one with whom I was buried through baptism into death, the one who was raised from the dead for my justification and even now causes me to walk in newness of life (cf. Romans 6).

18 thoughts on “Our transformed lives: what are we to make of good works?

  1. Please comment on the following passage in light of the above blog:

    1 John 3:17-19
    17 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 19 And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. NKJV

    • Hi Bobby,

      As always from you, an excellent question. You are making me work hard today :-)

      I know you are asking primarily about v. 19, but let me first deal with vv. 17–18.

      This verse exhorts those who have material things to open their hearts, minds, goods and wallets towards their brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need.

      As with any such exhortation, it can serve two purposes for the believer (and the second of these can only apply to someone who is regenerate):

      1. To convict us of our sin, if we have been in violation of it.

      2. To show us what a righteous life looks like, so that we may know to walk in it.

      The Holy Spirit will apply whichever one of these two uses of the Law (if either) is appropriate to a reader or hearer of the passage.

      And how could someone who has experienced such amazing love and grace from our glorious Saviour, who has had the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel (cf. Romans 5:5–6) do anything but aid his brother who is in need?

      Truly, if we were to see someone professing Christ but who was unrepentantly being mean-spirited towards his brother, we would admonish him sternly with John’s injunction, urging him to repent of his idolatry and have compassion upon the one who is in need. We would urge him to examine himself, to see whether he were truly in the faith, to test himself. Does he not know that Jesus Christ is in him? (2 Corinthians 13:5, NKJV)

      And then we would remind him of the boundless love of God, who gave His own dear Son to die for sinners like us. We would urge him even to trust in that same Christ for the forgiveness of this particular fault, for the loving sacrifice of Christ was sufficient to pay the punishment even for his sins of idolatry and failing to love his neighbour as himself. And we would reassure him that all who are trusting in Christ have their sins washed away and are declared righteous before God.

      What we must never, ever do is to try to emotionally manipulate an offender into obedience out of a sense of duty or obligation toward Christ for the love that He has shown us. For example, it would be a dreadful thing to say to him, ‘Christ gave His life for you. In return, you have a duty to help out your brother in need.’

      That would be a serious confusion of Law and Gospel, muddling up the free gift of God in Christ with the duties and obligations of the Law. It would effectively be saying to the offender that he needed to pay back Christ in some way for the grace and favour that had been freely offered to him through the cross.

      It should be immediately evident to all that endeavouring to pay God for our salvation (whether before or after the fact) has nothing to do with the historic orthodox Christian faith and is to have departed from grace (Galatians 5:4). As if we could ever recompense God for the death of His Son! The very idea is both offensive and undergirded by unbelief.

      Now, concerning v. 19. Your implicit question is whether this verse is teaching that we can be assured of salvation based upon our works – specifically our love for our brothers. You could easily have quoted v. 14 to me to make the same point – probably even more strongly.

      I should say right now that, in the light of your question, I have qualified three instances of the word ‘assurance’ in this article with the words ‘definite’, ‘final’ and ‘definitive’. I have likewise qualified a use of ‘assurance’ in my original article on pragmatism.

      I had been using our English word ‘assurance’ as a synonym for ‘absolute certainty’, whereas it can also mean ‘a positive declaration intended to give confidence’ (OED), which leaves room for some doubt as to the final certainty of the thing that is assured. Thus, when I wrote ‘assurance’ without qualification in some places, someone might have mistakenly believed that I had intended to mean something akin to ‘evidence’ rather than ‘full certainty’.

      That slight difference in meaning is important when it comes to the passage you cite. It’s sharp-eyed people like you who point out these areas of potential confusion (or even simply my errors!) and enable me to address them. Thank you :-)

      I should also say that the debate over how a believer is to have assurance is an old and continuing one. For example, the Puritans differed significantly over their interpretation of Romans 8:16: ‘The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…’. (I don’t have a citation for this to hand – I suspect that it might be a remembered snippet from J.I. Packer’s superb lecture series on the Puritans, which I blogged about back in 2008.)

      It is highly unlikely, therefore, that anything I now say on this topic will be considered definitive.

      Let’s look at the verses you cite with a little more context:

      14We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 15Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

      16By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

      17But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 19And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.

      20For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.

      Thus, in v. 14, John tells us that our love for the brethren is something that enables us to ‘know’ that we have been saved. And if we don’t love the brethren, that indicates that we are not.

      Question: what does John intended to convey by the word ‘know’ in this verse? Does he mean, ‘know with absolute assurance’, or does he mean ‘be reassured and comforted’?

      The primary meaning of the relevant Greek word translated here as ‘know’ (οἴδαμεν) is ‘to have information about, know’ (BDAG). The NET bible translates the word as ‘recognize’ in John 1:32 (‘I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel.’), so its semantic range is quite large.

      What is immediately apparent already then, is that the Greek text of v. 14 alone does not indicate that John is definitely saying something akin to ‘our love for the brethren gives us absolute confidence that we are saved’. From the Greek alone, that verse in isolation might mean that, but it is certainly does not have to.

      What about the Greek text of v. 19? There we have a different word translated ‘know’ (γινώσκομεν in
      Robinson and Pierpont’s Byzantine Text Form; γνωσόμεθα in NA27 – both are slightly variant forms of the same root word). If anything, this word has an even wider semantic range. It could indicate definite knowledge, but it could also indicate something as soft as ‘to be aware of something; perceive, notice, realize’ (BDAG).

      What about that word ‘assure’ in v. 19 (πείσομεν). Now, this can certainly mean ‘convince’. But it can also mean ‘appeal to’ and ‘conciliate, pacify, set at ease/rest’. In fact, BDAG cites this very verse for that last meaning, so the compilers of that lexicon thought that ‘conciliate, pacify, set at ease/rest’ was the likely meaning intended in v. 19.

      Thus, the lexicon does not help us to determine a single definite meaning of the verses. But we have some options.

      What about the context?

      Let’s skip ahead to v. 20. John says ‘For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.’

      Ah, now this is more helpful. If vv. 14 and 19 were telling us that we can have absolute and definite assurance of our status in Christ based upon our love for the brethren, why would John be comforting us in v. 20 in the possible case that ‘our heart condemns us’? That wouldn’t seem to make any sense.

      I think therefore that the likely interpretation and application of the passage is approximately as follows:

      v. 14: If we love our brothers in Christ, that is indicative evidence of our salvation, and we should be comforted and reassured by it. Conversely, if we don’t love our brothers in Christ, that’s a big problem, and we are as yet unregenerate.

      v. 15: Hating our brother (which perhaps indicates something stronger than simply not loving him?) makes us guilty of murder. And John tells us plainly that [an unrepentant] murderer is not saved. So if we have hatred in our hearts towards our brothers, we are as yet unregenerate.

      v. 16: What does it mean for us to love our brother? What does that kind of love look like? Look to Christ and His laying down of His life for us – that’s the sort of love John is talking about. As Jesus said, ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.’ (John 15:13) We ought to lay our lives down for one another in this way.

      v. 17: Most of us will probably never be called to lay down our lives for our brothers in Christ. So how can we truly know whether we have love for them such that we would be willing to die to save them? Someone who is willing to die for his brother would certainly be willing to share his mere material possessions. So, if someone sees his brother in need, but turns away from him and doesn’t share with him what he has, he has no grounds to claim that the ‘love of God’ is in him. (Notice here that John has perhaps subtly introduced the idea that the love that we have for one another does not originate with us, but is in fact the love of God in us. cf. Romans 5:5. It is fair to note, though, that commentators differ as to whether this is actually what John means.)

      v. 18: These things have practical and routine application. Let us not say we love one another, if really we do not. Instead, we should demonstrate the reality of our claims to love by putting it into practice.

      v. 19: When we live this sort of love out, we shall realize that our claims to love one another are true. This will set our hearts at ease before God.

      v. 20: Although our love for our brothers is comforting reassurance that we are indeed saved, it is likely that we see our own faults and imperfections all too clearly whenever we examine ourselves honestly. This is especially probable in the light of v. 16, where we saw that the kind of love that we are to have for one another is that which caused Christ to lay down His life for us (cf. the love that husbands are to have for their wives in Ephesians 5:25). Which of us could ever truly say we have that kind of love without doubting whether it be true? Don’t worry about this. Even if our hearts condemn us in this way when we look at ourselves, God is greater than our hearts, and His promises are sure and certain. He knows our true state before Him, and we are in His hands. Let us not fret, therefore, but have confidence in Him.

      Now, I have prepared this in some haste so that I might respond promptly to your question. I might not be correct in every detail, but does this not seem to be a reasonable and likely way of understanding the passage?

      And, if so, is not John in v. 20 dealing with one of the very same problems of assurance in relation to our own examination of our works that I raised in my posts? Namely, that when we look upon our own works, we are inclined to fret about our salvation, as we see our works in their imperfection, tainted with sin.

      And is not my answer to this the same as John’s? Specifically, that this should not trouble our definite assurance of salvation, for God is greater than the fears and condemnation of our hearts. He will keep the promises that have been poured out on us in Christ, since He knows all things, even our true state before Him. We shall therefore most certainly be saved, not withstanding our evident faults. For salvation is all of Him, and none of us.

      What a comforting and certain hope we have in Christ. May His name be glorified in all the earth!

      • Wonderful. Thanks. Especially helpful in your “set at ease” thoughts abt our hearts. It is possible in the context perhaps that v.20 is a reaction to a believer who in disobedience finds himself with a hand and heart shut to his brother. Then the condemned heart needs the hope of the gospel and the assurance that God nows the heart. But since the passage indicates such a one is an unbeliever (how can the love of God be in Him?) then most likely your read is closer to what our Lord intended through John’s pen.

        Delightful as usual.
        BC

  2. Wow! Watching the short video sermon reminded me of my younger days when attending a “fire and brimestone” small, independent Lutheran Church! I’m beginning to realize (through God’s Word and His Spirit) that often times moving onto “bigger and better things” (I am an organist who really loves sound, theologically based hymns and believes they should be sung with conviction and gusto) but churches with larger music programs often times do not have sound preaching from the pulpit. I need to be fed and watered by great words from the pulpit that expound on “true” Christianity as opposed to what I call, “the selling of Jesus.” (That is, all fluff and no stuff). I will continue to check this site for regular feedings! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

    • Amen!

      (I’ve previously posted a couple of other pieces by Paul Washer, and there’s lots more of him on YouTube. I love him especially when he is directly on the subject of the Cross. He is also very good at preaching the Law such that the Holy Spirit is able to use it to convict us of our sin.)

  3. I sit here in deep conviction. Am I in a church that is not proclaiming the gospel? It is painful to think about.

    I accepted Christ as my Savior at the tender age of six. I had been taken to church including Sunday school and Sunbeams for preschoolers. Jesus was just a man who lived long ago, wore funny looking clothes and loved all the little children. Then we were invited to a revival in a small country church. The evangelist preached the gospel of who Jesus really was and I realized that I was a sinner deserving punishment and that Jesus took my punishment for me. Jesus, who had never sinned, the Son of God, not only took my punishment but died and rose again and still lives. I accepted Jesus as my Saviour and wanted to tell everyone how to be saved!

    Not very often do I hear the salvation message unless I myself am preaching it. I include it in every message I bring. I would have to say very rarely do I hear it though. As far as I know there has only been one baptism in my church in the last 7 years. Yet the missions we have started in other countries have had many baptisms.

    I’ve been reading your blogs and this one makes me so very sad, because I have learned to share my changed life as an example of what Christ Jesus can do in a life. And my life has changed as he has healed my body, my soul and emotions. He is continuing to change me. He has set me free where I have been bound. I believe that Jesus came to do all of these things – to save us from our sin, set us free from the prison of sin and addictions, open our eyes to the truth, heal our broken hearts, provide comfort when we grieve, take our lives that are so messed up that we have no hope of fixing them (they have become ashes) and giving us a crown of beauty in exchange for our ashes (messed up lives.) God takes our messed up lives and makes them something beautiful. He came to give us the garment of praise in exchange for the spirit of despair and depression. He does all of this for us so that we might become trees of righteousness, showing his splendor. Isaiah 61: 1-3 But, my question is, by sharing what God has done in my life, am I diluting the gospel? Are testimonies not valid?

    However, in reflecting on your title, I don’t remember Peter ever preaching on how he was a rough, ungodly fisherman and God changed him; or perhaps how he quit cussing and drinking. No, he preached the crucifixion, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Even so, Paul also, did not make his many letters to churches about him and his road to Damascus experience, although he did tell of it in one instance that I remember, but he preached Christ and him crucified. He did call himself the chief of sinners and did say that the good he wanted to do, that he did not, and the bad he didn’t want to do, he did. He did however, say become like me, follow me, as I follow Christ.

    I for sure know that we cannot look to any man because they can fail us. We have so many pastors, evangelists and preachers making the news with their failed morals or divorces. One might say, “If they, who are preachers of the word of God, can’t live a moral life, how can I?” And you are so right, a person can change for the better without true salvation, but they may also eventually revert back to where they were or worse. Matthew 12: 43-45

    Pastors are not preaching against sin. They don’t want to offend, don’t want to bring a condemning message, they want to bring a message of love that will appeal to people. What I’ve been reminded of through reading your last few posts is that we need to realize the seriousness and the depth of our sin so that we can then hear the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

    Thank you for your faithful proclamation of the Word of God.
    What denomination are you? I’m from the USA – what on the Isle of Man compares to in the USA? I see that you frequently quote from the Westminster Confession, are you Presbyterian?

    • Welcome, and thank you for your moving and thought provoking comments.

      I sit here in deep conviction. Am I in a church that is not proclaiming the gospel? It is painful to think about.

      It’s a good question to ask.

      If you aren’t aware of it already, might I point you to the wonderful Fighting for the Faith radio programme? Its host, Chris Rosebrough, does a regular sermon review spot, and listening over a period of time to that will hone your ability to discern whether the Gospel is truly being proclaimed.

      You might possibly find the following post of mine somewhat helpful, if only for the link to the excellent article ‘A Listener’s Guide to the Pulpit’ by Todd Wilken (of Issues, Etc):

      What is a sermon for, and is it right for us to judge a poor one?

      Not very often do I hear the salvation message unless I myself am preaching it. I include it in every message I bring. I would have to say very rarely do I hear it though. As far as I know there has only been one baptism in my church in the last 7 years. Yet the missions we have started in other countries have had many baptisms.

      This is sad to hear. But it’s great that you preach the Gospel as you have opportunity!

      I’ve been reading your blogs and this one makes me so very sad, because I have learned to share my changed life as an example of what Christ Jesus can do in a life. And my life has changed as he has healed my body, my soul and emotions. He is continuing to change me. He has set me free where I have been bound. I believe that Jesus came to do all of these things – to save us from our sin, set us free from the prison of sin and addictions, open our eyes to the truth, heal our broken hearts, provide comfort when we grieve, take our lives that are so messed up that we have no hope of fixing them (they have become ashes) and giving us a crown of beauty in exchange for our ashes (messed up lives.) God takes our messed up lives and makes them something beautiful. He came to give us the garment of praise in exchange for the spirit of despair and depression. He does all of this for us so that we might become trees of righteousness, showing his splendor. Isaiah 61: 1-3 But, my question is, by sharing what God has done in my life, am I diluting the gospel? Are testimonies not valid?

      When I read what you have written, it immediately strikes me who is the subject of all of the important verbs. It isn’t you. It’s Jesus Christ. He has healed you. He changes you. He has set you free. Over and over again in that one paragraph you have written, you use your testimony to direct our attention away from yourself and towards Christ and His glory.

      That seems to me to be commendable.

      And how so very encouraging to me as one who trusts in the same Lord. I read your account of our loving Saviour at work in your life, your directing me to Him, and the gratitude for all His tender mercies toward us wells up within me. Let us praise and give thanks to His Name!

      Christ has taken all our sin and shame upon Himself through the cross. He wipes away all our tears, comforting we who mourn for our sin. And we are declared righteous through His resurrection. No longer need we fret, therefore. But instead this fact gives us assurance that, in Jesus Christ, we stand before the Father, not merely uncondemned, but fully justified, the righteousness of Christ Himself put to our account. How great is the Gospel of our glorious Saviour!

      However, in reflecting on your title, I don’t remember Peter ever preaching on how he was a rough, ungodly fisherman and God changed him; or perhaps how he quit cussing and drinking. No, he preached the crucifixion, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Even so, Paul also, did not make his many letters to churches about him and his road to Damascus experience, although he did tell of it in one instance that I remember, but he preached Christ and him crucified. He did call himself the chief of sinners and did say that the good he wanted to do, that he did not, and the bad he didn’t want to do, he did. He did however, say become like me, follow me, as I follow Christ.

      I think of the woman at the well (John 4). Having encountered Christ, she goes to her city and says to the men:

      ‘Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ (v. 29)

      The result was this:

      Then they went out of the city and came to Him…And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’

      So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word.

      Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.’

      John 4:30, 39–42, NKJV

      Some people have interesting, even dramatic, life stories of what Jesus has done for them. Sometimes, they are therefore given platforms from which they may speak and an audience willing to hear.

      That seems to me to be a gracious opportunity given by the Lord by which the Gospel may be boldly proclaimed.

      One speaker who has such a platform might say ‘Come, look at my dramatic life!’ He may even add, as an afterthought, ‘Trust in Christ because of what he has done in me!’

      Another speaker might observe the pattern of the woman at the well, who said, ‘Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ He notices the implication of John 4:42, that it was a better foundation for the men of Samaria to have believed at the word of Christ Himself, rather than on the testimony of the woman.

      And so this speaker says, ‘Come, look at the One who has done these things. He is the Saviour of the World! Let me explain to you our sinful state before God, that we have all earned and deserve his wrath. Let me tell you of how Jesus died on the cross to appease God’s wrath so that we might be forgiven. And let me tell you of how He was raised from the dead, so that we can be confident of our standing in favour before God. Repent, therefore, and believe this Good News!’

      Both speakers give a testimony. One brings attention to himself, and at best gives people a weak cause to trust in Christ. The other proclaims the Gospel, preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

      I for sure know that we cannot look to any man because they can fail us. We have so many pastors, evangelists and preachers making the news with their failed morals or divorces. One might say, “If they, who are preachers of the word of God, can’t live a moral life, how can I?”

      These people demonstrate the futility of trying to live by Law instead of by Grace. In many cases, their fall is because they are trying to sustain themselves by the commands of the Law, rather than by the constant reminder of the Gospel.

      And you are so right, a person can change for the better without true salvation, but they may also eventually revert back to where they were or worse. Matthew 12: 43-45

      Yes.

      Pastors are not preaching against sin. They don’t want to offend, don’t want to bring a condemning message, they want to bring a message of love that will appeal to people. What I’ve been reminded of through reading your last few posts is that we need to realize the seriousness and the depth of our sin so that we can then hear the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

      I think your diagnosis is correct. My friend Mike Ratliff has just written a great article about this very thing:

      Speak Not to Please Man but to Please God

      Thank you for your faithful proclamation of the Word of God.

      It is my joy.

      But I am an unprofitable servant. I have done what was my duty to do. (Luke 17:10)

      What denomination are you? I’m from the USA – what on the Isle of Man compares to in the USA? I see that you frequently quote from the Westminster Confession, are you Presbyterian?

      It’s complicated. I’m basically a mongrel. ‘Non-paedobaptist Reformed-but-with-strong-Confessional-Lutheran-sympathies’ probably gets somewhere close. But I remain open to persuasion from Scripture, so the precise mix may well continue to change over time as I study and gain a better understanding of various matters.

      I find much of the Westminster Confession helpful. It also has a strong historical significance in England (where I was born and raised), of course, and so it is quite natural for me to reach for it. It’s mostly a matter of familiarity, though, and I’m quite happy to draw from a range of confessional sources (e.g. the Book of Concord) whenever they capture the essence of some Scriptural truth that I am trying to communicate. I’m probably most familiar with the 1689 London Baptist Confession, but that in itself heavily draws upon Westminster, so I tend to cite the latter rather more than the former, since it is more widely known.

      I’ll leave you with Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, as that seems appropriate to our conversation:

      ‘…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. (Ephesians 1:17–21, NKJV)

      • Thank you taking the time to respond to all the issues in my reply. I am encouraged.
        I have checked out the links and also bookmarked them. I also listened to few sermons by Paul Washer. He is a power house!

        Thanks again, especially for the prayer that Paul wrote to the Ephesians.

  4. I agree with your father that a reformed sinner deserves a hearing. But ultimately the “good tree” that produces fruit produces after is own kind. In other words, a true believer will witness to the saving grace of his Lord and lead others to know Jesus. Not just by his morality. There are a lot of moral people who do not know the Lord.

  5. Twenty-two years in the Lord, and a transformed life to testify to…
    That was earlier…
    Now, I cry out to Him to work in and through me those works He has ordained, for His glory…
    How often do I fail Him…Our so gracious God!

  6. Great article! I know what a false change of heart and/or behavior, brought on by some promised benefit or gift, look like! Promise a child a reward and see if he won’t change! But this change won’t last beyond the trinket! The question is do we want something from Christ the Giver, or do we want Christ Himself, the Forgiver!

    Looks like I’ll have to set some time aside to look through all the comments also.

  7. Pingback: Weekly Gem! « Penned Pebbles

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