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1. Where it is mentioned in Scripture: Mark 16:17; Acts 2:1-18; Acts 10:45-46; Acts 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12-14.

2. What is it?

  • It is Spirit prompted: “. . . as the Spirit gave them utterance” – Acts 2:4. It is one of “the manifestation(s) of the Spirit” – 1 Corinthians 12:7.
  • The person is in control. They can choose to speak or not – 1 Corinthians 14:27-28.
  • It is spoken to God, not others. “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God” – 1 Corinthians 14:2. Also 1 Corinthians 14:28.
  • It is unintelligible speech:
    • It is not understood by the speaker. “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful” – 1 Corinthians 14:14. This is why the speaker would need to pray for the gift of interpretation to make what he/she is saying known – 1 Corinthians 14:13.
    • It is not understood by the hearer. “. . . no one understands him, but the utters mysteries in the Spirit” – 1 Corinthians 14:2. Also 1 Corinthians 14:16. This is why the gift of interpretation is needed for tongues to be used in the church.
  • It consists of prayers, singing praises and speaking a blessing or giving thanks – 1 Corinthians 14:14-17. Also in Acts it is associated with praising God – “telling the mighty works of God” – Acts 2:11; “extolling God” – Acts 10:46. This is most likely why tongues, unlike prophecy, do not need to be tested (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22; 1 Corinthians 14:29). It is not a message from God, but praises and prayers to God.
  • Are tongues human languages? It’s not clear. They are languages. But Paul also talks about the tongues of people and angels – 1 Corinthians 13:1. In Acts 2 human languages are involved, at least in the interpretation. It was a miracle of hearing. That is, God interpreted the tongues so that each person heard the 120 speaking in their own language – Acts 2:6-11 (v. 6 – “each one was hearing them speak in his own language”). In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul assumes that no one will be present who understands the language. And so the solution is another gift of the Spirit – the gift of interpretation.

3. Not everyone has this gift. Although he says in 1 Corinthians 14:5, “I want all of you to speak in tongues,” the question he asks in 1 Corinthians 12:30, “do all speak with tongues?” grammatically requires a “no” answer. Although each of us has the Holy Spirit in us and so at any point any of us could exercise any gift, if God so chooses, normally God gives different gifts to different people and then calls us to act as a body complimenting each other. So only some will have a regular gift of tongues.

4. Tongues must always be interpreted in church. To build up the church it must be understood. This can be done by the speaker who has the gift of interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:14) or by another person with this gift (1 Corinthians 14:27-28). Otherwise the person is to speak privately – 1 Corinthians 14:28. As this verse also says, “keep silent in the church.” No one should hear it in the congregation, since otherwise this would lead outsiders to say that the believers are “out of their mind” – 1 Corinthians 14:23.

5. Someone with the gift of tongues can use it privately. This is what Paul instructs in 1 Corinthians 14:28. This builds up the individual believer – 1 Corinthians 14:4.

6. Rules for tongues in the church. We are not to forbid it – 1 Corinthians 14:39. Two or three can speak in tongues as long as it is interpreted – 1 Corinthians 14:27. Everything must be done decently and in order – 1 Corinthians 14:40.

7. Does Paul disparage tongues? No. He simply corrects the Corinthians’ over evaluation of it in the gathered meeting. It is a gift of the Spirit – 1 Corinthians 12:7. Its use in private builds up a believer – 1 Corinthians 14:4. And if it is interpreted it builds up the church – 1 Corinthians 14:5. Paul also says, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.”

8. How are tongues without interpretation a sign to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:21-23)? In Isaiah 28:11-12 God tells Israel that since they didn’t listen to his message through the prophets he would speak to them with unknown tongues. That is, in an act of judgment, the Assyrians would capture them and take them away. Tongues then, are a sign of judgment (also Deuteronomy 28:49, Jeremiah 5:15). Paul applies this to the Corinthian situation. If they all speak in tongues, and an unbeliever comes into the service, it keeps the unbeliever from hearing God’s message and so they are in effect judged. They will think the Christians are out of their minds and thus leave without being called to repentance.

9. More from Acts. Three things: a) Tongues are treated as the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that all would prophecy – Acts 2:14-17. So here tongues are a kind of subcategory of prophecy. b) Tongues can be an outward evidence of the reception of the Spirit (Acts 2; 10:45-46; 19:6). But so can any other Spirit manifestation/gift or no manifestation at all (Acts 13:12, 48-42; 14:21). c) Acts 2 presents the reversal of what happened at the tower of Babel – Genesis 11:1-9. There all spoke one language, but God judged them by giving them different languages to scatter them. Here God interprets the various tongues to draw together one people in Christ out of the nations.

10. Love is more important than speaking in tongues. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” – 1 Corinthians 13:1. “Tongues will cease” but “love never ends” – 1 Corinthians 13:8.

 

Series: God and seniors

I encouraged you senior adults last week to hear the message that God isn’t done with you yet. Whatever capacity you have, God wants to use to do the work of his kingdom. Today, we continue on with a senior adult focus talking about ministry to the next generation.

Our theme verses for today come from Psalm 71:17-18

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.

God wants to use you seniors to pass on the faith to the next generation.

But some might say, “I don’t feel able to be involved in ministry anymore because of my age.” So let’s talk a moment about . . .

Ministering in weaknesses

A definite reality of old age is weakness.

  • For some this means failing physical health, for others more generally it means getting weaker as you get older.
  • For some this means failing mental health, for others more generally it means a loss of sharpness.
  • For some this means growing social dependence on others.

Regarding weakness, Psalm 71:9 says, “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.” The “time of old age” is defined in part by one’s strength being spent.

Here’s a somewhat humorous story about aging and weakness from 2 Samuel 19:32-34. “Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. And the king said to Barzillai, ‘Come over with me, and I will provide for you with me in Jerusalem.” But Barzillai said to the king . . . ‘ Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women?’” He’s saying to David, ‘No thanks, I can’t party anymore. Can’t taste the food; can’t hear the music.’

And then there is the very descriptive poem about aging in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5. I’m using the Contemporary English Version for this passage. “Keep your Creator in mind while you are young! In years to come, you will be burdened down with troubles and say, “I don’t enjoy life anymore.” Someday the light of the sun and the moon and the stars will all seem dim to you. Rain clouds will remain over your head. Your body will grow feeble, your teeth will decay, and your eyesight fail. The noisy grinding of grain will be shut out by your deaf ears, but even the song of a bird will keep you awake. You will be afraid to climb up a hill or walk down a road. Your hair will turn as white as almond blossoms. You will feel lifeless and drag along like an old grasshopper.”

Let me just say that, properly understood, we all minister with weaknesses, whatever they might be. So don’t be discouraged or let this sideline you from doing what God wants you to do. We all need to hear and understand what the Lord said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It’s never about us and our strengths. Ministry is always about God, and letting him work through us – perhaps especially in our areas of weakness. All God asks of any of us is to offer up to him whatever capacity we have so that he can use us in the work of his kingdom.

In terms of ministry to the next generation, let me begin by saying –

You have much to offer

Let’s look at the numbers

  • In 1900 there were 3 million older adults in the U.S. (People 65 years of age or older.)
  • In 2008 there were 9 million older adults in the U.S.
  • By 2030 there will be 70 million older adults, almost 20% of the total U.S. population.
  • Nearly 85% of Americans today can expect to live beyond the age of sixty-five.
  • And, nearly 72% of older persons assess their health as good, very good, or excellent.
  • In fact, persons reaching age 65 have an average additional life expectancy of 17.3 years and rising (18.9 for women; 15.3 for men).

So there are lots of seniors, who are in relatively good shape, with more to come.

You also have good qualities as Christians. I will just mention two: 1) You often have wisdom. Job 12:12 – “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”

Now, just because you are old doesn’t mean you are truly wise – but the chances are better. You have life experience in general, but also specifically experience in walking with God. And you have the long view of things. You see how things work out over the long haul, so you are not as interested in quick fixes or fads.

2) You often have humility. I see in older adults less pretense and less of a desire to prove oneself. You are also aware not only of past successes but also past failures.

And then you often have a good opportunity to do God’s work. You are not generally consumed with raising children or establishing a home. Often you have some financial base and more control of your time.

 So you have both numbers and good qualities, as well as opportunity.

Now let’s get more specific and look at some –

Biblical examples of ministry to the next generation

Of course, you can serve God according to whatever gifts and roles you have. But there is also an unofficial status that you have as an older Christian, if you have walked with the Lord for many years. And this carries some weight with it in congregational and family settings. It’s this role that I am focusing on. Here are five biblical examples of this:

1. You can teach the next generation. Exodus 12:26-27 says, “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.'” This takes place in a family context.

Psalm 78:2-4 says, “I will utter . . . things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”

Again, these are not official roles as a teacher, but unofficial in family and church settings.

2. You can mentor the next generation. This involves working together in relationship with one another; an apprenticing relationship, passing on skills and knowledge. We know how Moses mentored Joshua and Elijah mentored Elisha, and Paul mentored Timothy.

Someone mentored me in college, Ralph Sprunk. He was a professor of Bible and theology. He took an interest in me, gave me some special attention, encouraged me and was a role model for me. This can have a powerful impact on a younger person, to be taken seriously by an older adult and encouraged and empowered by what you have learned. So that they don’t have to make all the mistakes you did and can have a leg up.

3. You can give counsel to the next generation. Exodus 18:13-24 tells the story of Jethro, Moses’ father in law counseling him to delegate his responsibilities to others. Moses was running himself into the ground. 24 says, “So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said.”

In the same way you can give counsel in areas of ministry and life to those younger than you, so that they can find their way through difficult situations.

4. You can pray for the next generation. An example of this is Jacob’s prayer in Genesis 48:15-16 for Ephraim and Manasseh, his grandsons. He prays for them here that God will bless them and that God’s will for them will be accomplished.

5. You can tell stories of praise to God. Many senior adults enjoy telling stories. And you might be tempted to tell negative stories or self-exalting stories. But you have the opportunity to tell stories that lift up God’s name; to tell how God has blessed you and been faithful to you.

Our text last week, Psalm 92:14-15, says, “The righteous still bear fruit in old age they are ever green and full of sap, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” What are they all green and full of sap to do? To tell how God is their Rock; how God is faithful.

And who better to listen to than someone who has walked for many years with the Lord, and can testify of God goodness and faithfulness? You don’t speak theoretically but from experience.

When I was a Conference Teacher in the Pacific Northwest Conference, one of the best things I did was to have older people come and tell stories of their time in Civilian Public Service (CPS) and other programs during times of war. They shared their stories and told the younger generation of leaders and pastors what it was like to choose to love enemies and to work for the good of their country. It was a very powerful experience.

What I’m saying in all this is that you are loved and valued! And you are uniquely qualified precisely because of your age to take up this role in the congregation and beyond; to have this unofficial role of teaching, mentoring, giving counsel, praying for and telling stories of God’s faithfulness to the next generation. I encourage you to take up this role and allow yourselves to be used by God both to bless others and to be blessed as you serve God.

Series: God and Seniors

We’re talking about aging this morning and what God has to say to our seniors. You can get it from the title – God isn’t done with you yet! That’s the message.

Now some of you may say, “Hey, what does this have to do with me?” Well, first, if you are blessed you will one day be a senior adult. So listen up.

And also, old age is relative. Psalm 90:10 says, “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty.” Now, some lived longer than this, but this was seen as the upper limit. But the average lifespan was lower, at least for some periods of biblical history. You could be considered a senior adult, even in your 40’s. So old age is a flexible concept.

 Our theme text for today is Psalm 92:12-15.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever green and full of sap to declare that the Lord is upright. He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

First of all, let me say that according to the Scriptures

Age is a good thing

 Being old and growing old is greatly valued. Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory.” It’s a sign of age and it’s to be celebrated. And older people are to be honored:

  • Leviticus 19:32 – “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man . . .” This is an expression of honor.
  • Proverbs 23:22 says it negatively, “Do not despise your mother when she is old.” Positively, it means honor her.
  • 1 Timothy 5:1-2 – “Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as a father . . . to older women as mothers . . .” (NRSV)

In fact, there was a bias for the older, at least when it comes to teaching and leading. It was the elders who led Israel. And this was so true that Paul had to say to Timothy, who was young – “Let no one despise you for your youth. . ..” – 1 Timothy 4:12.

Disrespect to elders is an indication of societal breakdown – Isaiah 3:5. “And the people will oppress one another . . . the youth will be insolent to the elder . . ..”

This honor is all rooted in the fifth commandment. Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor father and mother . . .” And parents by definition are older. Scripture extends this more broadly to cover all the older ones among us.

Things are quite different now.

Today many may feel marginalized because of their age

I’m not saying that any of you have allowed yourselves to be marginalized. But let’s think about this, because there are powerful pressures in our society to sideline you:

Message #1: Young is better. We live in a culture that values, or should I say, worships youth. It’s a serious idolatry that is all around us. The goal is not really to live to a “ripe old age” and to take pride and joy in the blessing of this. Old age is negative, something to be endured.

Rather, The goal is to stay and look young. And to lose this is a great tragedy to be avoided at all costs – and it can certainly cost a lot! There are whole industries committed to erasing old age – various cosmetics, surgeries and treatments.

I would just say, never be ashamed of your age. According to the Bible it’s your glory.

Message #2: Retirement is for idleness and entertainment. In America it has become a time to kick back and enjoy yourself – if you have saved enough money to be able to do this. Like the farmer in Luke 12:19 who said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”

But the underlying message is that it’s time to move out of the way for the next generation. Go on out to pasture, but make sure it is a nice pasture.

But despite all this –

Age is no obstacle to being used by God

You bring much to the table. You know this, but let’s hear it and be reminded once again:

Abraham & Sarah. They were called to a new life adventure when he was 75 and she was 65 years old. Genesis 12:4 says, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”

And, God promised them a child when he was 100 and she was 90. Genesis 17:17 says,  “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’”

Think of Moses. He was eighty when God called him into ministry, to take on the mighty empire of Egypt. Exodus 7:7 says, “Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh.”

And Moses had 40 more years of fruitful ministry. Deuteronomy 34:7 says, “Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated.”

Remember Caleb. He was 40 when he went to spy out the land. And he was 85 when he took possession of his portion – Joshua 14:10-12.

And then we have Zechariah & Elizabeth. After being told that they would give birth to John the Baptist, Zechariah said to the angel, “. . .  I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” – Luke 1:18. He expresses doubt about being used by God, especially to have a child. Yet God used them.

And then there is Anna, the prophetess, who was 84 when she saw Jesus as a child. Luke 2:36-38 says, “She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Joel 2:28 tells us that when the Spirit comes, “old men will dream dreams.” Peter, in Acts 2, applies this prophecy to our day, the time of the church.

Paul says in Philemon 1:9, “yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus.” He was probably in his 50’s here. But he was not too old to be out preaching the gospel and to be put in jail for it.

In John 21:18 Jesus said this to Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” This has to do with the kind of death he would die, crucifixion, which according to tradition did happen. He was a martyr and witness for Jesus in old age.

My conclusion from all this –

 God isn’t done with any of us yet!

 There is no retirement from the work of the kingdom. Until he calls us home, God wants to work in us and through us. Whatever capacity God gives us, we should use to serve him. Don’t fret what you can’t do, do what you can.

So be encouraged seniors! You have much to give! And God will continue to use you, and all of us, for his purposes, if we allow him.

Let’s end by saying together Psalm 92:14-15:

The righteous still bear fruit in old age; they are ever green and full of sap, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

 

We are finishing up our series “How can I know I’m saved?” talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. My point in all of this is to encourage you that as a Christian you need not wonder where you stand with God. You need not be insecure in your relationship with God. God has more for us than that.

As we have seen, John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13. And the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16. We can and we should know that we have eternal life, and that our relationship with God is solid.

We’ve already looked at two of, what I am calling, the three bases of our assurance:

  • The assurance of God’s word and promises, and
  • The assurance of the Spirit

Today we look at the final source of our assurance, the assurance of a transformed life. And I also want to share with you a bit about the relationship of these three assurances to each other. But first –

The assurance of a transformed life

 The idea here is that if you are really a Christian, this will be evident in the way you live your life. You will be able to see this and even others will be able to see this and take notice.

Now this doesn’t mean that you won’t fail – you will. And there will always be things in our lives that we need to work on. But still, your salvation will be observable. So you can examine your life for signs of God’s work of salvation. And when you see these, they can give you assurance of your salvation.

This assurance rests on two crucial truths in Scripture:

1. Anyone who becomes a Christian is changed within. Something happens in us. God does something in us. Different images are used for this in Scripture:

  • We are born anew – John 3:3
  • We are a new creation in Christ – 1 Corinthians 5:17
  • We are raised with Christ to new life – Colossians 3:1

Something happens within us; we have a new heart; we come alive to God.

2. What is in a person will show up in their words and deeds. There is an unbreakable connection between what is within you, and what comes out of you. Now, you can fake it for a time, but eventually, over the long haul, what is within will come out in some form or another.

As Jesus said, “the tree is known by its fruit” – Matthew 12:33. And so if you have been transformed within by the saving work of God, this will show up in your everyday life, in your words and deeds.

Let’s look now at two ways of talking about this in Scripture. The first uses the language of  the fruit of the Spirit. 

Before the Spirit comes into us and changes us and empowers us to live differently we bear forth the fruit of our evil hearts. What is within us, evil, is what comes out of us. Things like “sexual immorality . . . enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness . . .” – Galatians 5:19-21. When we walk apart from the Spirit, these things characterize our lives. These things are the outward sign of our inner person.

But when the Spirit comes and changes our heart and we continue to access the power of the Spirit to live differently, this will show up in our behavior too. What is within will come out. We will bear forth “the fruit of the Spirit.”  Things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” – Galatians 5:22-23. These things will characterize our lives. They are the outward sign of the inward work of the Spirit within us. So when I see them in my life, I can be assured of God’s work within me.

Then, in 1 John, John uses the language of keeping the commandments of God.

He is talking to those whose faith has been shaken by false teachers and who are not fully confident of where they stand with God. He says, “By this we know that we have come to know him (that is, Jesus, or that we are a Christian), if we keep his commandments” – 1 John 2:3 (also 1 John 3:24). And then he says the same thing in reverse, “Whoever says ‘I know him’ (that is, I’m saved) but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” – 1 John 2:4 (also 1 John 1:6). Keeping God’s commands is the outward sign of the inward reality of salvation. Not keeping them shows that your heart is not, or is no longer set on God.

John goes on to focus in on the specific commandment, that we should love one another. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers (fellow Christians)” – 1 John 3:14 (also 1 John 2:10). And the reverse is also true, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” – 1 John 2:9. So he is giving us a test. Am I saved? John teaches us that we can tell by examining our lives to see if I love my brothers and sisters in the Lord; if I lay down my life for them. If I love fellow believers, this shows that God’s love is in my heart, that is, it shows what is within me. God has indeed done a work in my heart. And in this way, I can be assured that I truly am a Christian.

 So we have looked at –

Three bases for our assurance

  • The assurance of God’s word
  • The assurance of the Spirit
  • The assurance of a transformed life

Let me make a few points about the relationship between these:

1. The assurance of God’s word is foundational. That is, what God to us in Scripture.

So for instance you can have some inner feeling about your salvation, or an inward religious experience that might seem like the witness of the Spirit. But if you are not putting your faith in Jesus and turning from your sins, what the Word tells us, it doesn’t mean anything. We must always judge any perceived voice of the Spirit by the apostolic standard of the Word of God.

And again you can have some outward works, both moral and religious that might appear to be the assurance of a transformed life. But if you are not putting your faith in Jesus and walking in repentance, what the Word says, it doesn’t make a difference.

The assurance of the Spirit and the assurance of a transformed life are important and powerful, but if they are not based on the Word, they are useless in and of themselves. It is only when we put our faith in Jesus as our Savior and repent of our sins that we receive the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is, salvation.

2. The last two assurances supplement one another. Indeed, they need to.

On the one hand, the assurance of the Spirit is an inner, subjective experience. This is a very powerful source of knowledge, to know something deep in your heart. But such inward things can be misinterpreted. Maybe what we think is the voice of the Spirit is really just our own feelings. Sometimes we can misinterpret our inward experiences.

On the other hand, the assurance of a transformed life has to do with what is outward and objective, our words and deeds, which can be a very powerful testimony to us. But such outward things can be faked. We might have a form of godliness without the power. In other words, we can live an outwardly moral life in the power of the flesh. And such a life doesn’t come from a truly changed heart. It is merely outward. We can at least do this for a time, especially when others are looking. We all know of those who have gone to church their whole life, who don’t know the Lord.

So, my point here is that it is always best to have both of these assurances together to supplement each other; the inner and the outer; the subjective and the objective. When you have both of them this gives each of them individually even more power.

And then let me end by saying, 3. When you have all three, your assurance is well established. You have a truly solid foundation. As Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” And as Deuteronomy 19:15 teaches – a matter is established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

When you have the Word of God, the Spirit of God and the words and deeds of your life lining up together; when you have all three bases of assurance there is no need to doubt where you stand with God.

As Christians we sometimes struggle with questions about where we stand with God. And perhaps even you have asked at some point, “Am I really a Christian?” Sometimes it’s because God seems far away. Or perhaps you simply don’t feel saved. Maybe you are going through a very difficult time in your life. Or it could be that someone is telling you that your beliefs are wrong and to be truly saved you need something else. Or maybe you are struggling with a sense of failure and guilt.

This is real life. We go through these things. And this is why we are taking time for a series of teaching on this topic, the assurance of our salvation, or ‘how I can know I’m saved.’

Let me reiterate that I believe that you can know for sure that you are saved, even with these things that might make you question it from time to time, and that you can and should have confidence in your relationship with God.

As we saw last week, John says this, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13. We can know. And the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.

Last week, we looked at the first of three bases for the assurance of our salvation, the assurance of God’s word. Today we focus in on the second basis, the assurance of the Spirit. And the Spirit, I believe, does this in two ways. First,

The very presence of the Spirit in our life gives us assurance

 The reception of the Spirit is one of the key promises that God gives us in the gospel, as we saw last week. And so, to put it simply when we see the Spirit in our lives, we know we have received the promise of salvation; we know that we are saved.

The connection between having the Spirit and being saved is so central that Paul can say in Romans 8:9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” The reverse of this, of course, is that if we have the Spirit we do belong to Christ; we are saved.

As John says in 1 John 4:13 – “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” We “know” we are in right relationship with God – because of the Spirit in our lives.

Paul uses a couple of images that make this point. And I want us to look at these. The first is “sealed” with the Spirit. He says, “you . . . were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” – Ephesians 1:14 (also 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 4:30).

Now this metaphor is sometimes misunderstood to mean that we are, as it were, locked up in a box and can’t get out even if we wanted to; that we are sealed in. (Sometimes appeal is made to Matthew 27:66, where the same word is used. “So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” In this case the tomb was made secure in two ways: 1) the guards who kept watch over it, and 2) the seal. The seal by itself would not keep anyone out. It could easily be broken. Rather, it secures the tomb in a different way. If it is broken it shows that someone got in. It means that the tomb has been tampered with. It is no longer “authentic” or preserved intact. In this case it is meant to keep Jesus’ disciples from getting in and taking the body so that they could claim he was raised from the dead – Matthew 27:62-65. It secures the tomb not as a lock (or a guard) would, but it secures it’s integrity; that it hasn’t been tampered with.) But this is a wrong understanding. The word used here refers to a mark denoting ownership and authenticity.

The background has to do with sealing documents in the ancient world. How do you know that a letter is truly from who it says it’s from; that it hasn’t been tampered with? The writer would take an engraved object, like a signet ring, distinctive to them, and press it into hot wax that has been placed on the folded or rolled up letter. This is the letter’s seal. So the seal is meant to confirm ownership (who wrote it) or here authorship and authenticity. (Again, the seal doesn’t prevent the letter from being opened, it simply shows that if it has been opened before you get it that its authenticity can’t be established)

The seal in our case is the presence of the Spirit in our lives. Which means that those who have the Spirit are truly owned by God; they are authentic. They are the real thing.

A second image from Paul is the “down payment” of the Spirit. After talking about the resurrection that is to come, Paul says, “He who has prepared us for this very thing (that is, the resurrection) is God, who has given us the Spirit as a down payment.” – 2 Corinthians 5:5 (Also, 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:14.)

The word for “down payment” means an initial payment given as a pledge that the rest of the payments will be made. It is sometimes translated simply as a “guarantee” or a “deposit.” The Spirit here is the down payment from God to us. So the Spirit’s presence in our lives is an indicator of our present salvation; that we have already received the first installment of what is to come from God. And, as long as we have the Spirit, we have God’s pledge to give us the rest of what God has for us, in this case the resurrection. So the presence of the Spirit in our lives gives us assurance of our salvation both now and for the future.

This raises the question, how can you know if the Spirit is present in your life? There are a number of ways to answer this but our focus today is on the relational part of God’s Spirit within us:

  • The Spirit guides us in everyday life – Romans 8:14
  • The Spirit helps us to pray – Romans 8:26; Ephesians 6:18
  • The Spirit teaches us things and reminds us of what Jesus said – John 14:26
  • The Spirit is grieved when we sin – Ephesians 4:30. And we can sense this.

So in all of these examples we see that when the Spirit dwells within us, we have a relationship with the Spirit. There are various kinds of interaction. And through these interactions we can know that the Spirit abides within us. And when we know this, we know that we are saved.

But even more specifically –

The witness of the Spirit gives us assurance

 Paul talks about this in Romans 8:15-17 – “. . . you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”

This is how it works. 1) We receive the Spirit. He says in v. 15 – “You have received the Spirit.”

2. The Spirit “bears witness . . . that we are children of God.” In other words, the Spirit tells me, deep in my heart that I am a child of God; that I am a Christian. [As John Wesley put it – this is “an inward impression on the soul whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ has loved me, and given himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.”]

And we ought not think of this as a one-time thing, maybe something that happens just when we are first saved. “Bears witness” is in the present tense. This is seen as ongoing. The Spirit will, from time to time, affirm our standing as a child of God, deep in our heart.

3. The Spirit enables us to cry “Abba! Father!” This is why it says that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit. We both bear witness that we are saved. We hear what the Spirit tells us, and then we concur – “Yes, God you are my father. I am adopted into your family. I am one of your children.” And as Paul goes on to say in v. 17 – “. . . and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ . . .” Heirs of the salvation that God has for his own.

So if you feel insecure in your relationship with God, in addition to the assurance that comes from standing on God’s word, look to the assurance of the Spirit.

Examine your heart  

Examine it today and this week. Are there evidences of the Spirit’s activity in your heart? Are you in relationship with God, interacting with God by the Spirit who dwells within you?

And then, as a part of this relationship, does the Spirit testify to you that you are a child of God?

Perhaps you would say that you don’t know what it means to have the Spirit dwell within you. You have never experienced this. Well I invite you to put your faith in Jesus and to turn from your sins so that you can know what this means. Jesus tells us in Luke 11:13 – “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Ask and you can know what it’s like to have God’s Spirit live within you.

And if you would say, I have experienced the Spirit, but not really anymore. Ephesians 5:18 teaches us that we are to continue to be filled with the Spirit. It is not a one-time thing. So invite the Spirit to fill you again and continue to do this. And don’t go through life ignoring the Spirit. Cultivate your relationship with God by the Spirit. And then you will know the powerful assurance of salvation that comes from having the Spirit in your life.

 

We’re talking about something very practical today and for the next few weeks. How can I know I’m saved? How can you know that you’re saved? It’s a pretty important question.

Can you know for sure that God has forgiven your sins; that you are saved, right here and right now and that you are an heir of God’s eternal blessings? Or are you just hoping for the best?

Is the Christian life one that is characterized by confidence in where you stand with God?Or are we to always be insecure in our relationship with God?

We are talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. And let me say that I believe very strongly that you can know, and that you should know. We can have security in Christ.

Now, this doesn’t mean you won’t have occasional times of struggle or doubt. This is a part of a life of faith.

And certainly we are not to have a sense of assurance when we are knowingly and willfully rebelling against God. In the Scriptures, both Old Testament and New, words of assurance are given to those who are walking with God and finding forgiveness when they fail; assurance is given to those whose hearts are set on God, even though it’s hard.

But words of warning and judgment are given to those who choose the path of sin. So beware of false assurance. Beware of those who say, “Peace, peace – when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Who say everything is OK, don’t worry – even though you are choosing a lifestyle of sin.

But beyond this, yes, Christians are to be characterized as those who have great confidence and joyful assurance of their standing with God.

  • John says this, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” – 1 John 5:13. We can know.
  • The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.

So, for the next few weeks, I want us to look at this topic and specifically three interconnected bases for our assurance of salvation. And today we begin with the assurance of God’s word.

And so, first of all, we need to know –

God’s promises or word to us regarding salvation

 Let me summarize these from the preaching found in the book of Acts.

1. God promises to forgive our sins. Peter says in his sermon on the day of Pentecost that God offers “the forgiveness of your sins” – Acts 2:38. Later, he says it this way, “that your sins may be blotted out” – Acts 3:19.

So this is good news! Our sins, which separate us from God and bring us death can be taken away! We can have a fresh start with God, and in life, because of what Jesus has done.

2. God promises to give us the Spirit. Peter speaks of this promise from God to his listeners on the day of Pentecost, when he says, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38. And we see this gift bestowed in several of the stories in the book of Acts.

  • The Spirit gives us new life: we are born anew, we are a new creation in Christ, we are raised to new life in Christ, we have eternal life.
  • And the Spirit also gives us power to live differently.

So these are God’s promises of salvation to us. But it is also important that we hear God’s word about what is required of us. God’s promises often come with things we must do. And if we don’t meet the conditions, then we are being presumptuous with God’s promises.  Two things stand out here, from the book of Acts:

1. We need faith in Jesus. We need to believe that he is indeed the Messiah, who has brought us God’s salvation. Peter said to Cornelius “everyone who believes in him,” that is, Jesus receives salvation – Acts 10:43. Paul preached “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” – Acts 20:21.

2. We need to repent. Peter talked about “turning . . . from your wickedness” – Acts 3:26. Paul’s message was, “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance” – Acts 26:20.

So this is God’s word to us, both promises of salvation and what he asks of us. Now we look at –

How God’s word gives us assurance

 Let’s suppose that you are here today and you don’t have confidence in your relationship with God; you don’t know that you have eternal life. Maybe it’s that you don’t feel saved. Maybe it’s that you are going through some difficult circumstances which make you question where you stand with God. Maybe someone is telling you that you need to do something beyond God’s word to be saved, and it raises doubts for you.

Here’s what you need to do – 1. Hear God’s word, just as you have today. God’ word says that when we come to Jesus in faith and repent of our sins, we will indeed be forgiven our sins and receive new life by the Spirit of God; we will be saved.

Hear God’s word on this, not just in your head, but deep in your heat. Let it come into your heart right now.

2. Agree with God’s word. And this is not just an intellectual thing in your mind. God’s word testifies to us of its truth in our hearts. Agree with this in your heart. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “the word of God is alive and active.” It has a vitality and power to it. And when we receive it in our hearts, it comes alive and God speaks to us through it. God’s word speaks to our hearts with convincing and convicting power. And so we need to agree with this. “Yes, God. Your  word is true.”

What I am really saying is that God’s word creates faith within us, if we choose to agree with it, as God speaks in our hearts. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

How do I know I’m saved? Because I know from God’s word that when I have faith in Jesus and repent of my sins, my sins are forgiven and I have new life and a hope for the future. I accept and agree with what God says about me through his word.

3. Hold fast to God’s word. This means that when we don’t feel saved, or when our circumstances are difficult, or when others say things that don’t agree with God’s word that make us doubt our salvation – it means that we make a choice, and it is a choice, not to live by these feelings, circumstances, or the words of others. We choose to live our life based on God’s word and truth.

Does your assurance seem weak?

Perhaps this is where some are this morning. Well, then keep God’s word in your heart and mind. Read it, study it, meditate on it, confess it, act on it. For it is God’s living word that builds faith within us. And so absorb its powerful testimony and align yourself with it.

Yes, if you focus on your feelings, your circumstances, or what others say – your faith will be weak. But the more you let God’s word into your heart, the more your faith will grow, which means your sense of assurance will grow as well.

And then, finally –

Apply God’s word to any other concerns you might have

 Here are some examples . . .

Do God’s promises apply to me? Jesus said, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” – John 6:37. Are you coming to Jesus? He will not turn you away. You will be accepted. Paul said, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” – Romans 10:13. The promise applies to all, including you.

Am I too sinful? Of course you are, that’s the point! But Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” – Mark 2:17. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . ..” – 1 Timothy 1:15. Believe and repent of all your sins and the promises are yours, regardless of your past. 

Will God fail me? Impossible! Paul said, “He who calls you is faithful” – 1 Thessalonians 5:24. This is at the core of God’s identity – faithfulness to his word and promises. As Paul also says, “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” – 2 Timothy 2:13. This is simply who God is.

Let God’s word be the foundation of your assurance with God. Know with confidence where you stand with God, based on what he says! And if you don’t have a relationship with God today I encourage you to hear his word and act on it, even now.

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 14:36-46

Well, it has taken us a number of weeks but we’re finally to the conclusion of the story that started in chapter 13. Jonathan started a revolt against the Philistine overlords. Saul then went to Gilgal, but disobeyed the Lord by not waiting for Samuel to come and give him instructions. Then, while facing a massive Philistine army, Jonathan once again, in faith, took the initiative to bring about a great victory.

But as they were chasing the retreating Philistines, Saul made an oath that his men couldn’t eat that day. This caused Jonathan to stumble, because he didn’t hear the oath and ate a bit of honey. And it caused the army to stumble. They were starving and when they could eat they ate meat with the blood in it. And the victory was diminished because of the army’s weakness.

We saw how Saul’s relationship with God was broken due to his unrepentant sin, and so he’s just making decisions based on what he thinks is right; that is he’s not following God; he’s making foolish choices.

Our story today picks right up where we left off with Saul’s continued foolishness. Let’s see what God has to teach us in this.

1 Samuel 14:36-46

36Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them until the morning light; let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.”

His army has now eaten and is refreshed. So he makes a proposal to continue to pursue the retreating Philistines. He wants to fix what he messed up with his oath; he wants to bring about a total victory.

But he doesn’t seek God about this. He’s all ready to go –

But the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” 37And Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?” But he did not answer him that day.

The priest has to stop him to seek God’s guidance. But, then no answer is given.

38And Saul said, “Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today.

Saul interprets God’s silence as a sign of judgment. There are grounds for this in Scripture (e. g. 1 Samuel 8:18). But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes it can just mean keep doing what you’re doing, or you don’t need further instructions, or you are in a time of testing when God chooses to be silent. In any case, here it does mean that something is wrong.

When he says, “this sin” he specifically means who broke the oath and ate food when they weren’t supposed to. Remember, an oath means that you call on God to curse you if you don’t fulfill the terms of the oath. And here Saul put this oath of not eating on his men. And we saw last time how Jonathan unknowingly broke this oath.

Saul then swears another oath –

39For as the LORD lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.”

He doubles down on his previous oath, even though he saw how it backfired and caused trouble for his people. He now swears to kill the person who broke it, even if it’s his own son. It would have been wise to just move on.

One has to ask, ‘Why so extreme?’ ‘Why death?’ Especially since we know that in Jonathan’s case it was inadvertent.

This is not a good decision. This is foolishness on top of foolishness.

But there was not a man among all the people who answered him.

Many, if not all of the army knew what happened with Jonathan. But no one said anything. They are protecting him.

40Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.”

41Therefore Saul said, “O LORD God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O LORD, God of Israel, give Urim. But if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped.

Urim and Thummin were most likely dice-like objects, perhaps different colors that were cast to discern answers. It’s possible that you had to get the same answer several times in a row for it to be clear. And perhaps when God didn’t answer Saul that’s what happened.

Here he asks a simple question, ‘Is the guilt with this group or that group?’ Urim likely means accursed and Thummin acquitted.

Jonathan and Saul are taken. One of them has sinned. The rest are acquitted.

42Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken.

So this process accurately picks Jonathan. He is, in fact guilty of breaking the oath, even though he didn’t know anything about it. Frustratingly none of this process addresses Saul’s own knowing sin. And how it was his foolishness that led to Jonathan’s unknowing sin. He keeps the focus on the failures of others, not his own – a sin with no technicalities involved.

43Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.”

Jonathan’s response highlights Saul’s continued foolishness. He says, “I tasted a little honey . . . I will die.” This last phrase may well be a question, “I tasted a little honey . . . I will die?” It points out the harshness of the situation. The sentence is way out of proportion to the offense.

And it certainly contrasts with Saul’s decision when he was walking in God’s ways. In 1 Samuel 11:3 when some men had questioned his role as king and the crowd said they should be killed, he said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.” Like in our story, they had just won a battle. But here Saul is ready to kill his own son.

And then, as if Saul is unable to learn, he again swears an oath, tripling down on his first oath.

44And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.”

Notice Saul’s complete lack of empathy or concern about his son. He should have commended Jonathan for his faith and bravery.

Is he jealous of him and his faith and boldness and how he was the one God used to deliver Israel? Clearly Saul is being out-shined. Is he trying to secure his son’s death? This certainly foreshadows how Saul will later treat David (his son in law) in similar circumstances.

But then our story, thankfully, takes an unexpected turn –

45Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die.

The army has some wisdom and courage to challenge the king. If the priest stops him before to seek guidance, the army stops him here from killing his own son. They counter Saul’s oath with an oath of their own.

They point out that God’s use of Jonathan to bring the victory is much more important than his unknowing breaking of a foolish oath. Clearly they respect Jonathan more than Saul.

46Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.

Our story began with pursuit and here the pursuit ends once and for all.

All you can say after reading this is –

What a mess!

Because of Saul’s oath the victory over the Philistines is diminished. And Jonathan and the army are led to stumble into sin.

And then, because of his refusal to back away from it, he makes an oath to kill whoever broke his first oath and Jonathan is almost killed.

The story ends with him being alienated from his son and the army. And with him under the condemnation of his two oaths in this story. He said in v. 44 – “God do so to me and more also” that is, if he didn’t kill Jonathan. And he didn’t kill him.

How much better if he had sought the Lord in the first place. How much better if after his foolish oath he had acknowledged this and let it go. How much better if when God was silent, he took responsibility for causing the army and Jonathan to stumble and sought forgiveness. What a different story this would have been!

What do we learn from this?

Did you know that we are not to swear promises? Oaths are certainly allowed in the Old Testament, but Jesus raises the bar when he says in Matthew 5:34, “Do not take an oath at all”; and James 5:12 says, “But above all, brothers and sisters, do not swear . . ..” If you haven’t looked at this before, I invite you to study it for yourself.

The key lesson however is that if you are walking in foolishness, stop! Foolishness is not following God, but making our own choices based on what we think is right. This is what Saul was doing.

And today we learn that if you are walking in foolishness, don’t cling to it. When you see if for what it is, stop. Don’t be too proud to admit it and then move forward. Don’t double and triple down like Saul here. When you are in a hole of your own making stop digging – as the saying goes. You just go further and further down. You have to put the shovel down and crawl out of the hole.

Take responsibility for your foolish choices. Don’t put the focus on others or make excuses. Set aside your bad choices, and begin to follow God and walk in his wisdom.