God's Loving Warnings Essential to Our Salvation (Romans Sermon 87 of 120)
November 27, 2005 | Andrew Davis
Introduction: The Command to Fear
I love history, and I like looking at some of the great moments in history and the great speeches. And on March 4th, 1933 one of the great speeches in the 20th century was given by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he was inaugurated for the first of four terms as the 32nd President of the United States. At that time the United States was in the Great Depression, economics were really horrible. Our people living in places called "Hoovervilles" like little slums that all the jobless people that had to put up. And it was really a bleak time in our history. And within the first two minutes of his inaugural address FDR said one of his most famous lines he said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Now, he was saying that, because it had been fear that had promoted the tumbling and the crash of the stock market as one person after another out of fear sought to dump their stocks and it was fear that caused runs on banks, and caused banks to close. And shortly after his inaugural he shut down the banks for four days to stop that from going on so that there could be a writing and a sense of confidence so that America could make progress economically. But I began just meditating on that expression. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
And here in the passage we're looking at today we're commanded to fear. It says do not be arrogant but fear. And it's a deep subject, and it occurred to me that in this present day and age, which so denigrates the fear of the Lord that even among evangelical circles, we are thought to be and taught to be completely free from all fear concerning God, this command to fear strikes us as anomalous, as strange, as odd. Why would we be commanded to fear? It occurs to me that the fear of the Lord almost everywhere in scripture is openly and clearly proclaimed as a great blessing and a great protection. So I think it may be the case that the only thing we have to fear in this day and age is not fearing the Lord enough, but that if we do fear him properly we have nothing else to fear. And that's the message that I want to preach on today.
You know at key moments in redemptive history, God sought to produce fear in his own people. I think about the time that David was bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, and they had contrary to scripture, loaded the Ark of the Covenant onto an ox cart, they had been commanded in the law to carry it by acacia wood pole sliding it through the loops on the sides of the golden Ark, where was the presence of the Lord and the Lord would meet with his people. It represented the presence of God to the people of God. And they were bringing it into Jerusalem, the City of David, and David is celebrating with all of his might and he's singing and praising, it's a happy and festive occasion. And suddenly the oxen stumbled and the cart started to lose its balance and the Ark started fall off the cart and Uzzah reached for it and grabbed it and was immediately struck dead and there was a shock effect. The celebration ended and it says there very plainly, David was afraid of the Lord that day. That's exactly what God was trying to promote. He was clearly seeking fear of the Lord in his own people at that moment. He could have done a number of things but he waited because they had handled the Ark in putting it on, but he waited for that crescendo moment to strike Uzzah dead and produce the fear of the Lord in his own people.
I think also about the occasion, after Jesus' death and resurrection and ascension in the early church when the Spirit of the Lord was just moving so powerfully through the church and people were selling lands and properties and bringing the money and giving it to the apostles and they were distributed to anyone as they had need. Then a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira sold the piece of property and brought some of it and put it at the apostles' feet. Peter asked, "Is this the amount you got for the land?" And Ananias lied. And immediately he was struck dead as Peter said, "How could you test the Spirit of God?" And the reaction was the same then as it was in the time of David. Great fear seized all who heard about these events. I think to myself, what is the role of fear in the Christian life? It's commanded of us here in this text, look in chapter 11 where it says, in verse 20, "The branches were broken off because of unbelief and you stand by faith, do not be arrogant." The NIV gives us, "But be afraid." A simpler translation would be just the command, "do not be arrogant but fear."
I. The Reality of Warnings in the Christian Life
And so therefore, I think we have here a warning to Christians, it's a warning to Christians. And so I think it's necessary for us to try to understand the role, the reality of warnings in the Christian life. What are we to do with these warnings? Now, first of all, that this passage is a warning was clear from the treatment we gave last week. The Lord is speaking to gentile Christians, and he's urging them not to be arrogant or to boast over Jews who have not believed in Christ. The overall context of Romans 9 through 11 as we've discussed is the remarkable success of the Gospel among gentiles and the equally remarkable failure of the Gospel among Jews. Many, many gentiles believing in Christ, coming into the church, very few Jews were. And Paul is dealing with that in Romans 9 through 11. Now in verse 13 of our chapter if you can look at it he says there, "I am talking to you gentiles." He's speaking to the gentiles, he's addressing them and he wants them to understand some things, but most of all he wants them not to be proud as we discussed last week. Look at verses 17-18, there it says, "Do not boast over those branches." verse 20, "Do not be arrogant but fear." verse 25 and 26, "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery brothers, so that you may not be conceited. Do not boast, do not be arrogant that you may not be conceited."
Clearly, Paul's concern is the issue of spiritual arrogance and pride. This is a warning concerning the danger of spiritual pride. Now, clearly Paul desires the gentile Christians, to understand their situation in the grace of God and to have the same attitude toward unbelieving Jews that he does like in Romans 9, where he says, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish." In Romans 10, he says, "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved." so he's warning them from spiritual pride. He's also warning them to spiritual perseverance in the faith, he wants them to keep on going in the Christian life. Look again at verse 19-20, he says, "You will say then branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in. Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief." Listen, and "you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant but be afraid." You stand by faith. You continue to stand in Christ by a continuing work of faith in your soul and so he is urging them to persevere in the faith. Look again at verse 22, "Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God. Sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you who believe provided that you continue in his kindness, otherwise you also will be broken off." Do you see again an urging to persevere in the Christian life? To keep moving on, to keep growing and going in the Christian life.
It's also a warning of spiritual disaster. Verse 21, he says, "If God did not spare the natural branches he will not spare you either." And in verse 22, he threatens that they will be cut off if they don't continue in God's kindness. The clear implication is that being cut off means being separated from Christ even eternally. And so in Matthew 7, Jesus said some of the most terrifying things he ever taught us, "Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly. I never knew you, away from me you evildoers." Away from me is the moment of cutting off. You will be cut off from Christ. That's when Jesus says, "Away from me, you evildoers." what a dreadful thing. So therefore, the threat is the most dire imaginable, eternally cut off from Christ. In my opinion the summary warning is this, you stand by faith, gentiles. So don't be arrogant but fear and make progress in the Christian life. That's what he's telling them here in Romans 11.
Now it brings us to this issue of the reality of warnings in the Christian life. There are many warnings to Christians in the Bible. Romans 11:17-22 is not the only warning given to Christians. Jesus warned, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount. He says, "You have heard that it was said, you shall not commit adultery, but I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye cause you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away, it is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." Jesus there is teaching his disciples very clearly at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, his disciples sat down and began to teach them saying. Why is he threatening them with hell if they should lust? Why the warning? And then again, the book of Hebrews which we already quoted a little bit this morning in worship service is really nothing but a large warning to Christians. Do not drift away from Christ, Hebrews 2:1, through the neglect of the Gospel. Do not turn away from Christ to a sinful unbelieving heart in chapter 3, do not fall away in chapter 6. It culminates in Hebrews 10:26-27, "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we've received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left but only a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God."
You might think "I'm a Christian, why do I have to read this kind of thing?" I'm troubled by these words. Why do I have to hear these warnings? And then Paul himself does it directly to the Corinthians in 1st Corinthians 9, he says he beats his body and makes it a slave, he's going to run like an athlete, he's going to finish the race so that after he's preached to others he wouldn't be disqualified from the prize and then he goes on into a warning about what happened with the Jews in the Old Testament. And he draws a very striking parallel between the Jews in the Old Testament, how God dealt with them, and the Christians in the new.
He says that the Jews all experienced something like baptism, when they passed through the Red Sea in Moses. And they all kind of partook in something like the Lord's Supper, when they ate the manna and when they drank the water that flowed from the rock which was Christ. He's clearly using new covenant language, to talk to gentile Christians, and to give them a warning, and this is what he says in 1st Corinthians 10:5 and following he says, "Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, their bodies were scattered all over the desert. Now, these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were. As it is written. The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry. We should not commit sexual immorality as some of them did. And in one day, 23,000 of them died. We should not test the Lord as some of them did and were killed by snakes, and do not grumble, as some of them did and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them [to the Jews] as examples and were written down as warnings for us." Listen to that phrase brothers and sisters, warnings for us. Paul includes himself in that. Christians need to heed spiritual warnings. They're written down as warnings for us on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. "So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall."
Key Issue: True vs. False Branches
Clearly, Paul is going through the Old Testament, looking at things from that and applying it to Christians, applying it to New Testament people for their benefit. There are therefore many dire warnings given to Christians in the Bible. Now, the key issue here, in my opinion, if we can go to the analogy that Paul uses in Romans 11, of the olive tree. The issue is true versus false branches. I believe you can be in some sense, attached to the olive tree. The olive tree represents the people of God and the development of redemptive history, the people of God. You can in some sense be attached and not really of the tree. You can be in the tree but not of the tree. You could be duct-taped on for example. You could be nailed on or stapled on, you could be put on with hot melt glue, you could be attached in all kinds of ways, but receiving none of the nourishing sap that flows from the tree into you. You can be a false branch. And I believe that the unbelieving Jews that were stripped off were not genuine Jews. They were not genuinely connected to the olive tree as proven by the fact that they rejected Christ. And so what he's saying is, just as there were fake Jews that were stripped off of their own olive tree, so there can be fake wild gentile branches taped or connected in some way to the tree without really being of the tree. And he's saying, "Watch out."
The ultimate issue is by their fruits you will know them. A branch that is truly grafted into the tree, produces fruit in keeping with the nature of the tree. And therefore if you are grafted into this olive tree, following the analogy, you will produce olives. You'll produce the fruit that God intends in the living Christian life. So there we have clearly the reality of warnings in the Christian life.
II. The Resistance to Warnings in the Christian Life
Now secondly, we see the resistance to warnings in the Christian life. Maybe you're already feeling it rising in your own heart as you listen to me. Do I really need to hear this sermon on the fear of the Lord? Do I really need to take seriously the warning of the Book of Hebrews? Do I really have to listen to the Sermon on the Mount and the warnings against lust and gouging out the eye and cutting off the hand? Do I have to take that seriously? And so there may be a resistance to warnings coming up. Sometimes the resistance comes from the idea of the doctrine once saved, always saved. You think to yourself, the Scripture teaches that a true believer in Christ can never lose their salvation. So if you know yourself to be a true believer in Christ, you don't need to heed any warnings ever again, that's the mentality. It comes from this idea of once saved, always saved. Now, I believe with all my heart that the eternal security of the believer in Christ is one of the crown jewels of the doctrines of grace.
It's a delightful thing to meditate on. It's beautiful to know that the Lord knows how to finish the salvation work in me and in you, isn't it? And Paul has labored already many times in Romans to give us that, a strong assurance. Listen to Romans 5:9-10, there it says, "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him. For if when we were God's enemies we were reconciled to him through the death of his son, how much more having been reconciled shall we be saved by his life." What is Paul laboring to do in Romans 5:9-10? But give us a solid assurance that Jesus, dead Jesus, justifies us, living interceding active Jesus, will finish the saving work in us. It's a beautiful thing, isn't it? And then again in Romans 8:1, which by the way, just about every time I teach on the fear of the Lord or on the need that we have as Christians to heed warnings, somebody quotes Romans 8:1, so I'll quote it for you. Beause you may be want to quote to me, it says in Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." "For those who live according to the Spirit…" he says later… You got to keep reading, you can't just stop at the end of verse 1. For those who live according to the Spirit, put sin to death by the power of the Spirit. That's a whole argument that he gives there.
But I'll say it, I cling to that verse. I am delighted that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And then there's Romans 8:29-30, "For those God foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his son that he might be the first born among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called, and those he called he also justified, and those he justified he also glorified." Nobody gets lost. That's where your once saved, always saved comes from. And also in Romans 8:38-39, "I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus." Amen and amen. Crescendo and cymbal crash. It is a fantastic doctrine and a beautiful one that we can embrace. And it's not just taught in Romans, Jesus taught it in John 6, "This is the will of him who sent me. That I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day, for my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son will have eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day."
So, what percentage of those that the Father gives to Jesus does he lose? The answer is mathematically zero. And what percentage does he save on the final day? 100%. Isn't that delightful and isn't your assurance flowing from these promises. Or this one in John 10:27-30, "My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me, I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one can snatch them out of my hand, my father who has given them to me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." Isn't that beautiful? The Trinity, the power of the Father, the Power of the son dedicated to finishing the saving work in you, nobody can snatch you out of their hand. And so the doctrine that a true Christian can never ever lose his or her salvation, never be lost to Christ, never be condemned for sin is one of the great jewels of the Gospel and it is absolutely true. But if this is true you may ask, why do we need to heed warnings like this?
Why do we need to be told to fear? Why are we told these warnings? If there's no condemnation for those in Christ, why do we have to listen to Christ's warnings about hell in connection with lust? If nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ why do we have to hear about the possibility that we gentiles will be stripped off the olive tree if we arrogantly boast over Jews? Why do we have to be told to continue in Christ, to keep believing, keep trusting, keep obeying, keep walking with him, if he has already promised that He'll lose none of all that the Father has given Him? That's the resistance to the warnings.
Secondly, there is, I believe, a failure to distinguish between godly and ungodly fear. There is a godly fear and there is an ungodly fear, and we must make a distinction. This passage commands us to fear. Verse 20. "Do not be arrogant but fear," it says. Many other passages tell us what a wonderful thing is the fear of the Lord. For example, Proverbs 1 says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." Psalm 19:9 says, "The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever." You know what, some evangelicals will say the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring until you pray the sinner's prayer, then you don't need it anymore. How can that be? It must be that the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. Forever it's pure, forever it's beneficial to us.
In Proverbs 14:27, "The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life turning a man from the snares of death." It protects us, it keeps us safe, it's a fountain of life, the fear of the Lord. Isaiah gave a prophecy about the messiah, the branch of Jesse who is Christ. It says in Isaiah 11:3, "He will delight in the fear of the Lord." He'll delight in it. This is not just in the Old Testament, friends. It says in Philippians 2:12 that we should continue to work out our salvation with what? Fear and trembling. That's in the New Testament. Paul is telling us to do that. 1 Peter 1:17, "Since you call on a father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear." You're told to live here in this world in fear.
But other passages seem to cast some doubts on this issue of fear. For example, in Romans 8:15 we're told this, "You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba, Father.'" So in other words, if you're adopted you don't need to fear anymore, so people think. In verse 15. There is a kind of slavery to fear that Paul has in mind there that you're not to fall back into. But then they say, "Well then there must be no fear of the Lord that's appropriate for an adopted child of God." That is false. And even more pointedly in 1 John 4:18, it says this, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear."
Because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears has not been made perfect in love. And so they think that fear therefore has nothing to do with love and nothing to do with the Christian life. Unless you go through all the Old Testament, especially book of Proverbs where it extols the virtues of the fear of the Lord and say, "Well that's not for me anymore, I've come to Christ." I don't think it's so. Therefore I think we have to distinguish between godly fear and ungodly fear. This is how I do it. Godly fear is based on God's truth, on His nature, and His word. Ungodly truth is based on falsehood about God and His word, it's based on unbelief. So godly fear is based on truth and says this: God is holy, He hates sin, if I sin, God may well strike out at me and discipline me. If I harden my heart in sins deceitfulness, it may well be that I was never a Christian at all. I don't want to go there, I don't want to find out what that's like. I fear that outcome, I fear sin, I fear God's holy reaction to my sin. God did not spare the Jews when they rejected Christ. He'll not spare me either if I turn away from Christ. That's what godly fear sounds like.
Ungodly fear, however, is based on falsehood and says something like this, "God is fickle, and capricious, he is mean and demanding. I have to be a slave on his plantation or he'll send me to hell. I have to watch every step I make or he'll smack me. I have to keep on cranking out the good works to please him or he may become irrationally outraged at me and throw me into hell." Or perhaps something like this, "God's promises sound so true and I do believe them, and I do believe that Jesus is the son of God and died for me, but I don't know that God can keep me, I don't know that I might just sin so much he'll grow tired of me and throw me out. I might still wind up in hell even though I do believe the promises of the Gospel. God may abandon me, or his promises may not be true for me even if they're true for everybody else." That's ungodly fear, and it has to do with wrath and punishment that's contrary to the promises of the Gospel. We have to distinguish there for between godly fear and ungodly fear.
III. The Role of Warnings in the Christian Life
Is it right for a Christian to fear that if we sin, God may discipline us in some very unpleasant ways? I think it is. Is it right for a Christian who comes to church every week, who's here week after week, but then lurches off into some established pattern of sin, embraces that pattern of sin, stops going to church, and for decades never comes back, is it right for them to fear hell? I think it is. And so we've seen the resistance to warnings in the Christian life. What is the role then of warnings in the Christian life?
Warnings Reveal True vs. False Branches
Well as I've said, warnings reveal the difference between true and false branches. Friends, there would be no need for warnings in the Christian life if we were already done being saved. If we're already there, we don't need the warnings. But we're not safe yet. And frankly, there's the issue of true and false branches. Just because someone hangs around the church for decades or is active in the church's programs does not mean that they're genuinely alive spiritually. The warnings here reveal the possibility that people may be self-deceived. Ultimately then, the true believers produce fruit in keeping with repentance, as John the Baptist said. Jesus put it this way in Matthew seven, "By their fruit, you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown to the fire. Thus by their fruit, you will recognize them."
Jesus put it this way in John 15, "I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener, he cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit." And you say, "In me," does that mean you can lose your salvation? Like I said, the branches can be connected but not truly of the vine, as proven by the fruit. And there is no fruit. And so cut off and thrown into the fire. Therefore, this issue reveals the fact that we can be self-deceived. We can actually be going to church for a long time and not truly be born again.
Warnings Reveal Spiritual Arrogance
Secondly, warnings reveal spiritual arrogance. Friends, one of the key issues in the Christian life is, what do you do with a healthy spiritual warning? I think this sermon will bring you to a fork in the road. You listen to this, and if you excuse yourself from all warnings, I would urge you to be afraid for your soul. One of the essences of true saving faith is it takes these kinds of warning seriously, it takes them to heart. We humble ourselves, we go to Christ, we go to the Cross, we do business with God. When we feel pricked in our conscience we want to have it dealt with, and so we go to the cross. But a spiritually arrogant people thinks that he or she is exempt from all warnings. They blow them off, they don't take them seriously, they think they can dabble in sin and it won't affect them, they think they've served God enough and they built up enough capital in God's account so they can spend some of it on sin. It is not so. And so, therefore, concerning warnings, true believers need them, true believers heed them, and true believers avoid what they threaten.
False believers excuse themselves from them, do not heed them, and ultimately fulfill them. So what you do with a warning in the Christian life ends up becoming determinative about what is the nature of your faith.
Warnings Produce Godly Fear, and Fear Keeps Us from Sin
Do you fear the Lord or not? Now, in my opinion, on this issue of fear, there's no better verse than Exodus 20:20. Would you turn there in your Bibles and look with me at Exodus 20:20. I told you there were a number of times that God sought to produce fear in his people and Exodus 20:20 is one of them. Exodus 20:18, this is the time of the giving of the Ten Commandments. And no one can do fear like God can.
It always amazes me, these unbelievers that have "no fear" on their bumper stickers. Alright? "No Fear," or "Ain't Sceered" something like that. And I think to myself, "The Lord is able to make you scared. He's able to make you fear. And frankly it's evidence of great grace when he does." But here God was able to make a whole nation of maybe two million Israelites tremble so much that Moses said in Hebrews 12, his words are recorded, "I am trembling with fear." Moses was terrified. And how did he do it? Well, he warned the Israelites ahead of time, if anyone goes up in the mountain, they'll be killed. He says, "Put a barrier at the base of the mountain so no one can go up." And then he descends in a dark thick cloud with thunder and lightning, and with a trumpet call, and with the voice of God, and with an earthquake. And before long, everybody is trembling and thinking today is their final day on earth. They are terrified, God is making them afraid. But this is what the Lord says about it. This is interesting. Exodus 20:18-20 says, "When the people saw the thunder and lightning, and heard the trumpet, and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, 'Speak to yourself for we will listen, but do not have God speak to us or we will die.'" Now, look at 20:20. "Moses said to the people, 'Do not fear.'"
Isn't that interesting? He says, "Do not be afraid, God has come to test you so that the fear of God will be with you." Isn't that interesting. Do not fear if the fear of God is with you. He says, "Do not be afraid, God has come to test you so that the fear of God will be with you, to keep you from sinning." That's the purpose of the fear of the Lord. Is sin still a threat in your life? Is it still a threat in your life? If so, you need the fear of the Lord. It keeps you from sin. And therefore, I went back to FDR's words, "Do not fear, if you fear." And therefore, the only thing you have to fear is if you don't fear the Lord. Because if you don't fear the Lord, then all of the punishments are opened up for you. All of them are available, even hell itself. But if you fear the Lord, that's the beginning of the wisdom that is essential to the Christian life. And it continues with you the rest of your Christian life.
The real danger, you may say in the Christian life is not that Jesus is going to abandon me. Isn't your real fear that you'll abandoned him? Don't you know that the Lord keeps His promises. The question is, are you going to keep your side of it. Isn't that your concern? Isn't it your fear that at some point you will turn away from Christ? You know he won't turn away from you but maybe you'll love... You'll sin your way out of his love. Maybe that's what you fear. But in Jeremiah 32:40, this is the essence of the new covenant. In Jeremiah 32:40 it says, "I will make an everlasting covenant with them, I will never stop doing good to them." I will not turn away from doing good to my people. Listen. "And I will inspire them to fear me so that they will never turn away from me." That is salvation, friends.
God has promised to work in the hearts of his own people, his sons and daughters, to make them sufficiently fear Him, that they will never turn away from him into sin. And so the fear of the Lord and the warnings that produce it are essential to our Salvation. We already sang earlier in Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. It says, "Oh to grace, how great a debtor, daily I'm constrained to be. Let thy goodness, like a fetter, like a chain, bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Here is my heart, Oh, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above."
That's an honest person saying, "I am still a sinner, and there's still danger in my life. Oh, by the fear of God, keep me safe, keep me close, bind me."
Warnings Essential to Standing in Faith
And therefore, the warnings are essential to standing in faith. He says in verse 20. Go back to Romans 11:20. It says "branches were broken off because of unbelief. And you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant but fear." Friends, we are making our way now as aliens and strangers in hostile territory, and we're not done with the journey.
Some time ago I read a book about a downed airman in the Vietnam War and what it took to get him back to safety. And what was really fascinating about this is this guy was in hiding, it took two weeks for him to get back out of enemy territory and helicopter pilots and other pilots were radioing him. He was never speaking back to them or else they could find out where he was, but they were radioing him saying, "There are enemy soldiers on your right. You can go straight now for 100 yards and then you need to hide in that cops of trees over there", etcetera. They were seeing the big picture and giving him warnings and those warnings were essential to his escape and deliverance back to safety. So it is with scripture. It sees the big picture and it warns you when you're turning left or turning right to keep in the straight and narrow and keep walking with Christ. Do not excuse yourself from the warnings that are essential to finishing your salvation journey.
IV. The Relief of Warnings in the Christian Life
We've seen the reality of warnings, we've seen the possible resistance to warnings in the Christian life. We've talked about the role of warnings. What about the relief of warnings?
How do we get relief? Remember John Newton put it this way in Amazing Grace, "Twas grace that taught my heart to" what? Fear. "And grace my fears relieved." I believe that that's a cycle that goes on the rest of your Christian life. This is how I think it works. God's grace gives us warnings in the Bible, the Holy Spirit presses them close to us and warns us of specific dangers connected to how we're living right now. We repent, we heed the warnings. We do a course correction and continue then to make progress in the faith. The Spirit assures us that we are God's children, he's pleased with us, our fears are relieved until the next new danger comes.
And so in this way fear and the warnings that produce the godly fear are essential to finishing our journey through enemy territory until we're safe and sound. In the text Paul gives us two ways to relieve fear in the text.
Consider & Continue
First consider and second continue. First in verse 22, "Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God. Sternness to those who fail but kindness to you." The word consider means literally see, look at it, gaze it. In a moment, we're going to, at the end of the Lord's Supper, sing, "When I survey the wondrous cross." Survey two aspects of God. What are the two things were told the survey here? The goodness and the severity of God. So many of us want a Santa Clause view of God, we like the goodness part. Consider therefore the goodness of God period. But that's not what the verse says. The verse says have a twin consideration. There are some types of folks that consider only the severity of God and they miss the goodness of God. There needs to be a balance in our meditation on God, we need to consider the goodness of God, his kindness, his grace to us in Christ, the fact that He never treats us as our sins deserve, the fact that he's like a loving father of the prodigal son welcoming us back any time we repent and come to him.
We need to consider the soft gentle grace and love of God. But we also need to consider the severity of God. His terrifying wrath against sin. We need to stimulate our fear of God's holy wrath and His sharp fatherly discipline. Why would you want to be disciplined by a God who controls every atom in your body and every circumstance of your life and who says everything is fair game when it comes to making you holy? Fear the discipline of God and don't sin. We need to consider it, we need to consider what God did when... What David felt when God struck Uzzah down. What the church felt when an Ananias and Sapphira died. We need to fear what God did to the natural branches when he stripped them off because they didn't believe in Jesus. We need to consider the severity of God. Secondly, we need to continue. It says in verse 22, "Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God. Sternness for those who fell, but kindness to you provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you also will be cut off." Continue means keep going. Keep walking by faith.
Keep repenting from sin, keep praying and seeking the face of the Lord, keep reading the Bible, keep going to church, keep witnessing, keep giving your ties and offerings, keep on living the Christian life, and the warnings will only be an encouragement to you, and they will not cause you fear.
1) Take all Biblical warnings seriously
What application do we take from this? Well, first, please take all Biblical warnings serious. Don't excuse yourself from any of them. Just because you believe once saved, always saved doesn't mean you're exempt from heeding God's warnings. Consider that the warnings are essential to God's finishing his good work in your life. Consider that you are prone to wander from God through sin, through the weakness of the flesh. Take every warning seriously and bring it to Christ, let Him assure you by His Spirit, that there's presently no danger in that issue. If not then, if he says there is danger, then repent, turn away from sin. And then maintain constant vigilance over that area of sin.
2) Learn to be humble about the power of sin
Secondly, learn to be totally humble about the grievous power of sin. When you see someone else fall into sin, do not gloat, do not boast, do not feel superior, do not feel smug, and don't excuse yourself from the matter. Rather learn to say, "There but for the grace of God go I, and probably will go I, except that God's grace works fear in me right now." Fear. Don't excuse yourself from any matter. Jonathan Edwards in his resolutions said This, "Resolved to act in all respects both speaking and doing as if nobody is as vile as I am. And as if I had committed the same sins or had the same infirmities or failings as others. And that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God." Where then is boasting over other sinners? It's impossible. Be totally humble about the sins of others. I yearn for First Baptist Church to be a deeply broken and contrite and humble church over the matter of sin. Only then will we be good evangelists and good counselors to one another.
3) Learn to meditate on all that God is
Thirdly, learn to meditate on all that God is. Learn to consider his goodness and learn to consider his severity, not just one or the other. Fourthly, stand by faith, moment by moment. Continue to feed your faith with the word of God. Stand by faith. Don't say, "I've done enough, I can now coast in my Christian life. I have achieved, I've arrived, I don't have anything more to do." Evangelize, fifthly, as a humble and broken hearted sinner, not like a self righteous Pharisee. And if I can speak a word to you parents. Parent like this, goodness and severity. Not just goodness, not just severity. That's how God parents us. There are some parents that are on the permissive side and want only a sweet and loving relationship with their children, and so they avoid the severity side. There are others that embrace the severity side, but omit loving general kindness toward their children. And I've said to my own children many times, I wish that God would give me an angel right now and tell me the amount of goodness and severity you need. Okay? 'Cause I'm happy to do either one. Happy to do the goodness, happy to do the severity, whatever it takes. But both of them are ingredients in good parenting just like they are in God's dealing with us.
4) Test yourself to see if you are in the faith
And finally, can I ask you to test yourself to see if you're in the faith? We're about to come to the Lord's Supper. I'd like you to take some time and pray while I come down. And while the elements are being passed out, take the opportunities to pray. Ask yourself if you're a Christian, ask yourself if you're born again, and if you're not, don't take the Lord's Supper. This is for believers who have testified to their faith through baptism.
But if you're in some kind of sin, I'd urge you not to take the Lord's Supper, but use it as an opportunity for humiliation and for repentance. And making it right perhaps with somebody, or dealing with the sin issue in your life. But don't imagine that the Lord's Supper is for sinless perfect people, it isn't. God came to give his son, his son gave his blood that we might be cleansed of all sin. So let's close now with prayer, and then we'll come to the Lord's Supper.