Is our past a hitching post or a guidepost?

14 If, however, he begets a son who sees all the sins which his father has done, and considers but does not do likewise; who has not eaten on the mountains, nor lifted his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel , nor defiled his neighbor’s wife…17 but has executed My judgments and walked in My statutes – he shall not die for the iniquity of his father; He shall surely live!” Ezekiel 18:14, 17

You are probably familiar with L. Thomas Holdcrofts’ quote, “The past is a guidepost, not a hitching post.” A hitching post is a post to which a horse (or other animal) is tied to prevent it from straying. Holdcrofts’ quote seems to imply that our past does not have to keep us from moving forward. Our past can help guide us in to the future by avoiding things we did in the past or repeating them if they help us go in the direction we want to go.

But in light of Ezekiel 18:14, 17, I would like to look at Holdcrofts’ saying in a slightly different way. Instead of the past referring to our own personal past choices, what if we were to think of it as the past involving our ancestor’s choices? Have you ever thought or felt that the sins of your ancestor’s are unavoidable? That you will repeat the same sinful and shameful things they did and said? You view your past as a hitching post which does not allow you to change or be different than your ancestor’s?

For example, I know of some Christian married couples who refuse to have children because they do not want to repeat the sins of their parents and grandparents. They are viewing their past as a hitching post which will be passed down to their children.

Ezekiel 18:14, 17 reminds us that we can learn from our ancestor’s sins and not repeat them with God’s help. Having wicked grandparents or parents does not guarantee that we and our descendants will be wicked. Through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), we can still choose to do what is right and teach this to our children and grandchildren. God can break the sin/shame cycle when we trust and obey Him. In other words, our past can be like a guidepost, not a hitching post, when we yield to God’s amazing grace.

We are loved beyond imagination!

“The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

Many Christians struggle with shame. At the core of their being, they believe they are unacceptable or worthless before God. They may know the doctrine of God’s unconditional love, but they do not believe it or experience it in the deepest part of their being. Deep down they think they have to earn His love or that God would never love them as they are. Shame-based lies keep them from opening up to God and others. Lies that say, “Nobody would love me as I am.” “I am basically a bad and worthless person.” “I cannot get my needs met by depending on others.” Satan uses shame to condemn us and isolate us from God and one another. 

Our verse in Zephaniah (3:17) reminds us that God wants us to sit in His presence so He can delight in us. After revealing God’s coming judgment upon the world (Zeph. 1:2-3:8), the prophet, Zephaniah, discloses God’s blessings to come upon His people (Zeph. 3:9-20) to motivate them to live for the Lord during a time of spiritual decline in their nation.

After defeating all His enemies (3:15), King Jesus will be in Israel’s “midst” like a “Mighty” Warrior to “save” them from harm (3:17a). Like a Bridegroom, King Jesus “will rejoice over” His people, Israel, “with gladness” and “He will quiet” them in the security of “His love” for them as His bride (3:17b). King Jesus “will rejoice over” His bride “with singing.”

God wants to celebrate who we are! “He will rejoice over you with singing,” not condemn us or shame us. He wants to quiet us with His love. 

The night before His death, Jesus shared a meal with His disciples (John 13:1-8). After the meal, Christ stood up from the table and displayed His incredible love. Like a common house slave, He wrapped a towel around His waste, poured water in a basin, and began to wash His disciples dirty and road-worn feet. Among those feet were Judas’s and Peter’s. One man would betray Him and the other would deny Him before the night was over. Still, Jesus knelt down before them.

Today, God’s love kneels down before us, wherever we are. And as He does, He urges us to bare ourselves before Him. Why? Because in seeing our naked selves – wicked, wounded, and weak – in the light of His love, we begin to understand Who He truly is. He is a good and merciful God. Only in our nakedness and vulnerability can we experience Jesus’ mercy, tenderness, and healing. In our nakedness Jesus does not shame us nor look down on us. He delights in us. 

As we realize that we are loved beyond imagination by Jesus, we discover that this alone is what defines us. We are His beloved. And because of this, we are free from the compulsion to be someone we are not. We are free from having to impress, manipulate, or attempt in our own unique way to earn love. We are free to be who we are in Christ:

– We are the salt and light of the earth (Matt. 5:13-14)

– We are the branches of the True Vine, channels of His life (John 15:1, 5)

– We are chosen and appointed to bear fruit (John 15:16)

– We are witnesses of Christ endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8)

– We are justified or declared totally righteous before God (Rom. 4:5; 5:1)

– We are free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1a, 34)

– We are assured all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28)

– We are free from accusation (Rom. 8:33)

– We cannot be separated from God’s love (Rom. 8:35-39)

– We are bought with the price of Christ’s blood; We belong to Him (I Cor. 6:19-20)

– We are members of Christ’s body (I Cor. 12:27) 

– We are ministers of reconciliation for Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-19)

– We are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)

– We are God’s co-worker (2 Cor. 6:1)

– We are His holy temple (2 Cor. 6:16)

– We are saints (Ephes. 1:1)

– We are chosen by God (Ephes. 1:4)

– We are accepted in the Beloved (Ephes. 1:6)

– We are redeemed and forgiven (Ephes. 1:7)

– We are seated next to Christ in the heavenlies far above all powers (Ephes. 1:20-21; 2:5-6)

– We are God’s workmanship or Masterpiece (Ephes. 2:10)

– We may approach God directly with confidence and freedom (Ephes. 3:12)

– We are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20)

– We can do all things through Christ Who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13)

– We are complete in Christ (Col. 2:10)

– We are hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3)

– We have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (I Tim. 1:7)

– We can find grace and mercy in time of need (Heb. 4:16)

– We are dearly loved children of God (I John 3:1-2)

– We are born of God; the evil one cannot touch us (I John 5:18)

Is your sin or God’s grace greater?

“Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Romans 5:20).

Whether we have spent more time in jail than in church, God’s grace is available to forgive our sins and remove all our shame. Which is greater? God’s grace or your sin? God’s grace is greater and stronger than your sin through the blood of Jesus Christ! If Jesus’ blood can wash away the sin of all nations from all time in all of history (Hebrews 9:14; Revelation 1:5; 5:9; 12:11), certainly His blood can wash away your sin and shame the moment you believe in Him for His gift of forgiveness and everlasting life (John 3:16; Acts 10:43)!

God is not uptight about our sin and shame. He still loved us even though we were undeserving, ungodly sinners without any strength to reconcile ourselves to Him. He did not wait for us to clean ourselves up before He died in our place. The Bible says, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). “Christ died for the ungodly,” not the godly. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ died for us “while we were still sinners,” not saints. The idea that we must clean ourselves up and stop sinning before we come to Christ is not found in the Bible! We must simply come to Christ as we are and He will cleanse and forgive us.

God’s grace includes everyone. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The word “whoever” includes both good people and bad people, godly people and wicked people.  When people start deciding who is deserving of God’s grace and who is not, they are cheapening His grace. The fact is none of us deserve His grace. We deserve God’s justice and punishment in the Lake of Fire (Romans 3:23; 6:23a; Revelation 20:15). So instead of pointing the finger at others, let’s give them God’s grace so they can discover that God is the God of second chance (Acts 20:24; Ephesians 4:32). He is in the business of forgiving and restoring guilty sinners with His grace.

How can I be sure that I have truly believed in Christ for everlasting life?

Nowhere in the Bible does God distinguish true faith from false faith. All faith is faith. If we believe in Christ for eternal life, then we know we have eternal life because Jesus guarantees it, “he who believes in Me has everlasting life,” (John 6:47). To doubt that we “truly believe” is to disbelieve Jesus’ promise. I either believe Christ’s promise or I don’t. If I do, I am saved. If I don’t, I stand condemned as one who “has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

The Gospel of John does not condition eternal life on whether one “really believes” or “truly believes.” Neither does he speak of “genuine faith,” “real faith,” or “heart faith.” All faith is the conviction of the truth of some proposition. What makes saving faith saving is not the amount or uniqueness of the faith, but whom your faith is in, and what your faith believes. Saving faith believes in Jesus Christ for everlasting life. Saving faith results instantly in eternal salvation because it believes in the right object: the promise of eternal life by Jesus Christ to every believer (John 3:15-18; 6:40, 47; et al). Therefore, those who speak of “false faith” or “head faith,” are reading into faith as the Scripture neither does, nor provides basis for doing.

The Bible gives us several examples of people who knew they believed in Christ apart from good works:

(Peter) “Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” John 6:69

“Jesus heard that they had cast him [former blind man] out; and when He had found him, He said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of God?’ Then he said, ‘Lord, I believe!’ And he worshiped Him.” John 9:35, 38

“Jesus said to her [Martha], ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’” John 11:25-27

“Then Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he [Ethiopian eunuch] answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’ ” Acts 8:37

(Paul) “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” 2 Tim. 1:12

Why was I John written?

“…That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” I John 1:3

The apostle John makes it clear that his purpose for writing this epistle is so his readers “may have fellowship with” the apostles (“us”) and with God “the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1:3). He is not writing to non-Christians to tell them how to get saved. He is writing to Christians to tell them how they can have fellowship or closeness with Christ.

So instead of saying that a Christian must “walk in the light” (1:7), “confess” his sin (1:9), “keep His commandments” (2:3), “love one another” (2:10, 3:14; 4:7, 21), “practice righteousness” (3:7, 9), and avoid “idolatry” (5:21) to get to heaven or know he is going to heaven, John is saying he must do these things to have fellowship (closeness) with Christ.

For example, one way for Christians to know that they have come to know Christ more intimately is by keeping His commandments (2:3). But even if you are not obeying the Lord you can still know you have eternal life because the only condition for eternal life is believing in Christ (John 3:15-16, 36; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; 20:31; et. al). However, you will not have assurance that you are growing closer to Christ if you are living in disobedience to His Word.

How can we have boldness on the battlefield of evangelism?

When the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he was under house arrest, chained to a Roman soldier. He asked for prayer to open his “mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” while he was “in chains” (Ephes. 6:18-20). What does this say about the apostle Paul when it comes to evangelism? He was afraid to share the gospel while guarded by Roman soldiers. He needed boldness from God to overcome his fear. This is the context in which Paul instructed Christians to pray (6:18) the whole armor of God found in Ephesians 6:10-17. The greatest spiritual warfare takes place on the battlefield of evangelism. If we are going to have boldness to share the gospel in a world that is hostile toward Christianity, we must pray “the whole armor of God.”   

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:10-17

Since our battle in evangelism is not against “flesh and blood,” but against the “spiritual hosts of wickedness,” we need the Lord’s power and strength “to stand against the wiles [schemings] of the devil” (6:10-12). Satan and his demonic armies are far too strong and wise for us to overcome on our own. We need the Lord’s power, strength, and weapons to defeat them. Our primary responsibility is “to stand” (6:11, 13-14) and to “put on” or “take up… the whole armor of God” (6:11, 13, 17). Failure to put on all of God’s armor leaves us vulnerable to spiritual attack and defeat. Paul then describes the armor that Roman infantrymen wore in the order they would put it on.

The first thing a soldier would put on his long tunic shirt was a “belt” (6:14b) to hold his breastplate and sheathe for his sword in place. The “truth” refers to God’s revealed truth and the truthfulness of the believer. This is foundational to spiritual victory. We cannot overcome the father of lies (John 8:44) apart from the truth of God’s Word (John 8:31-32). The lies of the enemy will quickly erode our defenses and discourage us from sharing the gospel.

The second piece of armor that a soldier put on was “the breastplate” (6:14c) which covered him from his neck to his thighs, and was normally made of bronze or chain mail. The breastplate protected his vital organs, particularly his heart. The “righteousness” refers to both being declared righteous before God at the moment of faith in Christ (Romans 4:5) and to righteous living after we are saved (Romans 6:11-14). Knowing we are covered with Christ’s righteousness at the moment of our salvation can protect us from Satan’s accusations and motivate us to live out that righteousness as we yield to the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1, 4-5). Living a consistent Christian life will give us more boldness as we witness to the unsaved. For example, when we witness to a non-Christian, we won’t be plagued with guilt or shame about living a double life if we are consistently walking in the Spirit.

Next the soldier put sandals on his “feet” (6:15) that were studded with sharp nails to give him better footing especially on a slippery battlefield. “The preparation of the gospel of peace” refers to a Christian being prepared to share the good news of Jesus that brings peace with God (Romans 5:1) and with one another (Ephesians 2:14-18). One of the obstacles that keeps Christians from sharing the gospel with unbelievers is not knowing what to say. We must become so familiar with the gospel of grace (John 3:16; Acts 20:24; I Corinthians 15:1-8), that we can share it at any time when God gives us the opportunity. This kind of grip on the gospel will give us sure footing when the Devil attacks us.

The fourth piece of armor was “the shield” (6:16) made of wood and rectangular (about 2.5 feet wide and 4 feet long), covered with a leather flame retardant. A Roman soldier used this to protect his entire body. Before a battle involving flaming arrows from their enemies, soldiers poured water on the leather shields to extinguish flaming arrows. Top priority (“above all”) is to be given to this piece of armor. The “faith” that provides this extensive protection from “the fiery darts of the wicked one” refers to trusting God’s promises in the heat of battle. Satan wants us to doubt the trustworthiness of God’s Word (cf. Genesis 3:1-5). For example, God promises to go before us and to be with us, never leaving us nor forsaking us (Deuteronomy 31:8). Satan wants to cast doubt on this promise to cause us to be afraid and discouraged.

Following the shield, the soldier took up “the helmet” (6:17a) to protect his head. This “salvation” probably refers to three types of salvation: our past salvation from hell (Ephesians 2:8-9), our present salvation from the power of sin (James 1:14-22), and our future salvation from the presence of sin (I John 3:2-3). Satan wants to cast doubt on a believer’s past, present, and future salvation so he is more vulnerable to temptation and defeat. But God wants to protect our minds from doubting His promises to save us from the penalty of sin in hell, from the power of sin now, and from the presence of sin in the future. The more secure we are in the salvation God guarantees, the more confidence we will have on the battlefield. The point of this piece of armor is that we are fighting from victory, not for victory.

The final piece of armor put on by the soldier was “the sword” (6:17b) which was short and two-edged, used to cut and stab in hand-to-hand combat. This was the only offensive weapon in Paul’s list of armor. “The word of God” refers to the spoken “word” (rhema) of God rather than to the written word. For example, Jesus spoke God’s Word to the devil when he tempted Jesus to sin, and the devil was defeated (cf. Matthew 4:1-11). This is “the sword of the Spirit” in that the Holy Spirit gives us the Scripture to speak to the devil when he attacks us on the battlefield of evangelism, so that he will flee from us and no longer disrupt the sharing of the gospel (cf. Matthew 10:19-20; James 4:7). Every Christian is to arm himself with the spoken Word of God through Scripture memorization. 

The way to put on the whole armor of God is “praying always…in the Spirit, being watchful” (6:18a). You can have more boldness on the battlefield of evangelism by praying the whole armor of God:

Belt of Truth – Protect me O God with the Belt of Truth. You are truth, Jesus, and in You and in Your Word I find truth. You are the foundation for all of life. Replace Satan’s lies with the truth of Your Word. Please empower me to be truthful and honest with You, myself, and others.

Breastplate of Righteousness – I pray the protection of the Breastplate of Righteousness. Keep my will, emotions and personality subject to Christ. Protect my inmost being from selfishness and self-pity. I will not believe the lies from Satan that I am no good or that I can be good enough to earn Your acceptance. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I have been declared totally righteous before You the moment I trusted Jesus. I am completely covered by the righteousness of Your Son so there are no grounds for my condemnation. Please manifest Your righteousness in my motives, words, thoughts and actions.

Shoes of the Gospel of Peace – Protect me from anything that would rob me of Your peace. Please enable me to be prepared to always share the gospel of grace with those who need Your peace. Give me Your compassion and alertness for those who do not know You. Help me to see the lost through Your eyes of compassion.

Shield of Faith – Protect me from the flaming arrows of the evil one. Extinguish anything Satan has to give out as I place my faith in the promises of Your Word. Help me to realize who I am in Christ and to appropriate faith in all situations. I can trust You, Father, because You are faithful to keep Your Word and You are in control of all things. Thank You, Father.

Helmet of Salvation – I pray the protection of the Helmet of Salvation on my head. Satan is out to trick me into doubting my salvation, but I am God’s child by grace through faith in Christ alone and Jesus is more powerful than Satan. He will never abandon me. He lives in me to give me the power to say “no” to sin and “yes” to God. He will take me safely to heaven. I ask for the protection of my mind from Satan’s lies and that I would take every thought captive unto Jesus Christ. The helmet of salvation is a sign of victory in Christ over sin, death, and Satan. Thank You, Father that I am fighting from victory, not for victory!

Sword of the Spirit – I am protected and have all power through Jesus Christ and through the sword of the Spirit, the Bible. Holy Spirit, please open my eyes to see wonderful things in Your Word! I will be in Your Word and memorize Your Word so that I may stand firm against the evil one. Holy Spirit please give me the words to speak to the devil when he attacks me on the battlefield of evangelism so that his lies and deceptions are exposed and defeated. I pray the power of the Holy Spirit is ignited in my life, so that Christ may live His life through me today and every day. Thank You Father for the freedom I have in You!

What does it mean to “walk in the light” (I John 1:7)?

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” I John 1:7

The apostle John is writing to Christians so they may have fellowship or have closeness with God and one another (1:3-4). One of the conditions for fellowship with God is to “walk in the light as” God “is in the light” (1:7). Notice John says to walk “in” the light, not “according” to the light. Walking “according” to the light would refer to sinless perfection as a condition for fellowship with God. But the preposition “in” refers to walking in the sphere of God’s light. In other words, to have fellowship with God we must be open and honest with Him as we walk in the light with Him.

Like a man walking in the sphere of light produced by a street lamp at night where he can see any stains on his clothing, so believers are to walk in the sphere of light that God gives us through His Word and His presence. As I walk in the light in which God dwells (“as He is in the light”), His light will reveal any unconfessed sin in my life. I then have a choice to make. I can either agree with God and confess my sin (1:9) or I can disagree with God and deny my sin. Denying my sin will cast me into the darkness of broken fellowship with God. Confessing my sin will enable me to maintain close fellowship with God.

When we are open and honest with God, the Bible says we will “have fellowship with one another.” The “one another” refers to God and us in the context. How can sinful believers enjoy fellowship with a holy God? The last part of the verse explains. “And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Right now you and I are not aware of all the sin that is in our lives. But God knows about it. And being the gracious and merciful God that He is, He does not reveal all our sin at once. If He did, we would be so overwhelmed by all our sin it would probably kill us on the spot. But the reason we can enjoy closeness with our holy God even though we have all this unknown sin in our lives is because the blood of Christ cleanses us of “all” that sin. So no matter how badly or often we have sinned, the blood of Jesus is sufficient to cleanse us of all our sins.

It is important for Christians to understand that it is not their responsibility to uncover their own sin. They may have overly sensitive consciences and are worried that they have unconfessed sin in their lives, so they spend a lot of time examining themselves instead of focusing on the Lord. The Bible makes it clear that it is God’s responsibility to reveal our sin to us through the Holy Spirit and God’s Word (cf. John 16:8-11; 2 Timothy 3:16). But it is our responsibility to be open and honest with God when He does point out the sin that is in our lives so we can confess it to Him. The Bible promises that when we do confess our sin to the Lord, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9).