When the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want for goodness and mercy

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” Psalm 23:6a

Satchel Paige, one of the best baseball pitchers to ever throw a baseball, and also one of the oldest, was asked the secret of his long and happy outlook. He replied, “Well, I never look behind me – cause you can never tell who’s comin’ up and gaining you.” Satchel seems to be saying, “Don’t think about tomorrow because it may be filled with trouble.” Some of us cannot look at tomorrow without worrying. Our tomorrows end up ruining our todays.

As a mature man, King David had learned to place his future in the hands of God. He writes, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (23:6a). In this last verse of the Psalm, David addresses his present and future life with God. In the first five verses he talked about his past experiences of God’s faithfulness. David had experienced God’s faithfulness at work in the past, and because of that, he had hope for the years to come.

Notice that God sends “goodness and mercy” to follow David. “Goodness” is receiving those things from God we do not deserve such as His forgiveness and love. “Mercy” is God withholding those things we do deserve such as His justice and punishment.

When David says “surely,” he is absolutely certain that God’s “goodness and mercy” would follow him all the days of his life. This is a remarkable statement when you consider all that David endured. This is the man who had to flee from King Saul (1 Samuel 18-26), and he was an adulterer and a murderer (2 Samuel 11-12). Under God’s discipline, he endured prolonged agony which included physical weakening and inward grief and guilt for almost a year (Psalm 32:3-5; 51:8); he watched his baby die (2 Samuel 12:15-23); his son, Amnon, raped David’s daughter, Tamar (2 Samuel 13:8-14); his son, Absalom, entered the royal harem (2 Samuel 16:22) and led a rebellion against David (2 Samuel 13-19);  and David endured a terrible plague from the Lord as a result of his sin of numbering the people (2 Samuel 24).

David was no perfect man and he had to endure several painful consequences for his sins. Yet David was certain (“surely”) that God’s “goodness” would follow him all of his life. God’s “goodness” provides for our needs. He knows about the hardships we face due to COVID-19. He knows about the doctor bill, the car in the shop, the mortgage that is due, the job that is needed, and the loneliness that weighs you down. Those of us who trust that God is good can be sure He will provide for these needs. God is a good Father and He will not spoil us by giving us all that we want.

For example, a good parent won’t give their child poison no matter how much he begs for it. You do what is best even when your child cannot understand. Ingredients of a cake include good and bad tastes mixed together to make a delicious cake. But some of those ingredients alone such as salt, baking soda, and flour are not pleasant to our taste buds. Our Good Shepherd uses good and bad events in our lives to help us become what He wants us to be (cf. Romans 8:28-29).

David was also sure that God’s “mercy” would follow him all the days of his life. “Mercy” refers to God’s compassion, forgiveness, help, kindness, and patience. God did not give David justice after he committed adultery and murder. He gave David mercy. Oh how much all of us need God’s mercy! If God gave each of us justice we would be condemned forever because God hates sin, and we all have sinned  (Psalm 45:7; Proverbs 6:16-19; 8:13; Isaiah 59:2; Zechariah 8:17; Romans 3:23; 6:23; Colossians 3:5-6; Hebrews 1:9; Revelation 2:6; 20:15). But God in His mercy pardons our sin the moment we believe in Jesus because of His death and resurrection (Acts 10:43; Colossians 2:13-14; Titus 3:5-7).

Surely “goodness and mercy” shall pursue me all the days of my life because God has never failed me in the past. “Surely” because God does not begin a work that He does not complete (Philippians 1:6). “Surely,” because the united testimony of all of God’s people agrees with David that our Good Shepherd never fails us nor forsakes us.

How would our lives be impacted when we wake up each morning if we were certain God’s “goodness” and “mercy” would follow us all day long? How would it influence our lives if we were convinced that God’s “goodness” and “mercy” would follow us tomorrow and the next day and the next day!?! God is not some cruel dictator in heaven just waiting to smack us with His holy hammer the moment we mess up. He is a good good Shepherd who longs to meet our daily needs and extend His mercy and compassion toward us.

The greatest expression of God’s goodness and mercy is seen in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, God’s “goodness” freely offers us what we do not deserve – His everlasting life and forgiveness through faith alone in Jesus alone (John 3:16; Acts 10:43). And because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, God’s “mercy” withholds the justice and punishment we deserve for our sins the moment we believe in Jesus (John 3:36; 5:24; Titus 3:4-7).

If you have never understood this, Jesus now invites you to believe or trust in Him as your only hope of heaven. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this” (John 11:25-26)? Jesus is not asking you to go to church or to clean up your life because He never said whoever goes to church or cleans up his life shall never die. He is not asking you if you pray or meditate every day because He never said whoever prays or meditates every day shall never die. Jesus is asking you, “Do you believe in Him alone?” because He said “whoever… believes in Me shall never die.” If your answer is “Yes,” Jesus guarantees you a future resurrection of your physical body which will never be subject to disease or death. And He also guarantees you life that never ends.

Prayer: Precious Good Shepherd, thank You for the certainty of Your goodness and mercy following me all the days of my life. No matter what happens in my life, I can be confident that Your goodness will provide for my daily needs and Your mercy will display Your kindness and compassion to me. Thank You for the greatest expression of Your goodness and mercy to me through the Lord Jesus Christ Whose death and resurrection make it possible for me to receive that which I do not deserve – Your everlasting life and forgiveness. Through Jesus, I also experience Your mercy which keeps me from experiencing what I do deserve – Your justice and punishment for my sins. Help me to live a “thank You” life for You now by honoring You with my lips and my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Does assurance of salvation hinder or enhance holy living?

22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed pure with water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:22-23

Before we study the verses above, let’s look at the verses preceding them. The Old Covenant animal sacrifices could not “perfect” its worshippers, but instead served as a reminder of sins since they could not remove sins or the guilt that accompanied them (10:1-4). Since these Old Testament sacrifices did not completely satisfy God’s demand to punish sin, Jesus Christ came to do God’s will (10:5-9) and has “sanctified” believers through His death “once for all” so that they are in a permanent state of being separated (“sanctified”) from their sin and guilt before God (10:10).

The author of Hebrews emphasizes that the perfecting of the sanctified believer is accomplished through the finished work of Christ (10:11-14). The writer quotes Jeremiah 31:33-34 to show that the final forgiveness which the New Covenant promised, and Christ’s death provided, meant that there was no other sacrifice which one could turn to for forgiveness (10:15-18).

Think about this for a moment. When you as a Christian sin against the Lord, are you confident that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for that sin and all you must do is confess your sin to restore your fellowship with the Lord (I John 1:9)? Or do you try to atone for your own sin by spending more time in prayer or Bible study? Do you try to earn God’s forgiveness by feeding the poor or volunteering at an orphanage or by going on a mission trip? Do you punish yourself with negative self-talk instead of resting in the punishment Jesus endured on the Cross in your place? The Bible says, “Now where there is remission [forgiveness] of these (through Christ’s sacrifice – 10:10-14), there is no longer an offering for sin” (10:18). If you turn to some other sacrifice whether it be your own or someone’s other than Jesus,’ your search for forgiveness is futile. Only Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to perfect us and give us total acceptance before God. God wants you to rest in His finished work on the Cross so you can now focus on living a life of faith for Him (10:22-23).

After establishing our total and unconditional acceptance before God on the basis of Jesus’ all-sufficient sacrifice on the Cross (10:1-18), the writer of Hebrews gives us two commands: “Let us draw near…” (10:22) and “Let us hold fast…”(10:23). Let’s look at each one.

We are to “draw near” to God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith” that Jesus Christ’s death has removed our guilt for sin, and has made us acceptable to God (10:22). We can have “full assurance” of our “faith,” since our confidence rests in the sufficiency of what Christ has done for us (John 19:30), not what we do for Him. Knowing that we are totally accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s sufficient sacrifice for our sins invites us to draw near to God without any doubts that we are truly saved and going to heaven when we die. God wants His children to know that they are forever His the moment they believe in His Son Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:12; I John 5:13). Having this complete assurance that we are God’s children empowers us to approach Him with a true heart, not a false or disingenuous heart that withholds our true selves from our Father in heaven. Because of God’s complete acceptance of us in Christ, we are free to present our true selves to God without fear of rejection or shame. Why? Because Christ’s sacrifice completely cleansed us inwardly of all guilt (“from an evil conscience”) and outwardly of all impurity (“our bodies washed with pure water”) so that there is no consciousness of sin or shame.

Many Christians are afraid to draw near to God because they are being taught that they must clean themselves up first before He will accept them. They are told to repent or turn from their sins before God will welcome them into His family. The nagging question they have is, “How many or which of my sins must I turn from before God will accept me?”

Imagine a child doubting that he or she was truly their parents’ son or daughter on the basis of their behavior!?! Think of the insecurities and fear that child would have. Instead of drawing near to his or her parents when struggling with sin or shame, he or she would hide their struggles and try harder and harder to overcome them, only to experience more defeat, fear, and shame. This is a terrible cycle of shame that God never intended His children to endure. Yet Christians are being taught this at many different levels within evangelical Christianity.

Christians are also being told that assurance of salvation keeps believers from living holy lives. In other words, if I can know I have everlasting life which can never be lost, then what is to keep me from living like the Devil the rest of my life? Doesn’t assurance of salvation give me a license to sin? The writer of Hebrews answers these questions in Hebrews 10 with an absolute “No!”

Total acceptance before God is based on the finished work of Christ alone (10:1-18) and trusting in His work alone (John 3:14-15). This truth is foundational for Christians to draw near to God (Heb. 10:22). We can draw near to God with a “true heart” because Christ’s sacrifice has removed our consciousness of sin and shame and has made us acceptable before God. Christ’s death has removed our inward guilt and outward impurity. We are no longer defined by our sin and shame, but by the love and light of Jesus Christ (Ephes. 5:2, 8). We can approach God boldly now because Christ’s perfect love which was manifested when He died in our place (Rom. 5:8; I John 4:9-10) casts out our fear (I John 4:18).

This assurance of salvation that is based on the finished work of Christ, enables believers to obey the second command: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (10:23). Being liberated from our sin and shame through Christ’s death on the Cross empowers us to persevere (“hold fast”) in our Christian faith. Instead of focusing on our past shame and failures, we can now focus on our future “hope” of receiving rewards from Christ “without wavering.” Why?  Because “He who promised is faithful.” Our faithfulness to God now is based upon His faithfulness to our future.

The writer of Hebrews warns, “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has a great reward” (10:35). To throw away one’s confidence or Christian confession (cf. Heb. 3:1, 14; 10:23) results in the loss of “great reward” which is synonymous with the promised inheritance-rest (4:1, 11: 9:15) and inheritance-salvation (1:13-14; 2:3; 5:9; 6:9; 7:25; 9:28; 11:27) of Hebrews which includes deliverance from Christ’s enemies (Heb. 1:13; 10:13) and sharing in His joyous reign (Psalm 2:7-9; Heb. 1:5-14; 12:1-:2; cf. 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:25-27).

In conclusion, Christ’s sufficient sacrificial death on the Cross (10:1-18) provides both the basis for our confident approach to God (10:22) and our persevering faith which will be richly rewarded (10:23). Instead of undermining holy living, assurance of salvation bolsters holy living by empowering us to draw near to God with boldness to receive the resources we need (“grace” and “mercy”) to finish our Christians lives well for the Savior (Hebrews 4:14-16; 12:1-2).

Prayer: Because of my total acceptance before You, Father God, through the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, I can now approach You with full assurance that I belong to You forever. Thank You for paying the penalty for all my sins when You died in my place on the Cross, Lord Jesus. There is no longer anything I need to do to earn Your forgiveness. Because of this complete acceptance before You, I am compelled to persevere in the faith knowing You are faithful to reward those who do so. Help me to give You my very best each day because You alone are worthy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.  

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