Page 2 of 150

Have you ever walked out of your house without your keys, wallet, or phone? How many times? I’ve lost county how often I’ve done that. Have you ever forgotten someone’s name? An appointment? A promise?

Memory is something precious and vital. Today, memory clinics assist in the diagnosis and response to dementia and Alzheimer’s. Centuries ago, teachers and communicators would memorize significant portions of classical writings and wow their students with impeccable memories.

For most of us today, we remember what we value (a person’s name, sports statistic, or even subject in school). We have many memory aids today. Our smart phones store names, numbers, and calendars. Our laptops and tablets keep our notes and documents. These advances are helpful tools. But even so, we have trouble with our memory.

The things we want to remember, we forget, but the things we want to forget, we always remember.

While we forget some things (appointments and names), we find it very difficult to forget other things. Do we forget the grudge we are holding against that other person? Do we forget the angry word or response to a spouse or child? Do we forget the images of the forbidden pictures we’ve looked at? And these are just a sample of the sinful things we find it hard to forget.

We find it very difficult to forget the pains and wrongs done to us. Do we forget the slight of someone who is supposed to care about us? Do we forget the misdeed or mistreatment from a loved one? Do we forget the pain caused by mean or abusive behavior? Some things done to us we find it hard to forget.

The things we remember whether what we’ve done or what others have done to us too often shape our self-perception and identity. Often, these identity related self-perceptions are lies. Here are some lies we are tempted to believe: We are not worthy of love because of the way we were treated. We must deserve the anger, hate, and vitriol spewed by the person who is supposed to love us. We can’t forgive ourselves of our misdeeds, so we must be unforgivable.

But these are lies. We must learn to believe what God says to us and about us.

In the New Covenant quoted by the writer of Hebrews from Jeremiah 31, God says the following about us:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

Hebrews 8:8-12

God says that he will make a new covenant with his people. God says that he will make his people new, putting his law in our hearts and minds. God has that his people will know him “from the least to the greatest.” God says that he will show mercy and “remember their sins no more.”

We are recipients of the New Covenant and these promises if we have trusted in Christ alone to be our Savior. And if we have become a part of his people, his family, then God has chosen to “remember our sins no more.”

The truths of this passage encourage us in some very important ways.

  • If God remembers our sins no more, then our identity must not be found in our sins. Too many of us are holding too tightly to the sins of our past. We either do this because we don’t think we deserve anything better (a form of self-punishment) or because we don’t really want to put our sins in the past (a form of self-temptation). Yes, we are sinners (see Romans 3:23), but we are also saints (1 Corinthians 6:11) who have been sanctified and set apart for God as new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Stop beating yourself up because of your past and start believing what God says about you.
  • If God remembers our sins no more, then our identity will one day go far beyond the pains and sins done to us. Too many of us are bound and enslaved by the abusive and sinful behaviors that we’ve experienced. Please read carefully. I do not suppose that this post is a simple answer to your emotional and psychological sufferings. But do read this. You are not defined by how others have treated you. If God can choose to forget our sins, then there is coming a day and time in eternity when our sufferings, pains, and abuse experiences will no longer enslave us. Heaven is our future, God is enthroned in heaven, and your suffering will have no sway over there. To those who have experienced abuse and suffering at the hands of others, let me encourage you to talk to someone. Confide in someone you can trust. Maybe see a counselor. You don’t have to navigate your sufferings and experiences alone.
  • If God remembers our sins no more, then we need to forgive others and ourselves. God is the only truly, legitimately, holy being in all the universe. Every sin ever committed is an affront to his holiness. And the glory of our God and his gospel is that he sent his Son Jesus to pay for our sins, to cleanse us, and to offer us redemption. If God, through Christ can and does forgive our sins, then we must not withhold forgiveness from someone else (Matthew 6:12-15). If God through Christ can and does forgive our sins, then we must forgive ourselves. We only harm ourselves when we fail to forgive–ourselves or others.

So remember this:

God will never forget his promises, but he chooses to forget the sins he has covered through Christ.

That is our God. And that is who we are through Christ.

Photo by Robert Linder on Unsplash

Over the last couple of Sundays at our church,we’ve worked through Hebrews 6. This chapter has been notoriously difficult to interpret for scholars, commentators, and preachers. If you wonder what I mean, take a few minutes and read through the chapter.

A variety of interpretive solutions have been suggested. I landed in the camp that believes the audience are genuine believers who if they “fall away”from Christ would lose rewards in heaven and spiritual blessings on earth. If you’re interested, here’s a link to the service and sermon on the subject. I may be wrong about my interpretation of the text, but here is commentator David Allen making a case for this view:

Three things seem clear in the New Testament. First, genuine believers are eternally secure in their salvation. The sheer weight of evidence in Hebrews and the entire New Testament supporting this doctrine is unavoidable. A key text is 1 John 2:19: “they went out from us because they were never of us.” Speaking about this verse, D. A. Carson correctly stated, “genuine faith, by definition, perseveres; where there is no perseverance, by definition the faith cannot be genuine.” Second, there is no question that apparent believers who are not yet genuine believers can commit apostasy. This too is taught in the New Testament. It is just not taught in Heb 6:6. True apostasy is reserved for the unsaved. However, believers can “fall away.” It is unhelpful and confusing to use the word “apostasy” to describe what genuine believers do when they rebel against the Lord and commit sin due to the technical meaning the term has developed. Third, Christians can commit serious sin without being disqualified from eternal life. Part of the problem with some interpretations of Hebrews 6 is a failure to distinguish between totally renouncing Jesus and/or faith in Jesus by those who were never genuinely converted and failing Jesus on the part of those who are genuinely saved. People who call themselves Christians and yet sin without regret or desire to change show that they have never been genuinely converted. Christians sometimes do commit serious sins without being disqualified from eternal life. Examples include David, Peter, and some of the Corinthian Christians at the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:17–22). First Corinthians 3:1–3 affirms that carnal believers exist. Such immaturity and carnality is challenged by Paul with stern language. However, Paul does not question their salvation. He rather addresses them throughout as genuine believers. Carnal Christians are poor examples of Christians, but they are Christians. Likewise, the author of Hebrews addresses his readers as genuine believers, but they were immature spiritually (Heb 6:1). He warns them to press on to maturity, but even in the harsh words of Heb 6:4–6, he does not indicate they are not genuine believers. Hebrews 6:4–6 does not teach apostasy, in the technical theological sense of ultimately denying Christ, on the part of believers (the Arminian position) or apostasy on the part of those who are not genuine believers (the Calvinist position). Hebrews 6:1–8 is not a soteriological passage; it is a sanctification passage, as is made clear from the context.

David Allen, Hebrews: The New American Commentary, 389-90.

Whether you agree with me and Allen above, Hebrews 6 does address the security of the believer. The writer of Hebrews goes on to state that he “feels sure of better things–things that belong to salvation” for his readers (6:9). Any reading of Hebrews 6 invites readers to examine their lives and consider the significance of the warning. Hebrews is full of warnings about: drifting away (2:1-4), continuing in unbelief and falling away (3:12-13), falling into disobedience (4:11), becoming dull of hearing and falling away (5:11-6:4-8), neglecting to gather regularly and deliberately sinning (10:24-31), and rejecting the warning about judgment and heaven (12:25-29). The validity of these warnings should motivate believers toward self-examination and intentionally reorienting our eyes and life on Christ.

So, as we read these warnings and consider our salvation, how can we be sure we are saved?

I would commend to you passages like John 10 and the letter of 1 John for a more in depth, biblical treatment of assurance. In short, since it is God’s work through Christ that earns our salvation, our labors or lack thereof cannot bring about the loss of what God made possible through Christ. I believe the Bible teaches that genuine faith perseveres (see Allen’s quote of D.A. Carson above).

But the perseverance of our faith and the assurance of our faith are not necessarily the same. John the Baptist doubted Jesus’ identity after Herod imprisoned him (Matthew 11:2-19). Charles Spurgeon, famed pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London in the 1800s suffered periods where he doubted his salvation.

So how do we experience assurance? Author and pastor Greg Gilbert in his book Assured, encourages his readers to seek assurance of salvation in the following 4 ways. The first two he defines as the driving sources of assurance: the gospel of Jesus Christ and the promises of God. The third is the supernatural source of assurance: the witness of the Holy Spirit. And the fourth is the one we go to most often, but is only a confirming source: the fruits of obedience in our Christian lives. Gilbert’s book is helpful, and if you or someone you know is struggling with assurance, I would commend it.

Practically, Gilbert reminds us of the importance of focusing on God and Christ rather than on ourselves.

The more trustworthy and faithful you learn God to be, the more you will trust him and the more certain you will be in that trust. What this means, in the most practical terms, is that you need to take specific action to remove your eyes from yourself and plant them on God. Read books about God, about theology, about who God is and what he has done, and read them for God’s own sake—to know him and love him and stand in awe of him—not just for the sake of figuring out what ‘applicational nugget’ you can walk away with. Meditate on God’s trinitarian nature, even if you can’t see an immediate application. Dwell on the intricacies of sacrifices and atonement, even if those details don’t seem ‘relevant.’ As you broaden your vision of God, you will find your love and awe of him deepening. And the result will be that you will trust him more. Your certainty that he will move heaven and earth to keep his promises will solidify. Even more, make sure you are a vital contributing member of a local church. Gather with brothers and sisters who are themselves engaged in the fight, sing hymns of praise to God, hear his Word read and preached, lift up your voice with them in prayer. What you will find is that fellowship with other believers will remind you of God’s promises, spiritually stabilize you, and reinvigorate you to continue the fight. Often the very best way to deepen our assurance of salvation is to peel our eyes off ourselves and put them on God and his people.

Greg Gilbert, Assured, 142-3.

We can know we are saved by believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ, trusting the promises of God, and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Gilbert is correct to connect assurance to the concrete rather than the subjective. When Jesus confronted John the Baptist’s doubt, he told John’s messengers, “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:5). He didn’t tell John to remember the day when he announced Jesus or to reflect on his “coming to faith.” He told John to reflect on the concrete miracles. Have a re-read of Hebrews 6. The writer feels sure of better things because God is not unjust and will not overlook the love and service of the church to one another (Hebrews 6:10).

Have more questions? Read through 1 John. Buy and read a copy of Assured by Greg Gilbert. Talk to a pastor or church leader who can help you discern the gospel of Jesus Christ and the promises of God.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash