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God’s Salvation Is Past Our Knowledge

January 15th, 2020

But I will hope continually
and will praise you yet more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
of your deeds of salvation all the day,
for their number is past my knowledge.
With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come;
I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. (Psalm 71:14-16 ESV)

David, the inspired psalmist, is caught between his enemies and his failures but he lifts up his eyes to his God, his Rock, “Be to me a Rock of refuge to which I may continually come” (Psa. 71:3). He leans heavily upon the salvation of God, realizing that it is greater than he could ever know.

Whatever is revealed to us of God’s salvation, whether it is biblical truth — what His word says — or personal experience — our sins that we know and deliverances from our personal circumstances — in all of this, God’s salvation is greater than we know. God’s graces to us are innumerable.

You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told. (Psalm 40:5)

As God’s graces to us have a past tense — in Christ Jesus, He has forgiven my sins of the past, a present tense — in Christ Jesus, God is protecting me today, and a future tense — in Christ Jesus, God will watch over me for all eternity, so our knowledge in each of these tenses is incomplete, both of our need and of His grace to us. We may simply rejoice and say, as Paul said, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Rom. 5:20).

My confession of my sins has never been complete. It is a humbling thought to realize that I have never known my sin fully. I have only confessed my sin as the Spirit has convicted me (John 16:8-11 and 1 John 1:9-10). If my salvation depended on me bringing all my individual sins — unholy thoughts, careless words, undisciplined choices — I could never attain it. The same is true for you and as much as we may try to confess all our sins, we will fall short. 

However, less I be misunderstood here, we ought to try to confess them to God. As the Spirit convicts, we ought to confess individual sins to God – specific thoughts, words, acts, etc. The bland blanket confession, “forgive us our sins,” may be uttered merely out of habit or routine, and have no meaning behind it at all. Until the idea of sin is attached to something specific that you and I have thought or done or said, we have not even begun to understand that we are sinners in need of God’s grace.

But God’s grace has always been complete toward me. His grace always exceeds our sins, always goes beyond what we could think of, or remember. 

The Sacrifice of Two Goats: There is a very clear and picturesque description in Leviticus 16 of how God, through His grace, forgives us both of the sins we know and the sins we do not know in our lives. 

In Leviticus 16 is a description of the Day of Atonement. On that day the high priest was to sacrifice two goats for the sins of the people. The first goat, after it was killed, he was to take the blood into the Holy of Holies, “behind the curtain” (Lev. 16:15), and sprinkle it seven times over the “mercy seat” of the Ark of the Covenant. This was to forgive all sins, even those unknown of by Israel.

In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. (Lev. 16:16 NIV)  

The NIV uses the phrase “whatever their sins have been,” and several other translations use the phrase “all their sins,” but the meaning is the same. This was a sacrifice for all sins, known or unknown. 

And this sin offering prefigured Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary and the spiritual altar in heaven before which He presented Himself as the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12 NIV)

Again, we see the emphasis on a timeless and limitless redemption. Repenting of our sin and trusting in Christ brings His grace to us that completely covers our sins, known and unknown by us, and covers them forever. 

The second goat was the scapegoat, as both Tyndale (1530) and the King James Version (1611) interpreted it in Leviticus 16:26, thus coining the word in English of someone who bears the blame for another. The passage reads:

And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:21-22 KJV)

The scapegoat carried away known sins, because the high priest confessed the sins of the people, the sins that he knew of. And the scapegoat was let go in the wilderness. 

There is meaningful imagery for us in this of forgiveness existing both on the spiritual or divine plane and on the physical or human plane. The first goat whose blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, behind the curtain, symbolizes forgiveness on the divine plane. The sin unknown by us is atoned for in the presence of Holy God, and it is entirely covered by the blood of Christ. That is forgiveness on the divine plane and it is mystical, complete, and goes beyond what we could ever envision. This is grace greater than our sins.

The forgiveness on the human plane, however, is symbolized by the scapegoat. And the goat was taken out into the wilderness but he was also known to wander back into the camp. The sins that we know do that in our lives. We confess it to God and feel the forgiveness, then after a while the goat wanders back into the camp, and we wonder if God ever truly forgave us. 

If we have full forgiveness in Christ over the sins that we do not know we committed then surely God is also able to forgive us of the sins that we know we have committed — and I suspect there are many, many more of the unknown sins in our lives than there are of the ones we do know we have committed.  When we are doubting that God has truly forgiven us for the sins we know about, be encouraged that God who knows infinitely more about both sin and our own lives, says to us:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18) 

 

Forgiveness, Psalms

Our Integrity toward God

December 9th, 2019

In my integrity You uphold me and set me in Your presence forever. (Psalm 41:12 BSB)

Psalm 41 is one of those prayers of David where he cries out to God because of his enemies. Let us not forget that David was in a unique position, and as king he was surrounded by those who sought favors, and if not granted wished and perhaps schemed for his downfall. Always in this world, earthly places of power are filled with scheming and corrupt people. And even in the church these realities exist, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).

The Peace of God amidst Conflict

Most of us do not have as many hateful enemies as David had, and to always think that we do can turn us into narcissistic paranoids. Most of us are not on the minds of others all the time, or the foci of their hatred and jealousy. But we all have someone(s) who wish us ill-will, or at least we are familiar with the feeling. It is impossible to go through life without having some conflict with others.

David’s example of taking these to God in prayer, of admitting plainly his own sins to God – “O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against You” (Psa. 41:4) – and putting these accusers before Lord, asking for His protection, is a wonderful pattern for all of us to follow. If the friction is due to our own sins against them, or our unkindness or our silence that has perpetuated the division, then we should take every step we can to span this chasm and make peace with them. Christ said that even in the act of worship, if we know that our brother has something against us, we should leave our gift there and go and be reconciled to our brother first, and then come and offer our gift (Matt. 5:24-26).

If you and I have people who are troublesome to us, and we cannot seem to make peace with them, then we should take them to the Lord in prayer and give them to Him. And if we do not, then the words of James convict us, “You have not because you ask not” (James 4:2). We should let God be our protector and our avenger, as the scripture says: “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: ‘Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord'” (Rom. 12:19).

Integrity

But the verse above is David affirming that God upholds him in his integrity. Integrity is not the same as sinlessness, for David has already confessed his sins. Rather David is describing the sincerity of his heart toward God. “Integrity” in English comes from the word “integer” meaning a whole number. It fundamentally means wholeness or completeness. The word in Hebrew, tom, means the same. It is the opposite from a conflicted or divided heart.

It was used twenty-four times in the Hebrew Old Testament and always meant wholeness, fullness, uprightness, or integrity. For examples:

“He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out” (Prov 10:9).

“The way of the LORD is a refuge to the upright” (Prov. 10:29).

“I will ponder the way that is blameless … I will walk in my house with integrity of heart” (Psalm 101:2).

Someone with integrity remains committed to the work of God in his heart and life. He (or she) is quick to confess his sins when he disobeys the Lord, whether the disobedience is in thought or in words or in action.

David also instructs us at the beginning of this psalm that Christian integrity is not neutral or defensive in nature, but it has a positive force of going out into the world and seeking to do good. His psalm starts out: “Blessed is he who cares for the poor; the LORD will deliver him in the day of trouble” (Psalm 41:1). Not even the king would be right to pray that God sustains him simply because he was the king. No. Integrity means faithfulness in heart toward the calling of God, and in sincere service to that calling.

Struggles with Integrity

There is not a one of us who does not struggle in some way with this issue of whole-hearted commitment to the will of God. Even when doing the “big things” in the fulfillment of our Christian calling, we can be tripped up with impatience in “little things.” We can become irritable and impatient with others with minor failings, or who merely seem to make our way a bit harder to walk. But this is the standard of God and we find no other lessor standard. As often as we fail, we must pick ourselves up from the ashes and let the Spirit instruct us on what we need to do differently, confessing our sins and receiving God’s cleansing, and continue on in following Christ.

To do the right thing (God’s will) in the right way (God’s graciousness) and for the right reason (God’s glory) is the Christian’s integrity. And there is peace and protection in doing so. Do not make the indicator of your success as a Christian to be such things a holding positions in church or in a Christian organization. Wherever selfish ambition rears its ugly head it can do harm to the work of God. Rather keep your eyes on Christ and do what He commands you to do in your heart. God will notice and use you and reward you in His way and in His time.

Psalms