Tuesday, August 7, 2018

THE BRIDGE AND THE FENCE POST

To very many people, the things that this world has to offer have become so important that they give almost no thought at all to eternity. The entire sum of their thinking and planning concerns how they can extract the most pleasure and enjoyment out of the few years that they have alive on this earth.

But this perspective can change. One of the ways Jesus explained it is that it is like a new birth. When we were first born into this world and begin this life, most of our desires are conditioned to be for the world. We like the clothes, the cars, the electronic gadgets, and almost any other thing that the world has to offer. We save our money so that we can buy these things that we think will make us happy.

However, after we have been reborn into the kingdom of God, our desires begin to change.
We begin to see that the things that this world has to offer are dusty trinkets compared to the treasures that the Lord has prepared for us in eternity.

This new birth and this change of perspective and goals for living is a decision that each must make. It is never an easy decision, and it should not be taken lightly. However, once we have sincerely made the decision to become born again by the power of the work of Jesus, we have the promise of God that he will certainly bring us into his new kingdom.

Old Habits Die Hard

Nevertheless, even after we have experienced this new birth, we might be troubled with the fact that, at times, we continue to struggle with our old habits and with those old desires of the world. We find ourselves slipping back into old habits and our old ways of thinking. This is unsettling to us, and we cannot be content with this, but the fact that we have struggles should never cause us to wonder whether we are saved or not, or whether we have been born again into the kingdom of God.

Some people, troubled with this very issue, make the decision to be “born again” again every time they are given the opportunity. When their pastor or Sunday school teacher ask who would like to be saved, they raise their hand, even though they have already done this in the past.

These people do this, they say, “just to make sure.” It is like making two backup copies of some document you are writing on the computer, just in case one of the copies is corrupted.

It may be okay to do this with your document, but with our salvation, we should not live our lives full of doubt.

Our salvation is not based upon Windows operating system, but on the power of God. We should search our heart of hearts for the decision we want to make and then move ahead with faith that the Lord will bring us to our goal.

The Road to San Cristóbal

I once lived in a village called Rubio in the mountains of Venezuela. About twenty-five miles away from that town was a larger city named San Cristóbal. The road between the two towns is a curvy mountain road, which I drove nearly every day to teach at the Bible Institute where I was a professor.

The route is a very beautiful although very treacherous drive. In those days, it was also a main trading route for trucks coming from and going into Colombia. These were not 18 wheelers, but huge 22-wheelers. Because of the massive loads they were carrying, they had a third axle on the trailer. These gigantic trucks needed to navigate the many steep grades and hairpin curves, and to somehow maneuver their long trailers around the hairpin curves, trying to avoid getting a wheel over the edge of the narrow road and being dragged down over a cliff.

Almost every day on my drive, I would see at least one truck that was in trouble, either fairly minor or sometimes very serious. Over the course of my many travels, I saw perhaps five or six trucks that did not make some curve, and whose wreckage was lying far down at the foot of a steep cliff. There were many traffic deaths that took place on that road. Thankfully none of those deaths were my own.

Such are the hazards of this life. Our new life however, presents no such hazards. Nevertheless, we need to learn to live in the security that Jesus offers us.

The Metaphor of the Bridge

I first gave this talk about security in our salvation when I lived in that country of Venezuela, so I am going to imagine that I am still there. I could take many analogies and metaphors about life from that daily trip that I made on that road, but I think John Bunyan already used the venue of a journey on a road for an allegory, so I am going to make only one comparison.

But just like John Bunyan in his Pilgrim’s Progress, I am going to imagine that we are making the journey on foot. No one does this on that San Cristóbal road any more, but years ago, before cars were common they did, although not by the exact same route.

To go to San Cristóbal from Rubio, one must first walk down the hill from Rubio and cross the bridge that spans the river at the edge of the town. I would like you to imagine that you are in Rubio and decide one day to walk to San Cristóbal. The first thing that you do is descend the hill and cross the bridge that goes over the stream at the edge of town.

So that is what you do. Crossing the bridge, you are on your way on your journey.

 But you know how it is on a trip; you think about many things as you travel, and it might be that you pass a familiar landmark and not even notice it because your mind is occupied with other things.

So as you are walking to San Cristóbal, it suddenly occurs to you that you do not remember crossing the bridge on the bottom of the hill outside of Rubio. Sometimes when a doubt enters into one’s mind, it begins to grow. It is like when we begin to wonder if we remembered to shut off the coffee pot when we left the house. We know that the consequences of an unattended stove may even be a house fire, and we cannot get the possibility of this out of our mind.

In the same way, as you think about that bridge, neither can you get it out of your mind. You know that you cannot get to San Cristóbal without crossing the bridge at the bottom of the hill, but you simply cannot remember the moment that you passed it. A doubt enters your mind and you begin to wonder if you indeed had crossed it at all.

Just to make sure that you are on the right path, you think that you had better to go back and cross the bridge again. When you return, you saw that you indeed had passed it, but just did not remember doing so.

When I go back and check the coffee pot, I also usually find that I had shut it off.

But now that you have returned to the bridge, just to make sure you crossed it, you first walk back across it to the beginning, and then and cross it again. Now you are again happily on the road to San Cristóbal.

On the road, you meet a friend. Your friend greets you and asks you where you are going.

“I am on my way to San Cristóbal,” you answer.

“Did you cross the bridge?” he asks. “You know you can’t get to San Cristóbal without crossing the bridge.”

“Yes, I did,” you respond. “I even returned to cross it again—just to make sure.”

“That’s good,” he says. “Because if you are not absolutely sure, you may wind up in a place that you do not want to go.”

That word absolutely begins to bother you a bit. The mere fact that he used it creates a small question in your own mind.

“At least, I’m almost quite sure that I did,” you add in a more doubtful voice.

“Well” says your friend, “you had better be absolutely sure so that you are positive that you are on the right road. Perhaps you had better come with me back to the bridge and cross it so that you will be absolutely sure.”

 So you do.

But then, as you are again walking again toward San Cristóbal, you meet another friend and began to speak with him. “Where are you going?” says he.

…Well, you see what I mean.

Covering the Same Territory

This is why some Christians never make any headway in their lives. They are continually going back to cover the same ground. That is not what I am trying to do with this story.

What I am trying to do is to show you that sometimes we need something solid in our lives as a marker that demonstrates to us that we have begun our lives with Christ. We are on the road with the Lord and we are progressing in our walk. We need something in our lives that demonstrates our beginning and encourages us on our walk.

We need to bend down and pick up a stone from the bridge to help us remember that we had crossed it. Then, when doubts come, or when someone plants a doubt in our mind, we reach in our pockets and feel the stone that assures us that we indeed had passed that way and had crossed the bridge. We are on the correct path.

The Metaphor of the Fence Post

I grew up a dairy farmer, and I like stories from farms. I once heard of a farmer who constantly struggled with the question of his salvation. He would go forward in church services to say that he wanted to be saved. However, Satan would come to him and place doubts in his mind. Satan would say, “You got angry at your wife today for no reason. Surely you must not be saved. A Christian would not act that way.”

So the farmer went forward in the next church service. Then one day as he was working outside, Satan was telling him, “You aren’t saved. Look at the way you yelled at your kids this morning!”

Finally, the farmer had had enough. He told Satan to come behind the barn with him. The farmer took a big strong fence post and a post maul and drove the fence post deep into the soil behind that barn. Then the farmer said to Satan, “As firmly as I drove this post into the ground, Jesus Christ is in my life, and he shall not be removed.”

The next time Satan came to plant doubts in the farmer’s mind, the farmer did not even listen. He simply told Satan to go out in back of the barn to check if the post was still solid in the ground. It always was.

Sometimes what we need is a post driven solid in the ground of our lives that we can point to that is a witness to our salvation.

The Declaration

This is one of the reasons that, when the Apostle Paul was writing a letter to one of the churches of his time, he told them the importance of confession or of declaration. When he spoke of confession in this case, he was not talking about confessing sins or any bad thing that we have done, but Paul meant this kind of confessing as a way of telling or expressing to someone what God has done in giving you a new birth. Here is what Paul wrote:

"If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9 NAS)

The salvation that Paul is talking about has at least two aspects to it. The first is that we are saved from our sins, but there is also a second type of salvation to which I am referring to here. This act of declaring our belief with our mouth saves us from some of the doubts that may later come along concerning our security in the kingdom of God.

When we speak with our mouths what has happened to us, the fact of our salvation is planted more firmly in our minds and in our hearts. We tell someone else about our new life with Christ. When we do, the doubts cannot as easily come.

It is like picking up a stone from the bridge or pounding a fence post in the ground. We remember what we said, and it will also help us remember what God has done in our lives.

Baptism as a Declaration

Do you see that baptism is like that? I do not mean infant baptism. Infant baptism is a declaration of the parents that they will teach their child the truths of Scripture and of Jesus Christ.

But baptism as a youth or as an adult is our own declaration, at least it should be so.  By being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we are saying “I have given my life to Jesus and he shall not be moved.”

The Apostle Peter also spoke of this. I will not say that this is the entire meaning of what he meant when he said, “Baptism now saves you,” but it is partially so. He continues to explain that it is not the “removal of dirt from the body” that carries the meaning—it is not the physical act of the baptism.

Rather, it is “the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. Baptism saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1Peter 3:21).

The Lord’s Supper as a Declaration

In somewhat the same manner, this is also a significance of the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. Every time we eat the bread of communion and drink of the cup, we are proclaiming the death of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:26).

That is why Paul urges us to “examine ourselves.” Since we are proclaiming the death of the Lord, we must do so with a clean heart. This declaration of our faith in Christ, along with the self-examination of our lives, gives us confidence that we are on the correct path with God.

Confirming our Decision

Perhaps you have never given your heart to the Lord. To each of us is given the decision of beginning down this road of a life with Christ. The decision should not be a light one—indeed, it cannot be, because it is a call to a complete change in the motivations and goals of your life. It is a call to discipleship. Each needs to search his or her deepest heart with this decision. If what you truly desire is to be “born of the Spirit” as Jesus said, then the day that you do this will be a day to remember for the rest of your life.

Once the decision to follow Christ has been made, like the traveler on the road to San Cristóbal, or like the farmer, it would be a good to have something that will give you confidence for those moments when doubt tries to rob you of assurance. It may even be something physical, like a small stone or even a fence post, but the Apostle Paul teaches us that confession with our mouths is what can save us from doubt.

You should tell someone about the decision that you have made. Then you should become accustomed to speaking of this direction in your life. If you do that, if doubts should later come, you can remember what the Lord did in your life today.

“Jesus Christ is in my life—and He shall not be moved.”

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