Here We Go Again

 by Tom Wacaster

Maybe its my age, or perhaps the sensation that time passes so quickly, and the older we get the faster it seems to fly by. It seems to me that I wrote on this subject just last week. Has it been four years since we elected (or re-elected) our President? Has it actually been that long? Last week we officially entered into the season of political ads, presidential and vice-presidential debates, and volatile discussions at the local coffee shop, peppered no doubt by the distortions of the media so as to present their favorite candidate as far superior to the one who might have won the other party’s nomination. My dad has pointed out that the goals of a politician are two-fold: (1) Get elected, and (2) get re-elected. Everything else is subservient to these two self imposed goals. I must confess that this year’s primary races for both parties has been unique (if I can use such a mild term). Some of you might find yourselves thinking with me, “Here we go again!” Having almost completed the three score and ten years referred to by Moses (Psalms 90:10), I have come to appreciate even more the sentiments of that great prophet as he stretches the 70 years to a full eight decades and concludes, “Yet is their pride but labor and sorrow; For it is soon gone, and we fly away.” I have lived through the Presidency of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (George H.W.), Clinton, Bush (George W), and Obama, though I scarce remember the policies, practices, or popularity of the first two. Good Presidents have come and gone, and bad Presidents have been endured by the people who anxiously look forward to that time when their voice can be heard in the voting booth once again. I have had the privilege of voting in every Presidential election since Lyndon Johnson. If my calculations are correct, I have, in my fifty some years as a part of the electorate of this country, been exposed to more than 4,000 political ads over the years, and pulled the lever to cast my vote, some twelve times.   So, I feel that what I am about to say is at least worthy of some consideration by those of us who will be voting in this year’s upcoming election as we select yet another man (or woman, as the case may be) to serve in the capacity of President of these United States.  May I suggest that you take into consideration the following thoughts as you walk into that booth and cast your vote for who will fill the most important office in our troubled world. We have only three months in which to educate ourselves as to the character of the person and what we can expect if he/she is elected to the office. 

First, the Christian takes into that voting booth something that others simply do not possess: the principles of truth and righteousness set forth in the Bible.  The Psalmist said that the word of God is his “light” and “lamp” (Psa. 119:105).  When the child of God steps into that voting booth, he uses that light to roll back the curtain that might otherwise hide the truth about the candidate’s policies and promises that are so often overlooked on the campaign trail.  Every promise that each candidate made, every policy to which he holds, is to be measured in the light of God’s word; not the emotions of the heart. 

Second, when the child of God enters that booth he takes with him the realization that he will answer to God as to the choice he makes. Since the time we were small children we have been reminded again and again that every single American plays a vital role in governmental affairs. This is a government of the people. Hence, every American has an influence on who sits behind that desk in the Oval Office. Since our vote plays a part in who fills the office of President, then it behooves us to vote with the realization that God is watching over our shoulder when we pull that lever or punch that card. Were Christ to stand beside you as you cast your vote this coming November, how would YOU vote? If we are instrumental in putting an ungodly man and/or woman into office, then we will answer to God for the part we played in the process. 

Third, each party and candidate should be measured in the light of what God’s word teaches. For a moment, let us simply ignore party names. Instead let us simply call them party “a” and party “b.” It is an undeniable truth supported by public proclamation, and party dogma, that one of these parties supports homosexuality as a way of life, abortion on demand, and has supported such liberal and immoral organizations as the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the National Gay and Lesbian organization. The other party opposes abortion (at least for now), believes in the Biblical design for the home and the sanctity of marriage, and seeks to maintain  the moral and ethical values of the founders of this country.  When you step into that booth, the child of God will not in any way, form or fashion, pull that lever in favor of a candidate or party that opposes all that is holy and godly. 

Finally, it is becoming increasingly evident that we may very well have to chose between the lesser of two evils, so far as the Presidential candidate is concerned. Personally speaking, I cannot recall an election season in which both candidates from the two leading parties have such a negative favorable rating among the electorate.  The latest statistic I read indicates that almost 70% of the American voters do not like either candidate, and, if given a viable choice, would break with the two party system and elect an independent.

The late Clarence Darrow once said, “When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it.” If the unholy and ungodly element in our society manages to take control of the major branches of our government, then the words of Clarence Darrow take on a whole new meaning.  As you consider the “pool” of Presidential possibilities, keep these thoughts in mind.  Keep in mind that this year’s election is a crucial point in our history as a nation.  Please, don’t approach this year’s election with the ho-hum attitude of, “Here we go again.”

Fruits Of Repentance

By Tom Wacaster

When John came baptizing in the wilderness, there were Pharisees and Sadducees who came desiring to be baptized. John called them an “offspring of vipers” (Matt. 3:7), due no doubt to their reputation of hypocrisy and wickedness. It makes no difference how John could so discern their spiritual state; he just did. I want to focus on John’s instructions to these hypocritical religious leaders of the day: “Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:9). It was not enough for these leaders to simply “respond to the invitation,” and then go on living in the same manner as before. In fact, it would appear that John refused to baptize them until they produced such fruits of repentance. There is much to be learned from this incident.

Some years ago I had preached a sermon on repentance, and made the point that repentance involves restitution as far as is humanly possible. Specifically I pointed out that if a man stole a horse from his neighbor, he was required to return that horse. After the sermon one of the members approached me and said that restitution is not essential. He was arguing that if a man repents and prays for forgiveness, then all is forgiven. He used a typical (but flimsy) argument that goes something like this: “Well, if you kill a man, you can’t restore him to life? Or what if you stole the horse and the horse dies? Or what if the owner dies? You can’t restore it to the original owner.” Surprisingly there are a growing number of brethren who have bought into Satan’s lies and are making the same arguments on various issues facing the brotherhood in the last twenty years or so. One area is which this unsound reasoning is being used is in dealing with the issue of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. The argument, in my estimation, is weak at best, and strained in its application. The Biblical teaching seems clear to me: if a man has stolen a horse he must return it; if he has been living in adultery in an unscriptural marriage, he must quit it! Why is that so difficult to understand? Proponents of divorce and remarriage for any cause often advocate that when a person, or persons that have previously been married and divorced come to learn and obey the gospel, that they can, with God’s blessings, remain in the marriage relationship in which they now find themselves. They base their misguided conclusion on a failure to understand the nature of repentance and all that is involved in bringing forth “fruits of repentance.” The Greek word for repentance is not just a call for sorrow. In fact it is “godly sorrow” that produces repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). One of the best definitions of repentance that I have come across was that of Johannes Behm in Kittle Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. I share a portion of what he wrote on the subject. He wrote that repentance is “final and unconditional decision…radical conversion, a transformation of nature...a turning to God in total obedience...It embraces the whole walk of man.” In view of the very meaning of repentance, how can anyone believe that they can simply express sorrow without making a radical change in their life?

What, then, did John mean when he demanded of the Pharisees and Sadducees that they bring forth “fruit worthy of repentance”? Once a person grasps the meaning of repentance, it becomes much easier to identify the “fruit” of the sorrow and change of action associated with repentance. If a person is a thief, “let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need” (Eph. 4:28). Here is a clear example of what it means to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance. Obviously, there is sorrow. This is implied in Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians and inherent in the process of repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). Second, there is cessation of sin: “steal no more.” Third, there is the replacement of evil with that which is good: “but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good.” Right here is one aspect of bringing forth fruit that is worthy of repentance that so many miss. If we genuinely repent we will do all within our power to replace the evil action with something that is good. Is this not the point the Lord makes in the parable of the “unclean spirit” that returns to the house that he had vacated? (Matt. 12:43-45). Failure to replace our sinful past with the new godly man will produce a void that will seek to be filled in some other way. Jesus told His audience that the “evil spirit” would return and the later state would be worse than the first. Fourth, the fruit will be worthy of repentance. The fruit that follows will bear testimony to a man’s changed heart and changed life.

One more note before I close this week’s article. Changing attitudes regarding divorce and remarriage are only one area in which the problem regarding repentance manifests itself. While I would not dare attempt to read a person’s heart, it seems to me that the fruit of repentance is lacking on so many occasions when a person responds to the invitation but manifests no change in life after the ink has dried on the response form and the prayers have been offered. The scenario is common: someone comes forward asking for forgiveness for neglect in attendance, and then they don’t even return on Sunday evening or Wednesday. If they happen to attend the following Sunday morning, and perhaps two or three Sunday mornings that might follow, their gathering with the saints slowly tapers off, until they no longer are found among the assembly of God’s children. After several months they might attend once again, respond to the invitation, and repeat the same scenario. Where are the fruits worthy of repentance?

Why can we not just be saved like the thief on the cross? The command of God which men seek to circumvent when appealing to the salvation of the thief is that of baptism. The theory goes something like this: The thief was saved without baptism, therefore I can be saved without baptism. Other examples are used, such as that of the man with the palsy where Jesus said, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee, without any reference to baptism. There is a universal truth that must not be forgotten when considering the thief on the cross. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth (Heb. 9:16-17). I have never received an inheritance from some rich uncle. But I have received a number of gifts from some of my uncles who are still alive. But after an uncle, aunt, grandparent, or friend dies, the ONLY THING that I will receive from them is that which is written in the last will and testament, and that based upon any conditions that are set forth in that will. So long as Jesus was alive He could grant forgiveness to anyone He wanted, and upon whatever conditions He desired. But once our Lord died, the inheritance that is ours to enjoy will be bestowed only upon those stipulated in His last will and testament. And who are they? Those who have entered Christ by obedience to His will in the watery grave of baptism. I find it disturbing that some of our brethren are now advocating that God has it within His power to save anyone He wants to save and who are we to suggest that He cannot, on the judgment day, allow whomsoever He desires, to enter into heaven; even those who have never been baptized for remission of sins. Such is a failure to recognize that God has already told us who will be saved, and no man has the right to change that last will and testament of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not a matter of what God can do, but what He has promised He will do.

Saved By Grace Through Faith

 by Tom Wacaster

History has proven that man, for the most part, has a propensity to rebel against God’s will and seek a means of “salvation” apart from the Gospel of Christ. One passage that has been twisted and tortured by so-called “scholars” is that which appears in Ephesians 2:8-9. These two verses have been a source of much false teaching among modern day “Christian theologians.” It is a perversion of the passage to insert the word “only,” whether with pen and ink or by precept and preaching. This passage deserves close consideration by those seeking to come to a knowledge of the truth in the matter. Note what the text clearly affirms: (1) We are saved; (2) We are saved by grace (but not grace only); (3) We are saved through faith; (4) The fact that we are saved is “not of yourselves”; (5) The fact of our salvation is “the gift of God”; (6) The fact that we are saved by God’s grace leaves no room for boasting on our part. Let’s take a closer look:

First, notice the BASIS of salvation - “for by grace.” The very mention of grace suggests the following: Without the grace of God, human beings could NOT be saved; man is unworthy of that salvation which God has extended to His creation. It was because of God’s grace that the opportunity for salvation was ever provided in the first place. One must keep in mind that “grace” identifies God’s motive, not man’s responsibility. The very fact that grace is extended nullifies meritorious salvation, for if man could earn his salvation there would be no need for grace. We also note that the salvation which God offers to man flows from the heart of God and originates with Him alone. What is the difference between salvation by GRACE and salvation by MERIT? Were a man to labor for ten hours at an agreed rate of $10 per hour, he would be legally and rightfully entitled to a payment of $100.00. The employer is thus indebted to the laborer. That indebtedness stands until such a time the wages are paid and the obligation on the part of the employer is met in full. That, my friends, is “meritorious” labor. Now let us imagine someone accustomed to generously tipping those who shined his shoes. Every shoeshine boy who is aware of the man’s generosity might scramble to put their polish and rag to the man’s shoes. Let them give the man the best shine, and they would still know that our generous benefactor is not “obligated” to leave his customary tip. The tip received is out of “grace” on the part of the one giving the gift. But who in his right mind would suggest that this benevolent tipper would tip someone who refused to shine his shoes? 

Second, we notice the OBJECT of that salvation -ye have been saved.” Exactly who is included in this little word “ye” was set forth at the outset of the letter. It is those “in Christ,” called “saints.” The only ones who ever received God’s favor are the ones who met the conditions which God set forth.

Third, we notice the MEANS of salvation - “through faith.” The two most favorable positions regarding these words are (1) that Paul was referring to the faith of the individual, or (2) he was referring to “the faith,” i.e. the system of faith, the gospel. We’ll examine this later position first. Among the Greek manuscripts, the Majority Text has the definite article, and is literally “the faith.” The second position is that the “faith” spoken of here is individual faith. The overwhelming majority of commentaries we consulted on this passage view the “faith” here as individual faith, due in large part to the context of the passage. If Paul was indeed speaking of personal faith, the characteristics of such saving faith are clearly set forth in such passages as James 2:15 ff, and Hebrews chapter 11. Paul would be speaking of faith that is active, alive, and obedient. Whatever position one might take with regard to the “faith” mentioned here in no affects the overall meaning of the passage.    

Fourth, we notice the ORIGIN of salvation from both a negative and positive standpoint. From a negative standpoint, our salvation is “not of yourselves” - that is, our salvation did not originate from within ourselves. Man did not design or devise the plan of salvation. Peter stated this same truth when he wrote: “knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21). Some have concluded that “not of yourselves” means that man plays absolutely no part in his salvation. They have, in effect, inserted a word into the passage and made Paul say, “we are saved by grace alone without any further acts of obedience.” This is not what Paul had in mind. If salvation is by “grace alone,” then man can be saved without faith, repentance, confession, et al. But this is false on the very surface, since man simply cannot be saved apart from repentance (Lk. 13:3), faith (Heb. 11:6), confession (Rom. 10:9-10), or baptism (1 Pet. 3:21). In addition, one must take into consideration other passages that clearly address man’s responsibility to help provide his salvation, such as Philippians 2:12 and Acts 2:40.

From a positive standpoint, our salvation is a “gift from God.” The word “gift” considers the fact that God gave it “freely.” Keep in mind that “freely” describes God’s action, and not man’s responsibility. God was in no way obligated to provide salvation to sinful man. God could have withheld His Son, kept the “mystery” a mystery, and simply isolated Himself from man. His absolute holiness would permit Him to condemn man, and He would have been absolutely just in so doing. Some have suggested that Paul was saying our “faith” was a gift from God. But Greek scholars point out that the word rendered ‘that,’ is in the neuter gender, and the word faith is in the feminine.  Paul could not, therefore, have been suggesting that our faith was a gift from God (as the Calvinists would aver). It is our salvation that is a gift from God. But this in no way suggests that man can do nothing to obtain that salvation. Brother Ted Clarke makes this astute observation: “The fact that we can do nothing to deserve God’s grace through Christ does not mean that there is nothing we have to do to acquire this grace.”

Fifth, we note the EXCLUDING FACTOR of our salvation: “not of works, that no man should glory.” The TYPE of works here are, by necessity, those works that would give man the right to boast; thus the context demands that the works here are “meritorious works.” The idea that God rejects every kind of work of man as a condition of salvation is utterly opposed to a number of passages in the New Testament. Notice Philippians 2:12 and 1 Thessalonians 1:2 to mention just a couple. The late R.L. Whiteside summed up the point we are trying to make here:

Grace provided the plan by which sinners are saved, or made righteous, and grace tells us how to come into possession of that salvation. If people would quit arraying the commands of God against the grace of God, they would have a clearer vision of the scheme of redemption. God’s grace is in every command he gives. The sinner was lost; God prepared a way by which he could get out of that lost state. That was grace. But that was not enough. He needed to know how to find that way, and how to walk in it.  It is as much a matter of grace to tell him how to find that way, and how to walk in it as it is to provide the way. But when the way is fully prepared, and full directions given as to how to find the way, and how to walk in it the next move is man’s . The whole matter is strikingly illustrated by the events of Pentecost. The way had been prepared and revealed to the people; and then, in response to their question, Peter told them how to get in that way. That was all a matter of grace. Then Peter exhorted them to save themselves. Many did what was commanded and were saved. On’ God’s side their salvation was wholly a matter of grace. And the people were as prompt in their obedience as if their salvation were wholly a matter of works (Whiteside, 97).

When we sing the song, “Wonderful Grace of Jesus,” let us reflect on these points and rejoice in knowing that God desires that all men be saved, and then give thanks for His “wonderful grace” that provides that salvation for all men.

God Will Keep Thy Soul

by Tom Wacaster

In times of uncertainty the child of God has a refuge in his heavenly Father.  Indeed, the promises that God gives to His children are so abundant that the saint could read one promise a day for the entire year and not have touched the hem of the garment.  Psalm 121:7 contains just such a promise:

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. 
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

For those of us who grew up in the days of the cold war between the two super powers of the world, morning “atom bomb drills” were almost a daily occurrence. Who among us can forget the “Cuban Missile Crisis,” also known as the “October Crisis of 1962”? That crisis was a 13 day stand off between the United States and Soviet Russia. It was the closest that the ‘cold war’ came to a full scale nuclear war. I was barely 15 years of age then, and I can still remember those drills where we would go into the hallway of our local school, and face the walls and put our hands over our heads. I sometimes wondered what good that would do if a nuclear missile actually struck the DFW area.

I am now rapidly approaching the completion of seven full decades upon this planet. I’m not suggesting that sixty-nine years has somehow made me wiser than any of you who might be older, or more experienced in life. I’m just saying that I have been blessed to live and serve my Lord for that extended period of time. One thing I have learned is that the uncertainties of the early to mid 1960’s have not diminished; they have only changed form. Things are just as perilous today as they were in those innocent years of the 50’s and 60’s. Life remains uncertain, riches take wings, and ‘earthly wisdom’ continues to prove itself to be devilish and from beneath. Random killings remain a mystery, whether it be so-called terrorists, or crazed killers like Charles Manson. We may be exposed to more violence, and that may play a part in making it seem like there is a greater quantity of killings and that the chances of our becoming a victim of such violence is greater. I scarce can browse the internet, or read the Star Telegram without being exposed to yet another terrorist act of insanity; for who in their right mind would strap explosives to themselves, and then detonate their homemade bomb in the midst of a crowded market place? After all, what do they accomplish? They don’t live long enough to “enjoy” (if I dare use that word) the act of misled devotion to a false religion. In fact, precisely the opposite occurs. The very moment they take their own life and the lives of dozens of others, they wake up in eternity with the full realization that they have made a horrible miscalculation. And, every time we hear of some mass killing, the pundits and prognosticators are seeking “clues” as to what motivated the killings.  Such random killings are designed to generate fear in the minds of society. Were it not for the fact that God has promised to watch over His children, the crazed mad men of our unstable society might be successful in producing that fear even in the hearts of God’s children.

In contrast, consider the promise set forth by the Psalmist. “The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil.” To a certain degree God does protect us and shield us from the woes of this world, if for no other reason than the fact that seeds of godliness keep us aloof from the troubles that plague most men. I know of no Christian who has been the victim of random shootings. I am not saying no Christian has ever fallen prey to senseless killings; I am just saying I know of none. But the promise that “the Lord shall preserve thee from all evil” finds its fullest application when it comes to preservation of the soul. Regardless of what might happen in this world, the Christian has his hope set on what happens after this life.  While God is concerned about our well being this side of eternity, He is more concerned about the soul, and has promised to keep us from all evil. When traveling, when going home and coming back, everywhere and at all times, God will watch over us. What great comfort there is for the troubled soul in knowing that God cares for us. As one poet put it:

In foreign realms, and lands remote,
Supported by thy care,
Through burning climes they pass unhurt,
And breath in tainted air.

When by the dreadful tempest borne,
High on the broken wave,
They know thou art not slow to hear,
Nor impotent to save.

The storm is laid - the winds retire,
Obedient to thy will;
The seas that roar at thy command,
At thy command is still.

In midst of dangers, fears, and death,
Thy goodness we’ll adore;
We’ll praise thee for thy mercies past,
And humbly hope for more.

Our life, while thou preserv’st that life,
Thy sacrifice shall be;
And death, when death shall be our lot,
Shall join our souls to thee” 

There is no doubt that troublesome times will remain as long as the earth remains; that is just part of life, and part of curse of sin and evil. But let come what may, the child of God rests in the promise that “God will keep thy soul.”