Greatness

 by Tom Wacaster

The angel said of John the Baptist, “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:15a). Throughout the centuries figures in history have been given the title of “Great.” Greece had Alexander the Great, Russia had Peter the Great, and for Germany, it was Frederick the Great. We could add dozens, if not hundreds of names to this list. But when I consider the “Greats” of this world, it tells me that men have a far different concept of greatness than does God. I think the late Billy Graham was much closer to the meaning of true greatness:

True greatness is not measured by the headlines a person commands or the wealth he or she accumulates. The inner character of a person-the undergirding moral and spiritual values and commitments-is the true measure of lasting greatness (azquotes.com)

William Shakespeare is credited with having said, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” I am probably writing to an audience that realizes that greatness is not found in those things that are “of this world,” but rather it is to be found in one’s relationship to and usefulness by God. John was of that makeup. James Hastings hit the nail on the head with these words:

More profitable would it be to determine wherein true greatness consists, for then it would be found that much that is called great is little, and that the lowliest path leads to the summit. Vain are the strivings, vain the jealousies and emulations of those who press and struggle for the highest places, for the Divine path to greatness lies in quite an opposite direction (Hastings, 27).

John captured the essence of greatness throughout his entire life. When the time came for him to herald the coming Messiah there were those of small minds and arrogant expectations who asked John, “Art thou the prophet?” (John 1:21), to which John plainly said, “No!” John’s light would shine bright, but his radiance was only the dim moonlight that would introduce men to the Day Star from on high. When he could have stepped forward and claimed the limelight, he instead confessed regarding the Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

It seems to me that the genuinely great man is the one who is completely unaware of his own greatness. He never seeks the spotlight, but rather is embarrassed when it so much as casts a flicker in his direction. Show me a great man (a truly great man) and I will show you someone who ignores his own achievements and marches onward to the reward that awaits him. John was just such a man. No wonder the angel said of John the Baptist, even while John was still in the womb of his loving mother, “For he shall be great!”

It would be impossible to exaggerate the influence of those genuinely great men who have marched across the landscape of time and left their footprints in the sands of human history. Included in that list would be men like Abraham, David, Noah, and Moses. It would also include the multitude of men and women whose names are not known, and whose influence has not made a ripple in the ocean of human affairs when considered among the earthly “greats” of this world. I would include those unsung heroes in India who preach in the villages and cities that are crowded with lost souls. In that list of great men and women would be those restoration pioneers who blazed the trail from one end of our country to the other, in times of difficulty, discomfort, and danger, to take the Gospel to those souls on the ‘Western Frontier’ and to expand the boarders of the kingdom so that the truth of God’s word could go forth in its purity and simplicity. These are what someone called “the beacon lights of the race, set there for the inspiration and guidance of mankind.”

It would be easy to get lost in the shuffle, and if not lost at least feel that we have not made an impact in life; that we somehow missed being truly great. Just remember this. John was called “great” by God; and this is all that mattered.

Know of A Certainty

by Tom Wacaster

Over a span of almost 50 years of preaching, I have frequently been asked, “How can I be sure that I am saved?” I have no doubt that those asking the question were sincere, and in many instances, those asking were among the very ones whom I considered to be some of the most faithful workers in the church. Why is it that otherwise strong Christians sometimes have this nagging doubt about their salvation? Why is it that we are prone to doubt when the Bible clearly tells us that we can know we have salvation?

Luke wrote his biography of Christ in order that Theophilus might “know the certainty concerning the things” of which he was instructed. There is not the slightest hint of guesswork, speculation, subjective intuition, or uncertainty in the Gospel of Luke. This is true regarding any book of the Bible. Luke did not write this Gospel to leave men in doubt. It is inconceivable to think that the “certainty” of any inspired writing would produce uncertainty in the lives of its readers. Consider the following.

In one sense questioning one’s status in life is healthy. Likewise, a regular spiritual “checkup” is good for the soul. It seems that humility may play a part in doubts that arise from time to time, but caution must be exercised that we do not go to the opposite extreme and run from a proud spirit to one of self-debasement and fearful doubting.  The following is attributed to an Egyptian king by the name of Akhenaton: “True wisdom is less presuming than folly. The wise man doubteth often, and changeth his mind; the fool is obstinate, and doubteth not; he knoweth all things but his own ignorance.” Another expressed the wisdom in doubting like this: “How prone to doubt, how cautious are the wise!” (Alexander Pope). Even some of the strongest of Bible characters had their questions and doubts. Abraham doubted God’s promise that he would have a child in his old age through whom the Lord would bless the world and sought instead to have Ishmael fill that role. Thomas would not believe the Lord had been raised from the dead until he could see it with his own eyes and touch the Lord’s side with his own hands. Even John the Baptist had some very serious questions about the Lord when he (John) was facing the closing days of his life in prison. You see, doubt should drive us to deeper investigation and self-examination. Doubt becomes dangerous when we began to question God’s promises. What, then, is the answer to our doubts and fears regarding death, salvation, and that spiritual realm wherein our hope resides as an anchor of the soul (Heb. 7:19)? There are at least three factors that affect the depth of our confidence: faith, facts, and feelings. These sustain an important relationship to one another and play a vital role in developing assurance in the heart of the child of God.

Consider this word faith.  To have faith in some thing or some person is to trust the object of that faith. I have faith in the local bank to protect what I have deposited up to and including the point at which I desire to make a withdrawal. It is because of my faith in that institution that I can fully expect the funds to be there when I need them (of course the FDIC helps in this area, but then again, I must have a certain degree of faith in that branch of government as well). Solomon told us, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not upon thine own understanding” (Prov. 3:3).

Now we turn our attention to the facts. The Hebrews writer defines faith as “assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). The KJV reads, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I am interested here in the Greek word translated “assurance” (ASV) and/or “substance” (KJV). The word denotes support for something; something upon which a hope is based. Biblical faith is not a blind faith, but rather one that is founded upon evidence that is brought to bear in any situation. Barclay points out three distinct areas in which faith and hope find application: (1) It is belief against the world; (2) It is belief in the spirit against the senses; (3) It is belief in the future against the present. Or as one author put it, “Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible, and achieves the impossible.” I believe in God because of the “facts.” The KJV sums it up with the word “evidence.” When a jury sits in judgment upon an accused, they do so based upon the evidence (i.e. facts) that is presented during the court proceedings.

Now we come to feelings. Feelings, or emotions, in and of themselves, are good. God created us to feel, to be moved with compassion, to shed a tear over loss, whether ours or that of someone else. If man had been created completely void of emotions and/or feelings he would experience no sorrow; but then, neither would he experience joy and happiness. It is important to note that God warns us against the deceptive nature of feelings. “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Prov. 16:25). The sad truth is that many people base their spiritual status on how they feel with little or no consideration as to what the Bible teaches on the matter.

Now with all that said, it seems to this humble scribe that the absence of assurance among those who have obeyed the gospel, and who are doing their best to live a faithful Christian life, is due to the failure to keep faith, fact, and feelings in proper relationship. Fact: God has promised forgiveness, along with a home in heaven, to those who obey the gospel and live a faithful Christian life. Faith: I believe what God has said because of the evidence that supports that promise. Feelings: I rejoice in that assurance, knowing that, though I fall far short of what I should be, God has promised to save me to the “uttermost” through the cleansing power of the blood of His Son. It is when men take their eyes OFF the facts, and allow their faith to falter, that their feelings kick in and they no longer “feel” as if they are saved. Remember, “faith comes by hearing…the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Or as one put it, “Doubt comes in at the window when inquiry is denied at the door.”

A pilot is instructed to always trust the instruments in the plane rather than the way he feels. Feelings can be deceptive. The same rule applies spiritually. Trust the instruments that God has given to us in His word. His promises are sure, the evidence incontrovertible. If the instruments contradict what you feel, then it is your feelings that are wrong and not the instruments! If you walk by your feelings rather than trust in the word of God, you will rob yourself of the joy and happiness that comes with God’s promises. But worse yet, you will never rid yourself of doubt, and you will continue to be plagued by the unanswered question, “How can I be sure?”