What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: ‘So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.’
There was a fine family who moved to Aberystwyth many years ago. The father’s intention was to church plant and evangelise in mid-Wales. We were blessed by their presence for a couple of years, and one of their young daughters was an earnest evangelist. In fact she brought two of their neighbours’ girls to church where after years of attendance they both came to profess faith and eventually I baptised them. But then there was this falling away. One of the neighbourhood girls from Aberystwyth ceased attending church a few weeks after being baptised. Then, more shocking, the very girl who had been so zealous for sharing her faith in time fell in love with an unbeliever and married him. Today she no longer possesses faith in Christ, and her departure from being a Christian rocked the other local girl so that she also fell away. First there were three professing Christians and then there were none.
We all know of people like that, though I believe examples of temporary faith have been the exception – by far – in this congregation. Yet they do exist. We know of men who once appeared stalwart in trusting God; some were even gripped by biblical theology and church history. There were those who talked much of revival and the second blessing, but they broke our hearts when they lost their faith and went their own way. Sometimes the people they’d fallen in love with were no help to them spiritually. There were disappointments that they experienced, and the result of that was that they became bitter. Their losing their faith stirred up doubt in their Christian friends. “Why should the living God have allowed this to happen? Hasn’t he promised that none would pluck his people out of his hands?”
The issue seemed to focus on the power of God. Why didn’t he keep those who claimed they trusted in him? Paul principally has the Old Testament people of God in mind, but in reality, while commenting on them, Paul is addressing the problem of all those who at one period in their lives made a confession of faith that they’d found Jesus. He had become their personal Saviour, but then they fell away. How do you explain this fact of a professing Christian growing disenchanted with the love of Jesus? We can understand people growing jaded with the love of the things of this vain and empty world. The Prodigal Son tasted it and became sick at heart and hungry for reality, finally returning to his Father from that empty life. But to become lukewarm and indifferent about Jesus’ love, precious love, boundless and pure and free. . . ? This is the love that saved us and kept us and has blessed us every day of our lives. No love on earth like it, and yet there are people who grow weary of that love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord? Unbelievable!
Yet you remember what happened when the Messiah arrived 2000 years ago, how Mary’s boy child grew up, and one day he waved good-bye to Mary and his brothers and sisters. He left Nazareth to be baptized by John in Jordan. He began his public ministry to the Jews. He claimed that he was one with the Father, and that no one came to the Father except by him, and he showed his power in mighty acts over demons, and over disease, and over death. Yet these Old Testament Messiahists, hearing and seeing much of this, in one way or another, turned away from him; many hated him with a dark and angry bitterness so that eventually they killed him.
So we are confronted with the actual visible phenomenon of multitudes of Old Covenant believers who initially saw and heard Christ, many of whom had become initially enthusiastic. We know, for example, of 5000 men who came together to hear him preach, and on another occasion, 4000 men. This was a mass movement enthusiastically focused on him, and yet these crowds didn’t go on; they didn’t nurture a steadily growing Messianic faith in Christ. At the end of all that the number of the followers he had gathered was 500 people. As Jesus spoke of cross bearing and self-denial, plucking out your right eye, loving him more than loving your own parents, loving your enemies, loving your neighbours as yourself then the masses decided that this Jesus certainly wasn’t the promised one and they forsook him in droves. God had entrusted the appearing of his Son to this very generation, and yet these people, especially their leaders, showed little trust in God’s Son.
You see the problem? If God had chosen a covenant people, “They will be my people and I will be their God” and sent to them Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah, then why didn’t God build walls of salvation around them when they’d placed their faith in his Son, displaying a trust that would go on and on through thick and thin believing in him? They simply didn’t. Their leaders didn’t. God let them all fall away. If Paul’s Jesus was the true Messiah then where was God in all his powerful reliability? Where was his veracity in promising to keep his people and yet they all left Jesus? What value was the promise of this God whom Paul was preaching to them? Every good Shepherd keeps his sheep, but Paul was telling his synagogue congregation that all the leaders of the Jews and the vast majority of the people who had begun to follow Jesus thinking he was the Messiah – they all left him! There had been an initial response in thousands, then most of them, and all their leaders, turned against him. It was Paul’s God who was inadequate. He failed to keep the Jews trusting in their Messiah. God was responsible for this phenomenon of the loss of faith in Jesus. Why doesn’t God give to everyone who’s had some immediate fascination and excitement about Jesus an invulnerable trust, impregnable belief, unassailable faith, unbreakable hope and persevering continuance in following Christ? Didn’t the temporary faith of the Jews prove God was not on Jesus’ side or Paul’s side. Their ultimate distrust in Christ nullified Paul’s claims about God’s power and faithfulness. They said to one another in the synagogues where Paul preached, “Paul’s God simply couldn’t keep those Jews who had once believed that Jesus was the Messiah.” The faithfulness of Paul’s God was fickle, and makeshift, and capricious. How does Paul answer this? He asks two questions by which he is saying the following.
1. GOD’S FAITHFULNESS IS NOT NULLIFIED BY MAN FALLING AWAY.
“What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all” (v.3). What had God’s faithfulness given them? The Scriptures – the very word of God; the prophets, the kings, the psalms of praise, the covenants – Abraham was their father; Jesus the Messiah was a fellow Jew. In other words, the rejection of Christ by many Jews totally failed to invalidate the privileges that God had entrusted to Israel. They were still a greatly blessed people. God’s presence and promises and power were still there, whether men understood and appropriated them or not.
Now you may not see immediately from the version of the Bible that’s in front of you just now that Paul vehemently rejects the idea that God’s faithfulness has been compromised and even nullified by Jewish indifference and rejection of Jesus. “Not at all!” the N.I.V. has translated it. It not exactly an explosion of indignation – which is what we have before us in the text! How else could it be translated? You can take your pick. By no means! Certainly not! Not on your life! No way! Not in a thousand years! That’s absolutely preposterous! The best is the AuthorisedVersion’s ‘God forbid!’ They are all feeble attempts to stress the fact that that very idea is unthinkable, that God can choose a company of people from before the foundation of the world, and covenant with his Son to send him into the world as the good Shepherd seeking and saving that which is lost, becoming the Lamb of God who takes away their sin, that he dies to make atonement for their guilt and shame, and then . . . and then after doing all that . . . God is unfaithful to them and fails to keep them out of hell! God forbid that he could make great specious promises and then be quite unable to keep them. By no means! Certainly not! God forbid! Not on your life! No way! Not in a thousand years! God will never break the agreement he and his Son have together made. The fact that one or a million people profess that Jesus Christ is their Saviour, and then they go on to deny it – that doesn’t mean the faithfulness of God is rendered null and void. “So poor God, wringing his hands in frustration, couldn’t keep those men and women who began to follow his Son!” “God forbid!” cries Paul. God’s helpless unfaithfulness is unthinkable.
Paul says it like this, “Let God be true!” Let the God who is a Spirit infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice and goodness be true! He is the standard. He is the norm for everything else. We measure all reality, thrones and majesties, dominions and powers, visible and invisible, by him. Whatever the reason for people falling away it is not that the absolutely truthful Jehovah God couldn’t keep his word and save them. What God says is also absolute truth. Let me break that up…
i] God is true in his many promises to keep all his people. None of those whom Father and Son have agreed to save will fall away. All who are spiritually united to Christ even by a spider-thin thread of faith will be eternally kept. No power in earth or hell is able to separate them from God’s faithfulness. Now that doesn’t mean all who say, “Lord! Lord!” are certain of heaven. It doesn’t mean that if you’ve kissed the cheek of Jesus then you are glory bound – Judas kissed him. It doesn’t mean if he healed you of leprosy you are bound for a new heavens and earth because nine lepers were healed and none of them showed gratitude to the Lord, and there’s no way that the ungrateful will inherit the kingdom of God. There are no divine promises attached to a mere profession of faith. It is the people whose names have been written on the heart of the Saviour who are going to see him in heaven and will be like him. We all know personally people who professed to believe in him who have fallen away. May they return! Please God bring them back! May they be prodigals who grow weary of eating with the swine and remembering better times. What is more even we can say, “My feet almost slipped!”
Christ told the parable of the sower; you know the story well. Some seed fell on the path; it had no roots and it was pecked up immediately by wild birds. Other seed fell in shallow stony soil; there was initial interest and growth but there was never any depth of conviction and understanding, and once testing times came, and the allure of the world and its glittering prizes became powerful then their faith in Jesus Christ disappeared. Other seed fell into the weeds so that the seed met growth and fierce competition, and in the end the words of praise from the world, and the smiles that buy or the frowns that frighten killed heart trust in the Lord. But Jesus’ parable tells us this glorious encouraging message, that much of the seed fell in well-prepared ground. Roots went deep down, and faith was nurtured and strengthened. There were trials and there was opposition, but what these providences did was to drive these young Christian to the Lord for strength and understanding. There was a hundredfold growth for many. God protected and kept them.
One of Jesus’ messages in that parable is this, that not every initial joyful response to the gospel is a saving response. Yet many will hear and receive the word and it will bring forth much fruit. Work for the Lord in expectation. Cast your bread on the waters. Pray to the Lord of the harvest that many labourers will go forth. God nowhere promises that everyone who makes a religious decision, or who speaks with the tongues of men and angels, is going to be saved for ever. It is he who will endure to the end – he alone – will be saved. Never doubt that God can keep his people.
Let me read to you some of the very words of God concerning his power to keep those who are his own people.
Isaiah 43:1-3 “This is what the LORD says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour;’” God is true!
Isaiah 54:10 “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” God is true!
Jeremiah 32:40 “I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.” God is true!
John 5:24 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” God is true!
John 10:27-30 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” God is true!
Romans 8:1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” God is true!
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” God is true!
2 Timothy 4:18 “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” God is true!
Hebrews 10:14 “By one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.” God is true!
Jude 24&25 “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and for evermore! Amen.” God is true! Listen! You have heard ten of the very words of God, a decalogue of promises that teach us this irrefutable fact, that “They, whom God has accepted in the Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere in it until the end, and be eternally saved” (Westminster Confession of Faith). God, in all his exceeding great and precious promises, is true! But let me also add this . . .
ii] God is true in his warnings that we must not and dare not turn from the faith. And to whom are such warnings addressed? To me, first of all. To me, principally, to whom much has been given. To me, primarily, to be heeded with the utmost seriousness, and then to every one of you, particularly to those of you who have made a profession of faith but now through the devices of Satan are finding a dozen apparently sensible reasons why it seems to be getting difficult or impossible for you to keep faith with Jesus. Heed these warnings!
Matthew 24:10-13 “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” God is true!
Matthew 24:24 “For false christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible.” God is true!
I Corinthians 9:27 “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” God is true!
2 Corinthians 11:3 “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” God is true!
I Timothy 4:1 “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” God is true!
I Timothy 4:16 “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” God is true!
2 Timothy 4:9&10 “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.” God is true!
Hebrews 3:12-19 “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.’ Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” God is true!
Hebrews 6:4-6 “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” God is true!
Revelation 2:4&5 “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp-stand from its place.” God is true!
The many promises that God has made telling us that he will keep us are all true, and also such warnings as these, also spoken by God, pleading with us not to fall away from the faith, are genuine warnings given to truly responsible men and women. Did Jesus warn all his disciples about what lay before them in Jerusalem? Yes. Did Jesus warn Peter of the danger facing him? Yes. Let every divine warning be heeded. These verses of the New Testament that I read in your hearing are full of warnings and they are given in order that we should heed them. They are not like a warning that North Korea gives once in a while to the USA that it will invade and destroy America! These are the warnings of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, not the warnings of a paper tiger.
So every man who says that God is unable to keep any professing believer from falling into hell is a liar. Should all of Wales become explicitly atheistic, in other words that you could travel south from Sir Fon in the north right down to Gwent, and should every single person you meet on the journey, in every place you passed through, assure you that God was powerless to keep people from falling, then you would have been confronted by a whole population of liars. 100 per cent liars. In fact that is what they do believe today, that if men’s minds are set on rejecting God and his heaven then there’s no power in the universe that can persuade them differently. They see God as frustrated, helpless and impotent to change a single person. But our God Almighty is able to give life to the dead, and faith to the unbelieving, and repentance to those who cannot turn from their sin. Many unbelieving men who’ve said, “Not me! I’ll never become religious,” have become religious, and now they commend the faith that once they mocked. Many who have said, “I have tried religion and found it wanting,” have tried it again. God cannot lie. Why should God tell lies? God is omnipotent truth and we are specks of dust. God is true in every promise he makes – his exceeding great and precious promises are all yea and Amen in Jesus Christ.
In the same way God is able to keep us from falling into hell. There is a great word of Peter in which he says, “The Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials” (2 Pet. 2:9). So he knows how to rescue you from the trial you are in. You think of Lot. You would not call Lot a particularly outstanding believer. He said some foolish and cruel things, and was enticed to live in the city of Sodom. He was an ordinary believer like so many of us, limping to heaven. Yet God preserved him and delivered him even in Sodom. God knew how to rescue him. Remember that Christians are not preserved from trials; they are preserved in trials that are too great for them to bear. God provides for them a way of escape. They are preserved in temptation, saved from the contagion of temptation, and like Peter we will be delivered out of it.
God understands the best way for us to be kept. He sees a way to do it when we can’t, though it’s often a way which we shouldn’t have thought of. He can come and help us and destroy the power of the temptation; what seemed so desirable now seems repulsive; he can take away the opportunity of falling; he can give us good wise friends. God is faithful to keep his own from trials that would destroy them.
2. THE VERY WORD OF GOD IS QUOTED TO CONFIRM PAUL’S WORDS.
“As it is written,” Paul says. Stop a moment! Paul is now bringing the very word of God into play to support what he has said about the mighty faithfulness of God in all he does. Paul quotes to them from the Old Testament, fifteen words knowing that they were sufficient in themselves to settle this question. “So that you [God] may be proved right when you speak, and prevail when you [God]judge” (v.4). Do you remember who spoke these words? These are the words of a believer who fell badly into enormous wickedness. He’d had great blessings from God, but as the years went by the lusts of the mind and the flesh all but destroyed him, and down he fell. Why didn’t God erect great walls of salvation around him to prevent him falling? How could God permit King David (because he is the author of those words) to fall as he did? It is because of our human responsibility. We freely answer to God for how we live. So beware! Cry to God, “And lead me not into temptation!” David had sinned against a wife in destroying her honour. He had sinned against her husband in taking from him the one he had been joined to in marriage. He had sinned against this man Uriah in taking his life. He had sinned against men he had drawn into performing his schemes of murder. He had sinned against the nation he led because his action had brought them to defeat and the deaths of many men in battle. He had sinned against his conscience, and his actions had resulted in the loss of the privilege of building a temple for God. Yet when eventually, after a year of silence and grieving the Spirit, David confessed to God his wickedness he cried out these words, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight” (Psa. 51:4). That is how sin is seen in the Christian! There have to be human and social ramifications to our sins, but they are secondary, however terrible they may be. A loving Father who provided his only Son who has by his agony and bloody sweat covered all our guilt and clothed us with a spotless righteousness, at such fearful cost, but a time came when all that seemed nothing to us when we burned with desire and would let nothing come in the way of getting what we wanted, even sinning as foul a sin as David’s.
But the story is not yet all told! We were given the grace of repentance by the mercy of God, and then we acknowledged that all the shame and sleeplessness and penalty that came upon us for our sin was all deserved. When the spokesman for God came to David and said, “You are the man!” then he was right to speak to him like that. When God judged David so that sickness and death prevailed in his family God was right when he acted as he did, and at the end of his life, when the first fine careless rapture had long disappeared from the relationship of David and Bathsheba so that they had ceased sleeping together – you remember how his servants had to find yet another woman to keep his shivering old body warm at night, then God was right in bringing these judgments upon the king. Let God be true! David justifies all the ways of God. He goes on to say in Psalm 51 these words that Paul quotes in the fourth verse, “So that you may be proved right when you speak, and prevail when you judge” (v.4). That is repentance. There was no attempt to rationalise and justify and find excuses for his atrocious behaviour. He had done wrong and all that God said and did to him was proved right. God’s judgments prevailed over David’s excuses. That is repentance.
The righteous God was there when David needed God to be there. He was there as his Saviour from hell, for no unrepentant adulterer shall enter the kingdom of heaven. God convicted him. And God humbled him. And God gave him a repentance that was commensurate with the foulness of his deeds. He had not lived up to the obligations of his kingship, and the children of Israel of Paul’s day had not lived up to their obligations as the chosen people who had seen the incarnation of God. They had seen the winds and waves obey Jesus Christ. They had heard the Sermon on the Mount. They had seen the dead raised and yet they killed the Son of God. There had been no unfulfilled Messianic prophecy. There had been no lack in the ministry of Jesus. They were without excuse when God judged them.
Paul takes sides with God against his fellow Jews. Let God be true and every man a liar. And this must be the position of every Jew who is going to be saved. If the chief priests, Caiaphas and Annas, seek to say a word in their own defence there is no hope for them at all. If they think they possess one shred of righteousness that could satisfy the demands of a holy God then they lack any possibility of escape from hell. It is when Jews or Gentiles fail to recognize they had sinned against God in their own natures, and refuse to lay hold of the one name under heaven given among man whereby we must be saved that we become lost men and women. We have to justify the ways of God. “When you send leanness into my life for living without you, then you prevail in your judgment on me. When you make all the cisterns I drink full of bitter water then you are proved right in what you do. When in the early hours of the morning you wake me up and parade the memory of my past, uncovered, unconfessed sins before me then you are right to do it.
Paul meets the challenge of Jewish self-justification that it was to them perfectly understandable that they lacked faith in Jesus of Nazareth, and that their unbelief in Christ was all God’s fault, a result of God’s unfaithfulness to them in failing to give them saving faith and to keep them trusting in him – that was the explanation for their disbelief in his Son. It was all God’s fault not theirs. And you remember the words of Jesus speaking to defiant Jerusalem who had heard him preaching in the courts of the temple, “If any one thirst let him come unto me and drink” but they’d said, “We are not thirsty and we wouldn’t come to you to drink of your life.” And he preached his warning against their unbelief, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Lk. 13:34&35).
The faithfulness of God is unchangeable. He will speak to you just as your state and relationship to him requires. He will not speak “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace between you and God. Aren’t you blessed to have so loving and patient a God to tell you what is wrong, and what needs to be put right? Confess to him today that all the ways he has brought judgment into your life have been right and true and just. He alone is right. He alone is true. Admit it. Tell him so, and that your wretched resentment and self-justification have been filthy rags. Admit the error of your ways. Turn from them. Thank him that he has spared you to this moment in order to put you right with him. If we confess our sins, then and only then, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So it was for sins as heinous as King David’s. David was unfaithful, but God was faithful in dealing with him mercifully so that today David and Uriah and Bathsheba are lost in wonder, love and praise before the throne of God praising redeeming grace. You can be with them too. But you must bow before God and appropriate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ the only propitiation for our sin before a sin-hating God. Be covered by it. Plead to him today, “God you are true, and I am a liar. God be merciful to me the sinner,” and I assure you that none has prayed that prayer in vain.
27th April 2014 GEOFF THOMAS