Below is a list of questions that have been submitted to Pastor Vergunst for answers.
If you have a question you would like to ask, either for a personal reply or to be published here, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have found lately that my life consists mainly of work, school, and homework, and I always feel overwhelmed. Although I read Biblical meditations in the morning and night, I always think the balance in my life between spiritual and worldly pursuits is very wrong. Just wondering if you have any advice for me or anyone else who is in a position like I am in.
The struggle that you indicate is not an uncommon one. When you write about ‘worldly pursuits’ I assume you are talking about the school, work and homework. In and of itself, that is not ‘worldly’ in the sense of sinful for it is our duty to give our time and energy to these causes. It also will be normal that you will spend relatively speaking more hours to that work than to the spiritual devotions that you have in the morning and evening. I think that the Lord understands that also. To neglect our daily duties of work, study, family etc. because we are so spiritual is something that Paul rebuked in a segment of the Thessalonian congregation that were not working (2 Thess. 3:11-12). God commands us to be diligent in our daily calling but that may never gobble up our time of devotion. Jesus rebuked Martha for that.
So my advice is that you is to be disciplined. Setting a time aside in the morning and/or evening for personal time with God and His Word is vital. You must protect those set-aside moment for often many things will seek to crowd them out. Those times are the moments in which the spiritual relationship with God is nurtured and deepened. Those devotional times also prepare us for the task of the day with all the challenges that we have.
Make the best of these devotional hours. Switch off the phone/computer connections with the world (Jesus called that ‘go into the closet) and allow no one to interrupt your time with the Word and prayer. If the body doesn’t cooperate (tired, sluggish, distracted) we need to fight in appropriate ways to summon our body to the importance of this time. I personally find that writing helps me to concentrate and think more deeply over what I read or need. Writing in a journal just adds so much to the depth of your own meditations.
Lastly, guard God’s holy day to keep it holy. One day in the week God has privileged us with a day in which we may leave all work as much as possible ‘at work’ and concentrate our time on the fellowship with Him and with each other. You notice that God didn’t require six day of ‘being with Him’ and one day of work. Though one can work six days a week, he or she can still have the priority on the day of the Lord as the most important aspect of their life.
May these thoughts help you on the way.
Question: As a life long church attending, Bible believing person is it right when you pray to ask forgiveness for our sins, past and present. My husband does this in spite of the fact that I feel ifwe pray and ask forgiveness of sins and repent, that those sins are gone! Otherwise that is unbelief in God’s word that He will forgive us our sins, Please clarify.
It is true what the Lord promises that ‘if we confess our sins, that He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.’ (1 John 1:9) In numerous places God’s Word speaks in similar promises, such as Isaiah 55 and Luke 15. That means that when someone genuinely confesses his or his sins with a look of faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, that God will no longer look upon such a guilty sinner. The publican who approached God with ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’ while he stood looking in faith to the sacrifice altar in the front part of the temple, went home justified, Jesus said.
But not everyone will have the sweet assurance of these truths. Perhaps your husband is one of those. If he doesn’t have the faith to believe the promises of God then it makes sense that he continues to plead at God’s throne for forgiveness. Pray that God will help him to appropriate the great gift of forgiveness.
However, even if you have a sweet assurance of the forgiveness of sin in the past that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to seek God for forgiveness for the daily sins we commit. Is there ever a day that we are not to seek the Lord for forgiveness while we live in this earth with a heart that is still cleaving to the dust, fleshly and carnal, insincere and often wandering. The closer one lives to God, the more confession of sin will be the practice of each day. Even the night hours are not innocent as often sinful dreams and vain thoughts can fill our minds while we sleep.
Have you ever noticed that David in Ps. 25 still petitions God ‘not to remember the sins of long ago?’ If it is true that David wrote that Psalm in the latter stages of his life, then we know that he has experienced the forgiveness. Still the memory of his past sins often bring a sad reflection upon his heart.
May God bless you and your husband as you discuss this answer together.
Question: If you and all our ministers follow Jesus why are there no signs and wonders following? Why are antidepressants offered to people and not casting out of demons? Are we on the right track? Are you all following Jesus or a concept of Him? This is not sarcastic, but analytic. Imagine that we are still all waiting for Him to reveal Himself as the Word!! Scriptures leading up to the Person! Could that be?
The ‘signs and wonders’ aren’t just to be limited to miracles of healing and raising the dead. Indeed, they were great signs but they were not to continue. Already in Paul’s own time he lost the gift of healing as he wrote to Timothy how he left his friend sick in Miletus. The ‘signs and wonders’ were a temporary gift of the Holy Spirit which gave great authenticity to the apostles. Mind you, they were bringing a ‘new message and new revelation.’ Some aspects were so hard to believe that it was necessary that God gave them the gift of signs and miracles. In Scripture you see three times when miracles of healing etc. took place. In the time of Moses, Elijah & Elisha and then the third period during Jesus and the apostles. Besides, during church history we can read of the occasional miracle power that was granted to the missionaries as they ventured into the heathen region.
But on a spiritual level, signs and wonders are also regeneration, conviction of sin, repentance and faith. When God blesses His Word through His Spirit, then a greater wonder takes place than any physical healing. To see a mind made willing to forsake sin and follow Christ and cleave to Him in spite of fierce rejection or hatred, such is the greatest miracle in the world. I agree that we are experiencing a time of great leanness in our churches where the Holy Spirit is holding back instead of breaking through the barriers of human hostility and darkness. Those are matters that we need to continually examine and search why God is showing His anger in this way.
The same answer is really given to ‘casting out demons.’ The only time that demons were cast out with extraordinary power was again in the Lord Jesus’ days and His apostles. Of course, God could give that power again when it is needed.
I am not going to say much about anti-depressants except that way too many people are put on these. Sin causes depression and in many cases people are trying to get ‘happy’ with happy-pills rather than taught to repent of sin and seek the healing of God’s forgiveness as well as from other people. You can’t cure sin with pills.
However, there are genuine cases of depression with biological causes and perhaps even spiritual, where a pill can be a blessing as medicine. We are not just flesh and bones, we are also hormones and chemicals. Even the slightest imbalance can cause all kind of mental dysfunction. Such people don’t need exorcism to have demons cast out but medicine to correct certain chemical imbalances. But you seem to link ‘depression with demons.’ I would be careful to link those to. We hear counselors and preachers speak about the ‘demon of alcoholism, drugs, anger, selfishness etc.’ Really, those are sin issues and they need to be confronted.
The rest of your questions are a bit misty to me. Whether we are on the right track regarding ‘miracles and demon’ possession? I hope that we are and at this moment I feel convinced that we are. My study of the Word of God is the basis of my convictions.. Of course, we can err in how we understand the Word and therefore my prayer continually remains that the Lord will teach us His way and lead us all in the paths of his truth.
I assume that with your question you mean the call to be a preacher or pastor.
All callings in this life are God’s. Too often we elevate one calling above another. Though some callings have more influences in reaching other people yet each calling is contributing to the people around us. It is a very worthwhile thought from Luther when he taught ‘that God milks the cow through the milkmaid.’ Such a task seems not so important and to call that a calling sounds exaggerated. Yet is not exaggerated; it is Biblical. In each Biblical calling God is carrying out His work of providence or grace. Keep this in mind in whatever Biblically acceptable work you are doing. It is as one man who was a repair man in our local school, “I don’t work for the school; I work for my King.” And that put a smile on his face nearly every day I saw him work.
The calling of the ministry is a calling that goes beyond the work of God’s providence. In ministry we are dealing with the work of God’s grace, particularly in the preaching ministry. God gathers His elect and nourishes His Kingdom through the preaching of the Word. A preacher speaks on behalf of God, as an ambassador. No one should intrude himself into that task without having a Divine warrant from God. For how could anyone assume to become an ambassador for a nation without having been ‘called or appointed’ by the government? So we need to be clearly called by God before we move toward the ministry.
How does God a man to the ministry? Many books are written about this subject. Consult The Christian’s Reasonable Service by Brakel. He has an excellent chapter about this subject. Preachers and PReaching by Lloyd Jones is also very useful. John Newton’s collection of letters also has a letter covering the question.
In brief, God doesn’t call a person to the ministry before He has called him in grace. In other words, before we can become one of God’s ambassadors, we need to be one of His children. How else can someone proclaim Him Whom He does not know personally or has no experience of the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation. Besides, he needs to be matured believer. Paul warns TImothy not to put a novice in the office of elder or deacon.
God in His providence also equips the person whom He intends to be a preacher. Gifts such as skills to speak, to lead, to connect with people, to listen and above all to learn. Having said that, some of the Lord’s eminent servants didn’t possess the greatest speaker abilities and personal skills. Paul wrote that he wasn’t among the Corinthians with great eloquence. Perhaps he wasn’t a very good public speaker. But did that matter? When I was in high school, I continued to fail my public speech classes. Still God directed me to become a teacher and through that experience I finally overcame my fears to speak in public. Along with these various gifts, comes the strong desire to be in the ministry. I believe that God kindles this flame of desire in the heart and often does that even before the call to the ministry has come.
But the most important element of the call is that you sense God’s Word directing or calling you to give yourself to the ministry. You need to wait on God in prayer and listen to His Word to know whether it is His will that you go forward in the ministry. You need to be personally convinced of where and what God has spoken to you. I am thankful to this day for my former pastor. When I was considering whether God was directing me to the ministry, I shared with him my thoughts and burden. WHen I asked him what his thoughts were, he simply said, “Thank you for sharing but I have nothing to say. You need to convince me that you are called of God. If you are not completely sure, don’t enter into the ministry.” At the time I didn’t appreciate his answer and wisdom. Later I did thank him for his reply. It sent me back to God and His Word to know from Him whether it was His will.
This is a two part question.
1. What is the difference between conversion and reformation?
2. Can a person have a conversion experience and return to sinning?
It is about time that I answer you! Thanks for you prolonged patience.
Sometimes it easier to answer a question in context for I am sure that your questions aren’t just born outside the context in which they were born.
So I will try to answer as straightforward as possible.
1. Conversion is the fruit of regenerating grace. It is the outward aspect of the inward power of God that becomes visible in the person’s thinking, acting, speaking. In some ways you must think of
conversion as an ongoing experience. We are not ‘converted’ but ‘converting’ because each day there are sins that we encounter that needs repentance. The Holy SPirit’s work is very important
in this as well.
Reformation is generally referred to the ‘reforming views’ which also brings a reforming lifestyle. If we apply it to the person, which may be what you are looking for, then there is little difference
between the two. A converting person is reforming his or her life style, walk, talk, choices etc.
So in conclusion, I would say they are the same.
2. Yes, definitely. Let’s take Peter: he was converted and yet he denied Jesus. David was a converted king and yet he stooped low as he took fell into adultery and murder.
But a child of God cannot stay in sin. The Lord’s grace is persevering and therefore, though they can make grievous falls, they will not remain in the sins to which they are returned.
John taught that clearly in 1 John 1:6, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness (meaning: walk in a life-style of sin, being involved in sin), we lie and do not the truth.”
Later in 1 John 3:9 he wrote, “Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin: for his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” John doesn’t teach that a child of
God cannot fall into sin, but that they cannot stay in those sin. The work of grace will lead them to repentance and returning to God.
But to teach that a converted person cannot fall into sin is contrary to the experience of Paul in Rom. 7. It is a teaching that may be referred to as ‘perfectionism.’ But that degree of sanctification
which lifts a man above sin is glorification and that is not till God takes HIs children home to Him in heaven.
Please provide your opinion on whether the Lord’s Prayer in its biblical form can be used by unbelievers. I have heard from some that the term “Our Father” can only be used in prayer by true believers. They say if an unbeliever wishes to use this prayer they must alter the beginning of the prayer i.e. “Dear Lord”. I have never heard this before and was hoping you could express your opinion. Thanks.
When we examine the context of both occurrences of the Lord’s prayer, then you notice that they were spoken to His disciples. However, the Sermon on the Mount was heard by many more than His disciples. From that I conclude that the Lord Jesus has given this prayer as a guide or model of what and how we ideally should pray. He has in a very brief and simple form set out the priorities in our prayer life, the most necessary matters and that the opening and closing of our prayers should always include some form of doxology. There are many other useful observations to be made on the Lord’s prayer which fall outside the scope of this question.
To restrict the use of this prayer to those who are assured of their salvation in Christ seems too restrictive. If we hold to that view, then you must also exhort people not to sing all the Psalters we sing for most of them are expressions of faith about God and His salvation.
The suggestion to adjust the address of the prayer so it reflects the relationship the petition has to the Lord is acceptable for that at least prevents the presumption of claiming God to be ‘our Father’ if He is not.
But the same is true for every other petition of this prayer. Do we really desire God’s Name to be hallowed and have our life conformed to His image in everything we say or do? Are we really submissive to His will and desire that His will be honored as the angels do in heaven? Have I truly forgiven all the people who have offended or hurt me by their sinful actions? I plead therefore that each petition of the Lord’s prayer must reflect what I really believe or wish for otherwise the whole prayer is but an outward show without substance. Such prayers are an abomination to the Lord no matter how beautiful and sound the words are.
Question: I was curious as to your thoughts on tithing. Is
tithing to be calculated on gross or net income?
After a personal study on tithing in Scripture, I am convinced that tithing is a Biblical command for all times. I was not raised with this understanding but once I become an adult earning a yearly wage, I was confronted with the question how much I should be giving to God and His Kingdom. In my first discussions with people on this subject, I was told that this is not necessary anymore. It was a Mosaic legislative issue that has ceased with the New Testament age.
That didn’t satisfy me for no arguments were supplied. So, as I should have done right away, I went back to Scripture itself. In short, here are my findings.
a. Abraham and Jacob tithed long before Moses legislated it in his days. So much for the argument that tithing was a Mosaic institution. From the beginning of time, God’s saints have understood that the ‘tithe’ is God’s in every circumstance. Abraham wouldn’t take a dime from the king of Sodom but he wouldn’t withhold the tithe from God out of the spoil he took. Here lies your first hint to the secondarily question you asked: must I take the tithe from the gross or net income? Abraham gave his tithe from the ‘gross spoil’!
b. Moses indeed regulated the command to tithe as he also formally legislated many others things that were done prior to Moses’ days, such as marriage, Sabbath keeping etc.
c. In each Biblical revival you see a returning to faithful tithing (Hezekiah, Josiah, and Ezra). In other words, each time God’s nation began to ‘love their idol money or luxury above God there was backsliding in the practice of tithing. We see the same through the history of God’s church post Bible times. I believe we shall see it again and again when God revives His people’s faith and obedience.
d. In the New Testament Jesus speaks about the practice of tithing in the context of hypocrisy in Matt. 23:23. But notice that after He pointed out that judgment, mercy and faith are the most important aspects of our spiritual devotion to God and moral obedience among men, that He adds, ‘and not to leave the other (i.e. tithing) undone.’ In vain will you find a NT reference where tithing is told to be ended. In 1 Cor. 16:1-2 Paul refers to the collections to be made on the first day of the week and his phraseology is in the spirit of tithing, ‘every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him…” That’s exactly how the Israelite would do it each time there was another harvest or further income received. He would lay in store … until he went to the temple to pass it on to the Levites.
e. The OT ends in Malachi 3 with some fierce accusations of the LORD against His people. One of them is regarding tithing. Malachi calls it ‘robbing God’ when we withhold from Him the tithe. That is how serious God calls it when we withhold from Him what by right is His, even though ‘every cattle on the hills is His.’ Note also the promise in Mal. 3:10. Only three times is that phrase ‘windows of heaven’ used in the Bible. (In the Flood; in 2 Kings 7:2 with regard to food; and here in Malachi.) NEVER has God failed me in this promise. His windows of heaven have always been opened when I faced needs that were beyond the means He normally would give me or had provided me with.
This in short my view on tithing. Just as with every other duty in our spiritual obedience to God, we can make this work holiness. That God always condemns as hypocritical and useless whether it is almsgiving, prayer or fasting. (see Matt. 6).
The second question regarding whether we are to tithe from our ‘gross or net.’ My conviction is from our gross income. Taxes are a form of payment for services our government provides us. Whether we agree with all those forms of service is not to enter into this discussion. Samuel warned that if we would depart from God’s system of government (theocracy) and want to follow the ways of other kingdoms, the people would regret it. The king (government) would cost them more than what they were paying in tithing. So it is today. We may have corrupt systems of taxing or governing, but that doesn’t mean we now must tithe God on our net income. You know the only reason for this may be to feed our covetousness for it means we will have more money in our hand.
My friend, believe God’s promise. The windows of heaven would be opened for you if through your tithing you would not be able to meet your normal, daily financial obligations. Please, note that I mentioned ‘normal daily needs and obligations.’ To have a budget that includes payments for a luxury item, for an totally oversize house, for exciting vacations and loads of good food, a top line luxury car, etc. is something that doesn’t fit in Paul’s statement ‘having food and raiment, let us be content therewith.’ In other words, we have added so much to our ‘needs to have’ list that are nothing else by luxury items or unnecessary.
Faithful tithing when the bills mount, when the normal budgetary limits are stretched becomes therefore an act of faith and faith is obedience to Christ’s Word. He has promised to open the ‘windows of heaven’ to meet every need we face.
May God bless these few considerations.
Question: My son despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
In what particular ways does the Lord chasten and scourge us? How do you know if this is the case? Is it because of particular sins or at His will? How does Exodus 20 v 5 ‘visiting the
iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation that hate me’ come into it? Does that still apply in this day and age or was it just for back in the old Testament times? So if the Lord does chasten and scourge us how can we know if its from our own sins or from our fathers / grandfathers / great grandfathers sins?
The ways in which God chastises His people are endless in variety and degree. He always measures the crosses to the need (shoulders) of His people. He knows what needs to be corrected in their life. Of He sees a particular weakness in their character and appoints a certain trial or correction to mature that grace in the struggles of life. He may even permanently ‘break a leg’ (metaphorically) to prevent one of His to run the wrong direction. A good father doesn’t measure out a certain discipline just because he feels like it. There is a need or an action in His child that calls for his action. So it is with God’s dealings. See also Lamentation 3: 32-33.
Your second questions seems to flow from the first and did I read you right in that you are worried that the Exodus 20:5 truth is applying to your own particular situation?
To answer that let’s consider what God really means in the second commandment and the threat. The second commandment deals with His demand in how we worship Him appropriately whereas the first is with who we are to worship.
This ‘how of worship’ forbids us to make a presentation of God that is unworthy of Who He is. We usually don’t make stone/wooden images today and bow down before them. But it is just as wrong to make a ‘mental image’ of God and worship a God Who isn’t the Biblical God. Perhaps we present as only ‘holy and righteous.’ Or as an indulgently loving God Who really is very ‘easy going and accepting.’ Or we neglect to emphasize His justice. In each case we make a misrepresentation of the Godhead. Or our ‘spiritual instruction’ to our children is that God is just for Sunday! In the rest of the week He doesn’t really matter. We do our business and enjoy our pleasures and we bravely begin our week in the Lord’s house without really giving Him more than lip service. Such a life-style is certainly making a mocking image of God and that’s poured into the minds of all too many children. Now let’s assume that our father or mother is teaching us by direct instruction or by example this ‘wrong image’ of God? What will happen to their children?They will pass on the ‘incorrect image of God’ in an even more incorrect way. Once we get to the third and fourth generation (grand/great grand-children) the damage is usually so bad that those grand children have long departed from the ways of God. That’s what God is warning about. He will visit the sins against the second commandment (as outlined above) in such a way that they will show up in their destructive fruit in the third and fourth generation. It is to make us parents today to realize that what we ‘sow’ will not fully be reaped till we are in the grave already. Notice also the encouragement in this commandment. Parents who do take His service serious and who love Him, though they will never lead a perfect parental home example, He has promised to show ‘mercy’ to thousands (of generations). Notice the word ‘mercy.’ God doesn’t expect anyone to keep His commandments perfectly.
So with that explanation, you ought not to interpret the chastisements that you experience in your life as an illustration of the teaching in Exodus 20. Instead, seek the Lord and continue to listen for the answer in His Word on your prayer, “Lord, show me why thou are bringing this affliction or cross in my life? Show me what Thou sees and I don’t see. Teach me to know what I know not and what Thou are seeing to remedy in me.”
I hope this helps, Sharon. May the Lord uphold and bless you in whatever troubles you are facing. Thanks for reminding me of how important parenting is also.
Question: The first question in the Westminster catechism is: What is the chief end of man? Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. My question: As this is of utmost importance, as we were created for this, how do we actually glorify God and how do we enjoy him forever?
In one of the Psalms it says ‘Praise (glorify) ye Him, sun and moon; all ye stars of the light…” (Ps. 148)
They praise or glorify God when they do what they were created to do. In others when the sun shines and warms the earth; when the moon reflects and comforts us in the night, then they do glorify God.
What were we created to do? In one word, we were created to serve God with voluntary and joyful obedience, carrying out our task in Paradise. Adam and Eve were given
custody over the earth and to dress Paradise. We were given the task to manage God’s created world. If they would have continued to do that, they would have enjoyed Him forever in the daily communion with their Creator. This enjoyment would have been unending and indescribable.
Applied to our daily life, we glorify God when we serve Him, acknowledge Him, obey His will, recognize His gifts, understand His greatness and respond to this with reverence and thankfulness. But also when we care for His creation and the creatures that He has made us responsible for. Paul even mentions that we are to ‘eat and drink to God’s glory.’ That is eating while recognizing that what you eat is a gift of grace (each crumb) and that He provided it to please you.
When we serve others in love because they are God’s creatures, whether they are people or animals or even enemies, we glorify God.
Ever since our ‘break-away’ from God (the Fall) we are broken people, unable to do what we were created to do. That’s why mankind is in such a self-centered, sad and struggling condition. If we don’t glorify God with obedience and serve Him we also won’t enjoy Him forever. Instead He will be a terror to us as He is holy and righteous Being. But great is the Gospel message that Jesus Christ came as the Second Adam. He did obey His Father’s will till the very last moment of His life. Only when we hide ourselves by faith in
His obedience and merits can be glorify God through Him. He also alone will be the only way in which we may enjoy again His communion.
Thanks for the great question. So often we assume such beautiful
statements but little do we grasp what they intend to say.
Question: Why is it that churches are full of historical believers?
Your question is striking. Especially as I read the other day that one of the greatest curses of a church is the great number of historical believers.
They have no heart for God and also not for their lost neighbours because they have really no living heart for themselves. Sin doesn’t bother them as long as it doesn’t endanger their reputation. As a fact, it are the ‘historical believers’ that often are the cause of the all-to-true charge that ‘most Christians’ are hypocrites.
A church full of historical believers are churches that have a name to live but there is no power of true godliness because there is no true union with Jesus.
Why is this often the sad case with established churches?
1. Ultimately is is the fulfillment of one of Jesus’ remarkable sayings: Many are called but few are chosen. (Matt. 20:16)
2. That truth is an explanation but not an excuse. Mere ‘historical believers are unbelievers in a religious coat.’ It are the ones Jesus pictured in the parable of sower
with the ‘thistle infested ground.’ The cares (business) of this world, riches and pleasures of this life choke the impressions, snuff out the callings, deafen the ears, chill the heart and eventually all you get is ‘a stalk, leaves, perhaps even an ear’ but no ear (fruit) is brought to perfection (Luke 8:14).
In other words, the word doesn’t bring forth real fruit that bring heart changes. According to the Lord Jesus, that isn’t the fault of the sower, of the seed but of the
hearers. They make choices that hinder the growth and fruit of the Word.
Let it be recognized that this is not something ‘new.’ The Lord Jesus did speak in Matthew 13 of His Church as being ‘chaff and wheat.’ The saved and unsaved
will exist next to each other in the visible church. Efforts to eliminate this situation by limiting full membership to the ‘truly saved’ may have good intentions but
doesn’t solve the problem. In the NT early Church we had already quickly the presence of historical believers and that reality will continue to exist till the end of time.
There will not be a mixed multitude in the heavenly glory or in the new heaven and earth.
What a prospect! Will you and I be part of that Church?
Question: Hello pastor,
Do I have to forgive the boy who abused me for years? Does God require that of me? When I cannot forgive him now, is that a sign that I am not saved by God? I really struggle with this question as I always read in the Bible about forgiveness, but I cannot do it. Everything in me screams no when I think about forgiveness.
Your heart is wounded and pained through the terrible things that you have experienced.
Hopefully you have made an effort to find some help to deal with these matters.
If not, please e-mail me to my private e-mail at email@example.com so that I can link
you up with a woman who can help you in this matter as she herself has gone through abuse also.
If that doesn’t prove enough, you really have to find help to deal with you pained and wounded heart. Let me encourage you, Julia, healing is possible through the power and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I know various persons who have experienced trauma through abuse or other ways and have not lived the rest of their life tormented or caged by their shame, pain, anger, bitterness, insecurity, distrust and difficulty to make relationships. There is hope, my friend, for with God there are all the resources to heal you from this.
That you struggle with the call to forgive him may not be a sign that you aren’t saved. But it is sign that more saving is necessary if you have experienced God’s saving grace. God doesn’t transform His people in one day.
Let me try to explain my convictions on this subject. There is confusing teaching about the issue of forgiveness, mostly through ignorance or through inaccurate language. We hear sometimes when people have experienced traumatic loss through violence or abuse, ‘But I have forgiven the person(s) who have done this.” They say these things even without ever having met or confronted the person who abused. Maybe you compare yourself to these persons and you feel how far you are from forgiving them.
But let’s get some things straight. Does God ‘forgive’ a sinner without repentance and acknowledgement of sin?
Does He simply say to everyone who sinned against Him, “I forgive you?”
No, He doesn’t. He confronts the sinners with their sins and exhorts them to repent. If there is no confession of sin, there is no forgiveness of those sins.
Would God require us to do differently? No.
Read for yourself the first verses of Luke 17. Notice that God commands that forgiveness is to be given when the sinner repents (acknowledges, confesses and seeks your forgiveness).
What does God require before the person who sinned against us repents? He requires that we have a willingness to forgive him or her. We are not to harbour a spirit of bitterness, hatred or refusal to extent forgiveness to him or her. In other words, even when we confront the person who has done this evil to us, we are to have in our heart the resolution and willingness to forgive when they do repent and confess.
Why is that? Ultimately it is because God Himself is like this. In Ps. 86 is reads that He is ready to forgive. In other words, He stands ready to forgive any sinner to returns to Him.
The best explanation of that is given by the Lord Jesus in Luke 15. The father of the prodigal son stood ‘waiting and then he ran towards his returning and repentant son.
You say, “How can I be like to the boy that abused me for years.”
Julia, you cannot muster that strength or even that willingness in yourself. That is so unreachable especially as you daily cope with the dire results of this abuse. Your natural feelings are revulsion, hatred, anger, wishing him a ‘cookie of his own dough.’ You know that those feelings are not to guide you but they do from time to time stick up their ugly heads and make a lot of noise within our minds. The Lord requires that we even ‘love our enemy and those who have embittered our lives.’ Love is not a feeling; forgiveness is also not based on feelings. It is an act in obedience to God’s command.
But how can I do this? How can I ever forgive him?
Read Luke 17 again. After the Lord in verses 3-4 set out the requirement of His law on forgiveness, the disciples responded with a prayer, “Lord, increase our faith?” Strange. You would say that they needed loads of love to be like that. But they asked for faith. Why?
Did they realize that how God requires them to be is also how He is Himself? In other words, even when I sin seven times a day and repent and seek His forgiveness, He will forgive me! That is hard to believe.
But only when you and I may believe that is how God will deal with my sins, then only can I truly forgive those who repent from their sins done towards me.
My dear friend, may God give and increase your faith in Him. For true saving faith also saves you from the harbouring bitterness, anger and even hatred that may from time to time surface in your heart. In that way many abused are continuing to feel the results of the abuse.
One more matter, Julia. As hard as it may sound, you need to ‘go home’ and confront the abuser, if you have not done so. For without that ‘going home to face him’ you will never be able to be freed entirely from what has happened.
Again if you would like more personal counselling on this issue, I prefer that it will be done on a private basis.
You are free to e-mail me on my personal e-mail.
You are in my prayers.
Question: What does following Jesus mean to you?
To follow Jesus to me means to take up His cross, to deny myself and to obey His Word despite all I may think or feel. It is to sacrifice myself in the sense that no earthly comforts or fleshly reasoning is to stop me from doing His will.
To follow Him is to run counter my sinful desires which are to indulge my sinful appetite.
But it is also to trust Him for everything that I need in this life and for the life to come. He is my righteousness, He is my ground of acceptance with the holy Father; He is my triumph over all evil; He is my King who will supply all my needs in this journey of life; He is my High Priest who will present me faultless at His Father’s throne with
exceeding joy. To follow Him to me is to look for no other in whom I place my trust or hope for this life and the life to come. To follow Him also is as preacher to preach no other Name than His as the way of salvation. As Paul, so I am convinced with all my heart, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me and I unto the world.”
Having said all this, I need to confess that each step or look of following Him is His gracious gift. To Him be all the glory and the thanksgiving for it is only through His grace that I am what I am. Paul wrote words that express my own confession, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Soli Deo Gloria.
Question: Hello pastor, Friends of us have lost one of their children last month. The little boy was only 1 year old. We believe God has taken the little boy ‘home’. We as adults know what death means. But how should we tell children about death? Others tell their children that the little boy is a star up in the sky now, but we don’t think this is a Christian way. So, what’s a Christian way to teach little children about death?
Warmly, Henco & Annelies
Hello Henco and Annelies,
Children can handle the truths much better than we adults think. Perhaps they can handle it even better because they deal with the reality in snatches and without all the emotional overload that we add through our ‘taking tomorrows burdens on our shoulders today.’ They can ‘park’ the problem and when they have enough emotional energy, they take it out, deal with it till they have had enough, and park it again. Often they deal with it while they play. While they play, they process the information that was hard and painful. At least that is with the younger children below five. Children don’t rationalize and analyze like we adults do. Older children (5-10) begin to be more abstract about the reality and they tend to hide it. For more information on grieve and how to recognize and guide it, search on this website for the topics I have given on this subject. It is filled with practical guidance on grief.
Telling children about death needs to be done sensitive but factual. A person that has died is like an house in which people used to live. The people have moved out while the house is now empty. So you use that picture to explain to a child that when a person dies, the ‘inner person’ (soul) moves out and the body (house) remains behind. This
house is now no more necessary and begins to ‘fall apart’ and therefore we need to bury it. Tell children that the body doesn’t live; doesn’t need to eat, isn’t cold or hot and also doesn’t know that they are going under the ground. Compare it something they can relate to. For example, a dead body is like a stone. They don’t feel, eat, drink etc. It is very educational and helpful if children actually get to feel a dead body. Never discourage children to touch the dead body of the deceased. They learn with their fingers. Make use of the educational opportunities when you see a dead bird or rabbit. Point out that the reason we bury the body is so that it won’t smell. These things are facts and facts if what children need. If you don’t provide the facts and you leave empty spots, they fill it in with their imagination and that’s where often the fears come in.
To tell a child that a person went ‘to sleep’ is not good. They will have trouble falling in sleep later because what if they never wake up. Telling them that the soul become an angel or a star isn’t true either. No, tell them that the ‘inner person’ (soul) has moved to God’s world. That world is either heaven (God’s house) or hell (not God’s house). There the soul lives on. The older the child is, the more we may and should share the Biblical details about either place. How much do you tell? A good guide is to let your children’s question guide you how much you tell. They will ask, “Where is his soul now? What does he do there? Will he come back? Does he know about us? Can he see us?
…” Their questions are the guide how much they can handle. There is also nothing wrong when you tell children that you don’t know something. They will accept that as long as you really don’t know. Withholding information they ask for isn’t wise and lying about it is sin. To say a child became a star is a lie.
My five oldest children have experienced the death of their mother and they have all handled it better than I did. But from the beginning of the process of her terminal illness, I was frank and open with them. They knew what the doctors told. I answered their questions as their Mama became comatose. They touched her when she passed away. They were present at the funeral in which we actually lowered the casket in front of them (very un-American) and the only one that struggled for a longer time with the confusion was our youngest who was 2 years old and I thought it better not to take him along to the funeral. That was a mistake for for a long time he would ask me ‘where have you brought Mama?’ I would take him to the grave but that didn’t make any sense because all he saw was grass. Shortly after her death we bought two pigmy goats and sadly, one of the died a couple days later. So we had another funeral in the back yard and this time I made sure that our youngest was part of that. The visual experience did help him to come to terms with the funeral of his mother.
Honestly and factual as much as the child asks to know … that is in a nutshell my story above.
Question: Dear pastor, I’m happy you still want to answer the questions at this website! I listened to the sermon of ‘Jesus meeting doubters’ a few times. It makes many things very clear, but I missed 2 doubts. Can you answer those too? 1. It can’t be real with me because I never experienced the assurance in the way the pastors describes it in the sermons. They say you have to have heard His voice, God has to say it to you personal. A text of the Bible has to become so special and it has to be special in such a way that you never can forget it. They mention quite often psalm 56:5 rhymed (Dutch). Do you really have to experiences something special before you can be assured? Can God not simply take away all the doubts that stand in the way? This is the first doubt what always comes when I have a little assurance. What’s the biblical way of getting assurance?
2. Can a child of God be so weak even when he or she knows that something is a sin, still do it?
Arianne (Sorry my English isn’t perfect)
Sorry it took a while to answer your questions. Hopefully the patience wasn’t tried too much.
Regarding your first question. I am always very careful to ‘insist’ on a certain way in which a soul receives assurance of his or her salvation. God encourages His children to live by faith in His promises. That can be a real battle as we don’t dare, feel not worthy, aren’t sure the promise belongs to us, or experiences an inability to believe. These are the normal battles every person who is convicted of sin will experience. Through these battles we learn very much. For one, we learn that we need the Holy Spirit for every act of faith. His work is as necessary for salvation as the coming, suffering and death of the Lord Jesus. But to insist that you ‘must have heard God’s voice before you can assured of your salvation’ is something I would never say. Stating it this way is making God the cause of our lack of assurance. Since ‘He hasn’t spoken yet’ we can’t really help not being assured. If that is true, it would contradict God’s exhortation to ‘make your calling and elections sure’ (2 Peter 1). It would also contradict Jesus’ words in John 14-16 in which He repeatedly encourages His disciples to believe in His Word ‘so that their joy may be full.’ I am convinced that is God is speaking in His Word. Each time we read the Bible, hear it proclaimed faithfully by God’s servants, the LORD is speaking to us. The problem is with us. We don’t hear or believe what He speaks. There are hundreds of promises in the Bible through which the Lord speaks to His people about the certainty, completeness and reality of their salvation. Gladly the Holy Spirit will aid His people and grant them faith to believe His Word and once a person is enabled to trust the promises, he or she will experience the joy of salvation (assurance). If you are able to listen to English well, I can link you to my Dropbox and you can download a few sermons I recently preached on assurance of faith, in connection with Lord’s Day 23. I tried to explain in those sermons what is taught in the Canons of Dort about the assurance of faith. The teaching given in that pastorally written ‘document’ is so thoroughly Biblical. (You will need to send a personal e-mail to me so I can send you the link to this dropbox; my email firstname.lastname@example.org)
So to sum up your first question, yes God can take away your doubts and grant you the childlike faith to trust His promises. Interestingly, I was just reading a comment about a sermon from Rev. Kersten, Jr. He clearly pointed out that it is the weak in faith who need special texts spoken to them with power. It is my own conviction also that God has very many special needs children to whom He bows down in His loving-kindness to bring them to the full assurance of their salvation. I would count myself among one of those. But normally, God calls sinners to trust His promises and the moment we truly believe these promises (and there are hundreds of them), we will experience the peace, joy, rest of assurance of faith.
A closing comment on the statement: the Lord needs to speak with power. Don’t imagine an audible voice. God’s Spirit may bring a Scripture in your mind as you are wrestling with God in prayer and such a Scripture can bring great comfort when you believe it. God also sometimes presses a Scripture on your heart when you read His Word in such times of intense struggle with your doubts and needs. But again, never must we insist on this as if this is the norm. I am still convinced that these cases are the exceptions in which God tenderly condescends like Jesus did with His disciples after the resurrection, especially as He dealt with Thomas. God is honoured when we believe Him on His Word, as it is written. Such faith is the strong faith, like the woman in Matt 15. Even though everything testified her, even though Jesus’ own actions and words placed her ‘outside’, yet she trusted undiminished in what she had heard about Him. Without a special text and without a special sign she believed and Jesus closed the scene with saying that He had never found so great faith in Israel.
2. Your second question is honest. Sadly, yes, a child of God can know that something is a sin and still do the sin to which they are attracted. I mean with ‘doing the sin’ not just falling into a sin because of an infirmity. Peter wasn’t overtaken by infirmity when he denied Jesus with curses. David wasn’t just overtaken in a moral slip when he committed adultery and tried to cover his tracks with pre-meditated murder. While their conscience must have spoken, they did continue in their sin. Sin has a pleasurable attraction to our carnal old man. And even though in the regenerate a new man is created, the old man is never converted though he is crucified. Oh what battles are fought with sin in the life of God’s children! Once they begin to reason or argue with the tempter, it will be a lost battle for his power and the power of our remaining corruption is so great that we can never win this battle unless we instantly flee to the Lord Jesus and by faith in His overcome the world
We hope that you have received some guidance from these answers, Arianne. May the Lord bless you in His grace.
Warmly, Pastor Vergunst,
Question: Are people converted in the same way they were years ago? I know the answer is yes, but why then are things looked at so differently? When I was young, there was so much more doubt; people would say they “hoped” they had been converted. Rarely was a child of God fully assured. However, today so many who go to the Lord’s Supper are happy, don’t doubt, and just don’t have the outwardly Godly life that our forefathers did. What was wrong yesterday is OK today? I know, the main concern is to look at ourselves; I really do, and I don’t like what I see. But settling this contrast between God’s people of former days and of today, is of utmost importance to me in determining what is the truth.
You have much packed in your questions. I will try to answer the questions first as short as possible and then try to come to some Biblical conclusions.
1. Are people converted in the same way they were years ago?
When God converts a sinner, they all learn the same things though in vastly different ways. Paul learned the same as Samuel but their ways were incomparable in how they reached this. Comparing the conversion of John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress) and his wife (Christina’s Journey) introduces you to two entirely different stories. Yet they all are summed up in the words of Paul in Phil. 3:3, “For we are the circumcision (regenerated/saved) which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” The three-fold essential knowledge of the misery, delivery and gratitude (as the Heidelberg Catechism sets out) is the essence of conversion. All of God’s children can find their description in the Beatitudes Jesus gave in Matt. 5:3-10. So, yes, when God saves a person He teaches us the same things are He has taught the first fallen creature He converted.
2. Why are things then looked at so different?
You are concerned that we have departed from the truth because the professed children of God in your youth spoke differently about salvation; as a matter of fact, you observe that they rarely were assured of their salvation. There was so much doubt in them even though they attended the Lord’s Supper. They were rarely assured of their faith. Later in your question you mentioned the ‘fore-fathers’ and with them I am sure you didn’t mean the people of God that you grew up with but godly teachers such a M Henry, S. Rutherford, T. Boston, T. Watson and the like.
However, the comparison between these two groups doesn’t quite stack up as you made it sound like. If you read the personal memoirs of our forefathers you would often read about the assurance of faith and the joy of their salvation. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have their times of trial and darkness. How else could they preach so pastorally to encourage the pour doubting Christians of their days?
I agree that many in the former generation as well as many of God’s children today struggle with the doubts regarding their salvation. I am convinced that this was/is not a Biblical or healthy condition yet often present. We remain strugglers and every believer will have his times of doubt, fears, darkness and trials. Yet the reason that there was (and still is) so little assurance of salvation can also be because there was/is misunderstanding about ‘how a child of God will be assured of their salvation?’ Over the years of study of the Scripture as well as the teaching of our fore-fathers, especially they who were used by God to write the Canons of Dort, has led me to see that many dear children of God walked in darkness because they had an incorrect view about how to arrive at assurance of faith. If you are interested in this subject, send me a private e-mail (email@example.com) and I will send you a link to my Ministry Dropbox. Recently I preached two sermons on ‘assurance of faith’ in which I expounded the Biblical teaching of the Canons of Dort on this subject.
You would do well to establish what is right or wrong by Scripture and not by what you necessarily grew up with. The experiences or testimonies of the professed children of God in your youth are not the final answer though they may have been dear children of the Lord. Scripture is and there you do find expression such as “I know that my Redeemer liveth” and “I am persuaded …” and “When I confessed my transgressions, thou forgavest the iniquity…” I am afraid that some have made assurance of faith unreachable because they have moved it away from personal faith in God’s objective truths and promises as well as the observations of the fruits of God’s election in our life. Our forefathers warned against seeking your assurance of salvation in some extra-ordinary experiences. The Heidelberg Catechism speaks much about the assurance of salvation and always points to the promises of God which are confirmed by the sacrament and proclaimed to the believers by the preaching of the Word.
Are there then no experiences in the life of grace? Yes, there is the conviction of sin, godly sorrow, humbling of the heart, the surrendering to God, hunger and thirst after righteousness, love to God or the fear of His holy Name; the striving to be holy, burden with the impurity of heart. They are the genuine experiences Jesus points out in the Beatitude. If we are strangers to these, we are strangers to His saving grace. It is not always possible for a child of God to see the clear evidences in the fruits of God’s grace in their own life. But when I hear that ‘each child of God has had many sleepless nights’ I know that Satan will use such statement to terrify or trouble tender and sincere heart who may never had laid awake for a whole night. Not all of God’s children have had sleepless nights. But writing or stating such things is making a certain experience of one (or many) the standard of all. Or when I hear that you only get assurance ‘if you hear the Lord speak to you’ or ‘if a special Psalter or text you asked Him is used in the next sermon’ I object. Such statement lack complete Scriptural basis and cause massive confusion or strive. It is the ‘Thomas way’ of insisting on ‘this or that’ before one would believe (John 21). Though Jesus graciously condescended to Thomas, and He still does to such like Thomasses, He also rebuked him for not believing His Word.
Must I doubt my salvation because I have never had a sleepless night in my life (though there are plenty times that I had trouble sleeping or struggled with restless and speaking consciences)? What does it mean to ‘hear the Lord speak to you?’ The Lord speaks to us each time His Word is read but we don’t have ears to hear it.
The problem, however, is that many seek their assurance of faith in their spiritual experiences. But that is not where the assurance of faith is based on. What is the assurance that my wife will love me and be faithful to me? It is not in ‘what I feel or experience’ but in what she has spoken to me! Her character and her word are my assurance and this word she has backed up with nearly 18 years of absolute faithfulness. Do I need anything else to be assured of her love? My assurance of salvation is not in spiritual experiences but in the promises of God in Jesus Christ. Lord’s Day 23 sums my personal conviction and in the faith of God’s promise I may live.
So Kari, I am not ready to agree with you entirely but suggest that you let your questions guide you to read in our ‘fore-fathers.’ One beautiful book I continue to recommend is Thomas Hooker’s The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ. A true gem. J. C. Ryle has also a very readable book on Assurance of Faith. Scan through John Newton’s letters as I think he also touches upon this subject. Obtain the books by Brakel and check out his chapters dealing with faith and assurance.
3. You also share your concern that those who today claim to be saved don’t live the ‘outwardly godly life’ that they did in the days of your youth.
What is ‘godliness?’ To me ‘godliness’ is to be Christ-like in your walk, talk, manners, actions and re-actions. Jesus sketched godliness in the last three Beatitudes, the merciful, pure in heart and peace-makers. People in whom the Spirit of God lives are people who pursue godliness or seek to live a righteous life before God and man. Godliness is genuine love to God which is expressed in to my neighbour, friend or foe. Godliness is to deny yourself, sacrificially love another, not be thinking and acting like the world who only care for their own. But godliness is also to separate ourselves from the world and not to participate in the activities and idolatries of the world. Peter exhorted the believers to ‘be holy as He is holy’ and that certainly included not ‘running like you used to run with the world and their activities.’
I share your concern that it appears that some who profess grace have re-defined the boundaries about where and how we can be involved or participate in the world. That worries me too. Clothing styles and participation in all kinds of forms of entertainment and even how they talk about their faith etc. are matters that aren’t always in line with what former generations did and did not.
It is not fair to say, however, that is a general pattern. I see also many very serious-minded single and couples who are diligent and sharing in their Christian walk. We need to be careful to judge the heart on either side: those who walk very conservative can be as far away from salvation as those who are zealously working hard for the Lord. Others may be diligent in their ‘cups of cold water and prison visit’s ministry’ for the wrong reasons but there are also such who do it for the right reasons.
The outward walk is not necessarily a reliable barometer of the heart.
Well, Kari, I thank you for your patience and hope that my answer has given you something to think about. I am always open to further comments or questions. May the Lord remember us all in His grace and continue to work out His glorious salvation in us and ours.
I sometimes hear Christians using sayings like “O my Goodness” and “O my Word” and wonder if they are the same as taking God’s name in vain? I cant help but think its wrong to do so. What are your thoughts on this?
Hello dear friend,
I agree with you that such expressions are ‘borderline’ imitations of the way many use the name of God in vain. Especially “oh my goodness’ is not even borderline but a reference to God’s goodness. Although you can’t really say that “O my Word’ is wrong it yet has the ‘appearance of evil’ and therefore I would agree that we should not use such expressions. Let’s steer clear away from the world’s ways of dishonouring the Lord, His Goodness or His name.
That we use certain expressions to verbalize a certain surprise, shock or elation is not wrong of course. But they should stay very clearly away from the sounds the world uses. So, how about you invent some expressions that are harmless but fulfil the purpose of exclamation and begin to use those around your Christian friends. Maybe it will catch!
Question: Do you ever wonder how our modern churches compare to the early church that began after the resurrection of Jesus? – David
I am afraid that the early Christians would not know what they see. It is the same reaction that you notice when you show the Chinese brothers our houses of worship. They meet in simple rooms to hold their church services and I think that is what I envision for many years to have been the case in the early Christian Church. As congregations grew, it became necessary to make bigger houses of worship. Not long after that the buildings became more ornate. Probably not a positive development.
The early Christians church services would probably also look different than what ours look like. The essentials of the worship (preaching, singing, praying, offerings) were all there but probably with more involvement of the believers that we generally have today.
I don’t know whether that is positive or negative; just different as the organization
was less formal. I notice that again as I participate in the services in China. They have all the above elements but organize it far more member involved.
From the readings on the early Churches, it appears also that they were far more socially oriented than we are. The churches were making an impact upon their cultural environments through charity and also by being to ‘other-worldly.’ They shared their resources of love, time, service, sharing and caring to the needy in their world. In our days we channel this more through organizations, mission boards, disaster committees and home mission work. Again, there is an advantage in bundling the gifts but the danger is that we just ‘give money’ rather than extend ourselves on a personal level within the community that we can reach. It will need to be remembered that the early church lived a pre-Christian society. The social services that we even today enjoy were not available in those days. In other words, there was a massive field of needs into which the early Christians poured their loving ministry. The lesson for us is that we must not forget that the needs in our days are also increasing. Perhaps not as much materially but
emotionally, socially and above spiritually.
We would all profit from more study of the books of Acts and labour in prayer for the Spirit’s moving us as He moved the living Church in those days.
But I am sure the early Christians will also be amazed to see the great heritage of Christian teaching that we have received through the centuries. They were mostly living on the ‘spoken word’ as the completion of the New Testament still took decades and the combining of the books into what we know today as the NT still took longer. Besides, these books weren’t owned by everyone. Add to this the wonderful confessions of faith, catechisms and the vast resource of sound Christian books we enjoy today. Perhaps they wouldn’t be only surprised with the great advantages we enjoy in that regard but also with the even greater contempt of all those gifts seen in general within the Christian world.
So much for a few of my ‘off-the-cuff’ comments on my thoughts on this question.
All the best,