It is my special privilege to receive mail from all around the world. And it’s a joy to sit down from time to time and just go through it and see how God is using the extended ministry of our church in the lives of many folks. Yesterday, I was here studying through the day and I opened a letter that found its way to my desk. It was sent on the 21st of this month, just a few days before Christmas. This is what it said: “I am writing to you to ask how I can be saved. I know that I’m a sinner and will go to hell forever unless someone helps me. I know that the Bible says if I believe on the Lord Jesus, I will be saved but I don’t know what believe means. Could you possibly write to me as soon as possible and tell me what I must do?”
I thought to myself, “that’s a long way to go to find an answer to a fairly simple question.” What does it mean to believe? He says, “I know I’m a sinner and I know the Bible says if I believe on the Lord Jesus, I will be saved but I don’t know what believe means.”
You know, a lot of times we throw around words and we don’t know what they mean. If someone came to you and said, I want to know how to be saved and you said to them, well you must believe and they said, well, what does believe mean? What would you say? Certainly we should be very adept at answering that question because that’s the most substantive question in the process of evangelism, what does it mean to believe?
That simple letter really haunted my heart all day yesterday. And so I felt sort of pushed by the Spirit of God to address that question this morning. We will often say to a person, “Well, believe on the Lord Jesus.” And that’s right. After all, the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30 said, “What must I do to be saved?” And Paul said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you’ll be saved.” And though it isn’t recorded in the text, he might have also said, I don’t know what believe means because in the next verse it says, “Paul spoke to him of many things.” So, maybe he didn’t even know what believe meant and had to be instructed.
The first time you or I ever heard about believing in the Lord Jesus Christ it probably entered our minds, what do you mean believe? And so we need to address that question. As we come to the Lord’s Table to celebrate his death, to celebrate our salvation this morning, it’s imperative that we understand the essence of what that salvation requires.
It requires that we believe and what does it mean to believe. I want to help all of us this morning to understand this. For those of you who may not be Christians, this may be the most important definition you’ve ever heard in your life. For those of us who are already Christians, we trust that this will arm us for usefulness as we go out to speak to other folks, encouraging them to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and needing to be able to define exactly what we mean by that.
So, I want to address believing two ways, objectively and subjectively, objectively and subjectively. First of all, from an objective, that is an outward concrete perspective, what does it mean to believe? And I want to you to look in your Bible, the tenth chapter of Romans and I would draw your attention to two familiar verses, versus 9 and 10. Romans 10, verses 9 and 10. And I believe we have here a simple statement of the objectivity of faith, that is, its concrete observable character.
In Verses 9 and 10 Paul says this: “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart men believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Now, Paul tells us how to be saved and he says to be saved you must “believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead.” And you must confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.
Such belief results in righteousness, such confession results in salvation. May I say quickly to you that salvation and righteousness are two separate sides of the same thing? Righteousness is a positive term defining our new life, and salvation is a negative term defining our new life. We use the term salvation so often, we think of it as positive. But it isn’t, it’s a negative term, it means to be rescued from something. It does not necessarily emphasize what we become, it emphasizes what we have ceased to be, to be delivered, to be rescued. So, the positive term of salvation is righteousness.
The negative term is in fact, salvation. Two sides to the same thing. Having been delivered from sin and death, we are now made right with God. Righteousness means to be right with God. Salvation means to be delivered or rescued from Satan and sin and death. So, Paul says here are the two elements, the two very objective concrete observable elements with regard to this new life in Christ. One is to confess with the mouth. The other is to believe in the heart. But I want to look at those because they’re very basic.
Look at verse 10 for a moment. “For with the heart, man believes.” Now, what does he believe in? Well, it says it in verse 9. “He believes in the heart that God raised Jesus from the dead.” So, we are asking here for a belief in the resurrection of Christ. Now, you say, “Well why only that? How can you say that if you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you’ll be saved?” Isn’t there a lot more to the Gospel? Isn’t there the incarnation, God becoming man? Isn’t there the life of Christ, His miraculous work? Isn’t there the great teaching of Jesus? Isn’t there His substitutionary death on the cross as a payment for your sin and mine? Isn’t there His ascension into heaven? What about His intercessory work as High Priest? What about his Second Coming as King of Kings, Lord of Lords returning in glory to rule the world? What about all of that?
Is it simply enough to believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, to believe the objective historical fact of the resurrection? Is that all? Why only this? And the answer is very simple, because the resurrection is the focal point of everything else in the life and ministry of Christ. And if you believe in the resurrection, it is a foregone conclusion that everything else falls into place.
For all that Christ is, and all that He has done and will do is bound up in the glorious reality that God raised Him from the dead. God raised Him from the dead because He was worthy of resurrection. Why? He lived a perfect life. God raised Him from the dead. Why? Because He had accomplished a perfect redemption. It assumes the work on the cross was perfect. It assumes His perfect life. It assumes His perfect atonement, His perfect work on the cross. The resurrection of Christ by the Father was the Father’s stamp of approval on His life, His ministry, His death.
Furthermore, the fact that God raised Him from the dead indicates that God then raised Him that He might exalt him to his own right hand where he now sits in the seat of authority interceding for the church from which He has sent the Holy Spirit and from which someday He himself shall return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The resurrection then, was God’s accreditation of all that went before and God’s preparation for all that would come after. The resurrection then becomes the peak in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
If I say I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the bodily literal resurrection, that means that I believe He actually died. If I believe in His resurrection, I believe that God raised him because He had accomplished in His death what God wanted Him to accomplish. And what did God want Him to accomplish? The atonement of the sins of the world. If God raised Him from dead and I believe it, it is because God affirmed His perfect life and his worthiness to be exalted to God’s own right hand. And if God raised Him from the dead, then I affirm that He’s seated at the right hand of God interceding, and He is there, awaiting the return that is promised.
So everything focuses on the resurrection. And when Paul says, “To believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved,” he meant that in so believing, you affirm the deity of Christ, the death atonement of Christ. Not only the resurrection of Christ, His ascension, His priestly work and His coming glory. It’s all there in the resurrection. That was God’s stamp of approval on the life and ministry of Christ. That was God saying this is indeed my son. This is indeed the Savior. This is indeed the High Priest. This is indeed the coming King.
And so, that’s very objective faith. It’s not just believing in God, vaguely. People say, “oh, I believe in God” or “I believe in Jesus.” There were people in the time of Christ who believe in Him but He didn’t commit himself to them because their faith was not genuine saving faith. There are people today who believe in God, who believe in Jesus. I hear of people who believe in believing.
But Paul says, “believing in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead,” which sets Him apart as the Savior, the Messiah. That’s very objective faith. Salvation then is really produced by believing. Believing in what? Believing in the person and work of Christ as culminated in his resurrection. That’s essential. That is an objective element in saving faith.
Secondly, there’s another objective element in it. And he says in verse 10, “With the mouth he confesses.” Now here is a very public testimony in fact, and what does he confess? Verse 9, “Jesus as Lord.” Here is another objective element that is an outward verbal confession that Jesus is sovereign, that Jesus is ruler, that Jesus is in charge. That he is Lord and Lord means you’re in charge. Now, follow this thought with me. When I say for my salvation, I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, I am saying I believe that He accomplished salvation on the cross. Why? Because that’s the only way God would ever raise Him. God would not exalt Him to this right hand if he hadn’t accomplished salvation.
So when I say I believe God raised Jesus from the dead, I am saying that I also therefore believe that He accomplished my salvation on the cross. I am, therefore, saying that I am dependent on someone else to accomplish my salvation and I am confessing that I am unable myself to do that. Did you get that? That’s very important thinking.
When you confess in your mouth, Jesus as Lord, you are affirming His authority and His sovereignty and His rulership. When you say, I believe in my heart God raised Him from the dead, you are affirming that He is the source of salvation. On both counts, you are acknowledging your humility. You are humbled when you say, He is the authority, I’m not; you are humbled when you say, He provided the salvation, I can’t. So, the bottom line attitude in this matter of believing is humility.
There is a self-effacing mentality here. There is a self-rejection here. There is no pride here. And I believe that the basic attitude of true faith is humility. You’re saying, on the one hand, I believe in the resurrection, which means I believe Christ accomplished my salvation because I couldn’t do it myself. So you reject your own inabilities and your own abilities. You reject works righteousness. When you confess Jesus as Lord, you are thereby saying, I’m not in charge of my life, I humble myself to His authority. In both cases, humility stands out as the virtue. And that is precisely why Jesus said in Matthew 18:4, Except a man humbles himself like this little child, he will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
The only kind of attitude the Lord responds to is one of humility. And humility says, I can’t save myself, I trust Christ. Humility says, I’m not in charge, He is. That is humility. And it’s very objective in that sense because it affirms the work of Christ as historic and valid and it affirms the Lordship of Christ as historic and valid. But the bottom line in this believing is humility. It’s not – it’s not saying, “Oh, I believe in Jesus and I’m sure He’s real happy to get me.” Not that attitude. Oh yes, I believe in Jesus but I’m also working my own salvation, I’m trying to be a good person. I’m trying to do right on my own. I want God to like me.
No, there’s none of that, it’s just the opposite. I have no good thing in me, I cannot save myself, there is nothing in me worthy of salvation, I cast myself totally on the mercy of Christ as provided in the cross and verified through the resurrection. The one who does not trust in his own works but in the works of Christ, the one who does not lead his own life but gives the authority to Christ, that is the one who demonstrates the humility of true belief. That’s the objective.
Now, what about the subjective? And for this, I want you to look at James, chapter 4. As we probe a little bit more deeply into this matter of believing, what is it like below the surface? In its most obvious form, it is an affirmation of the work of Christ and His person as Lord. But what is it down under the surface? What is the subjective attitude that lies deep down in a really humble heart? What is the stuff down inside that true faith is made out of? And this takes us deeper in the subject of humility, which is the basic attitude.
In James chapter 4, I believe we have one of the greatest gospel invitations in Scripture. It has largely been overlooked as such, unfortunately, tragically to be sure because it may be the most comprehensive one given anywhere on the pages of Scripture. And since James is probably the oldest of the New Testament Books, it was maybe the first one ever given. It is certainly a priority invitation to salvation. I – I would call your attention to verses 6 to 10 and let me read to you.
Speaking of God, James writes, “He gives a greater grace.” – that is greater than your sin, great enough to cover your sin – “Therefore it says,” – and he quotes Proverbs 3:34 – ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” Now James is saying something very important. If you want saving grace, you get it by being humble, not by being proud. It comes to those who are humble. God gives His saving grace to humble people. You say, “Well, how do you know He’s talking here about saving grace? How do you know He’s talking here to people who aren’t saved?
Very simple. Verse 8, they are called “sinners” and they are called “double-minded.” And nowhere in the Bible is the term, sinner, ever used to refer to a believer, never. It always is used of unregenerate people, non-Christians. Always used of wicked people who disregard the law of God; who disregard the will of God, who ignores God’s desires. In fact, it is used to speak of openly wicked, openly bad people, not even very subtle people. It is combined with publicans and prostitutes and other terms like that, the riffraff of society. So He is calling to sinners, the unregenerate. But a certain kind of sinner – notice they are called double-minded.
These are the kind of unregenerate people who are religious. We could call then the religious unregenerate. They go to church or maybe they’re involved – they were involved in the church to which James writes. He – he really pinpoints them, verse 22 of chapter 1. He says, “Prove yourself doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” And he knew that there were people in the church who were only hearers, just hearers, not doers. As far as their doing side, they were in the world. Their hearing side was in the church. So, they were double-minded. They had a mind to hear the things of God. They had a mind to do the things of Satan. They were the double-minded. They were the religious unregenerate. Religious but lost, religious but unsaved.
In chapter 2 he further identifies them, not only by what they hear but by what they claim. In verse 14, “If a man says he has faith,” – chapter 2, verse 14 – “but has no works, can that faith save him?” Verse 17, “Faith, if it has no works is dead.” Now here were some people who would say, “We hear and we believe.” And the hearing and believing was in the church but the doing side was in the world.
In chapter 3, he addresses them again in verse 11. He says about this double-mindedness, “Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither can salt water produce fresh. You can’t have both. If you have side of you in the hearing and believing and the other side in the doing, you are merely religiously lost.
And then he really says it in no uncertain terms in chapter 4, verse 4. Look at that. “You adulteresses,” – you prostitutes, you feign a relationship to God but you prostitute yourself with relationships to the world – “do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. If you are double-minded my friend, and you’ve got one side of you in the hearing and the believing in the church; and the other side in the doing in the world, you’re the enemy of God.
You may be religious but you’re unregenerate. You may be religious but you’re lost. You may be religious but you’re not saved. And James is so burdened for this person that he says in verse 6, look, “God will give grace to the humble.” The point is if you’ll humble yourself, God will save you. If you’ll humble yourself, God will save you. And then he goes into the subjective elements of a real humility. And these are ten commands, ten straightforward statements that are really unequal to any part of Scripture other than this passage.
Beginning in verse 7, he says this: “Submit therefore to God.” You ask the question, “How do you humble yourself?” He just said, “God gives grace to the humble,” how do I humble myself? How do I have that humble belief? First step, submit yourself to God. What does that mean? That means you are willing to enlist under His command. You have already objectively said He is Lord, now you are subjectively saying, I submit my life. That’s a corollary. You have already affirmed that He has all authority. You are now saying, I willingly come under that authority, I subjectively submit.
The rich young ruler came to Jesus, called him Master. That is, objectively, he affirmed His – His state, His position, His exalted position. He said to Him, “Master, good Master, what must I do to have eternal life?” He was objectively affirming Christ’s superiority to himself by asking the question, by calling Him good Master. But when the Lord said to him, take your money – or rather, take all your goods, sell what you have and when you get your money, take it and give to the poor, he went away and he wasn’t willing to do it. He would objectively affirm that Christ was the Master. Subjectively, he wasn’t about to submit to His mastery.
And the subject element of believing is when I align up my heart with what my mind tells me. Yes, Jesus is Lord and yes, I submit to that authority. Submit yourselves to God. And then there’s another statement in that same verse, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” And what he is saying there is that when you have affirmed your allegiance to God, you have disavowed any allegiance to Satan. You have transferred your allegiance.
You were the children of wrath. You were under his domination. Ephesians 2:3, But now you have been made in Christ Jesus as His workmanship created unto good works. You have changed Masters. You have severed allegiance. So, when you submit to God, you then resist the devil and he leaves. You transfer your allegiance. So those two phrases then, tell us the first subject element in humble faith and it is this. It is an attitude of submission of allegiance to God. He is Lord not only objectively by definition; He is Lord subjectively by relationship in my life.
So, when someone says, what does it mean to believe? I say, objectively, it means to mean that Jesus is Lord and authority and sovereign. And, subjectively, it means to believe in His resurrection, which means you believe in all the rest of his life and work. But subjectively, what does it mean? First of all it means you transfer your allegiance from Satan, the world, the flesh, to God and you are bringing your life and offering it to His control.
Secondly, in verse 8, “Draw nearer to God and He will draw nearer to you.” Now, here is the second major principle in these ten commands. Draw nearer to God means that you are pursuing an intimate love relationship. True belief in Christ is not saying “Well, I believe the facts and if it will get me out of hell, I’ll be glad to say I believe it.” It’s not here. This is not hell insurance kind of thing. There is in true humble saving faith, a pursuit of God. A pursuit of a relationship.
I think there are a lot of folks who believe they’re Christians because they’ve said, “Well, I believe Jesus died and I believe in that. And if it’ll get me outta hell, I’ll believe anything and I’ll confess it.” But there’s never been a pursuing of God. There’s never been a longing in the heart for God. Like Peter says, “To those who believe, He is precious.” There’s never been that longing for personal communion. There’s not that compulsion for loving worship. There’s not that strong desire for adoration and praise.
I know in my own life, one of the most frustrating things that I endure is the constant feeling that I cannot adequately give expression to what I feel about God. I can’t – I can’t translate what I feel into praise that seems to fit what He deserves. But there’s a longing in my heart to know God. Paul says, “That I may know Him.” There’s a longing to have intimacy with God, to have fellowship with God, to worship God, to sense his presence. To have Him draw nearer to me, which was such a foreign thought in a Pagan world where people wanted to stay far away from any deity as they could possibly stay.
So what he’s saying here is that believing that is truly humbled believing, saving believing, draws nearer to God. It longs for fellowship, communion, intimacy, love and worship. There is a deep relationship sought after and pursued and developed. And the corollary, of course, “and He will draw nearer to you.” And that is the – that is the longing of all true faith that God would draw nearer. So, the dimension of loving fellowship, personal knowledge of God, personal communion, that’s what makes prayer an inevitable reality in the heart where faith is real. Why? Because you can’t have a relationship without communication. Prayer is that communication.
Then he moves to another dimension, a third dimension in the series of ten commands in that same verse 8. “Cleanse your hands you sinners and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Now, we already noted those two references to the people He’s addressing double-minded sinners. But he says to them, “Cleanse your hands and purify your hearts.” These are very clearly distinct calls to repentance on two fronts, externally and internally. When he says, “Cleanse your hands,” the hands have always been symbols of conduct, symbols of behavior, symbols of action, activity, what you do. The heart is the place of thoughts and intents and motives and desires. So, he says the – the kind of faith that is genuinely humble saving faith cries out to be cleansed on the outside and to be cleansed on the inside.
Cleanse your hands. Purify your hearts. These two have to do with repentance, with an act of rejecting sin on the inside and the outside. To a person who is placing faith in Jesus Christ, genuine humble believing faith, there will be a revulsion about sin. There will be a desire for a purged inside and a purged outside. You can’t say, “Oh, I believe, I believe. I’m a believer in Jesus,” and then go on enjoying a life of sin. You can’t do that. That is contradictory. There will be a longing for purging on the inside and cleansing on the outside.
That, too, is an element of saving faith and it’s produced by, the Spirit according to John 16, He convicts of sin. When God is saving a person there is an overwhelming revulsion about sin and a desire to have that dealt with. Not just in the sense of future consequence but in the sense of present reality. You see when you come to Christ and your – your faith is real, it isn’t just saying, save me from the consequence of my sin. It is saying, save me from my sin. Not just what it will do in the future but what it’s doing in the present.
Then he goes to a fourth dimension in verse 9, most interesting. This is really kind of a downer, this whole verse. “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” That’s a pretty pathetic verse. You certainly wouldn’t put that on next year’s birthday card. Well, what in the world is he saying? I thought when you came to Christ it was a happy time. I thought there was a sort of exhilaration. Isn’t this a joyous and wondrous occasion?
Well, it is on the other side of your salvation but going into it, dealing with what’s in your heart, we understand what he’s saying. Three commands at the beginning of verse 9. “Be miserable, mourn and weep.” Be miserable means that. Feel wretched, feel miserable. Why? Because of your shame over your sin, because of the personal misery that your sin has brought about in your life.
This is part of a what we could call brokenness. This is your emotional reaction to repentance. This demonstrates the rejection of the flesh, if we can say it that way, the spirit of penitence, the misery that you feel over sin. So, James says if God saves the humble here is how to be humble. The first way, the first element of humility is that you transfer your allegiance completely from Satan to God. You resist the devil and you submit to God.
The second element of this humble faith is that you have a strong and almost passionate desire to draw nearer to God and have Him draw nearer to you that you might enjoy a relationship with Him. The third thing is repentance. You have a revulsion over your own sin, you long to be cleansed on the inside, motives and desires. You long to be cleansed on the outside, actions and deeds. And then, you have a certain brokenness over the misery in which you exist because of sin. There – there’s just a – a sort of brokenness in realizing that you are a victim of the flesh and you desire deliverance in your brokenness.
And then the last thing I already read to you. “Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” You think it would be reversed. If you want to be saved, let your mourning be turned to laughter and let your gloom be turned to joy. But it isn’t. What you do mean laugher? Well, it’s only used here. There’s other words for laughter. This one is only used here. Whenever it’s used in secular sources in Greek, it always means the lowly, common, base laughter of people indulging in pleasure. It’s the frivolous worldly laughter, the – the ugly laughter of the wicked as they indulge in their wickedness.
He says let all that trashy fun turn into mourning. In other words, another factor. Not only do you want to be cleansed in the inside, cleansed on the outside. Not only do you want to feel – to get, I guess, really, to feel the pain and the misery of your sin, but also there is an overwhelming sense of longing to be delivered from the world in which you live; the folly, foolishness, the indulgence, the pleasure madness. And he says let your joy be turned to heaviness.
In other words you look at the world completely different. Instead of looking at it as fun and frivolity and happiness and live it up and grab all the gusto and do your own thing and live it up every way you can, you begin to have this heavy oppressive feeling about the world. And I’ll tell you very honestly, there is something in every Christian, every true Christian that views the world with a sort of morbid gloominess, right? You get sick of its encroachment on you. You get weary of all of its pressures and all of its temptations and you want to set aside all of its foolishness. There – there really is in James’ mind here, seriousness. That’s the idea. You get serious about life, you get serious about life. Instead of living for fun, you get serious about life.
So, what is the – what is the character then, of subjective believing? First, it submits to the authority of God and switches allegiance from the devil to God. Secondly, it longs for a personal and intimate relationship with God. Thirdly, it desires to repent and turn from sin and be cleansed on the inside and the outside. Fourthly, it knows a certain shame and guilt and misery that brings about a brokenness that longs for healing. And fifthly, it begins to view the whole world and all of life much more seriously than it ever did before.
And you can’t quite get into the giddy foolishness of the wicked pleasures of the world because life is so much more serious. And you now want to live to the glory of God, and you know you’re in a great battle to endeavor to that by God’s grace. And he sums all of that up in verse 10. Summing it all up, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord.” That’s it. How do you humble yourselves? I just told you how.
Submitting to His authority, drawing nearer to Him for a relationship, repenting of your sin, having a sense of misery over your own wickedness and looking at the world differently; no more in the familiar fun of life but seeing it seriously for the tragedy that it really is. In all of these areas you humble yourselves. You know who is the classical illustration of this? The Prodigal Son. Perfect illustration.
The Prodigal Son is a picture of an unregenerate unsaved person. He was created as it were in the world of God. He had a lot of available resources. The Puritans used to call them gospel privileges. But he decided that he would walk away from God, turn his back on God, as the son did on his father. And he went off into a far country and he lived and wasted all of his substance and he just lived it up; wine, women and song. He wound up in a pigpen eating pig slop.
He had all the world’s fun, he engaged in all the world’s sin, but he said I don’t need to do this. I’m going to go to the Father. And he pictures the sinner in the midst of his sin who is devastated by what he’s finally comes to understand. He is bankrupt, he is devastated. All the world’s pleasure bought him no satisfaction. He is sinful, he is hopeless. He has nothing to show for all of his energy and effort.
He goes back to the father and he is very humble. He comes back to the father and he says, “Father, forgive me.” Just take me back and make me like one of your hired what? Servants. Make me a slave, I don’t deserve anything more than slavery. Just take me back. What is he saying? I’ll tell you what he’s saying. He’s saying, I submit to you, isn’t he? And I break my allegiance to my past Master.
Secondly, he is saying I long for a relationship with you. I want to draw nearer to you. Remember, he ran up to his son and what does it say? His father saw him, ran up to him, threw his arms around him and did what? Kissed him. The son longed for that relationship. And then, what did he say to his father? “Father, I have sinned against you.” And what he was saying was cleanse my hands and purify my heart. And then as you looked at the misery of his life, he said, “I’m worthy only to be your slave.” And there was a man who humbled himself in the presence of God.
That’s the picture of the sinner. Having wasted his life and come up with nothing, he comes back and he says I want to give you my life, you control me. I’m the servant you’re the Master. I want a relationship with you. He longed for the embrace of that father and the kiss of love. I want to be cleansed of the wretchedness of my sin. I’m done with the frivolity of life. I want to take it seriously and I want to do my part to serve you in your house.
Do you remember what the father did? Did the father say, “Well, reluctantly, you’ve been such a wretched guy but I’ll let you in?” No, his father took him in and what did he do? He said, “Not only will I take you back, you’ll not be a slave, I’ll take you back as a son.” He said get the ring, put it on his finger, get the best robe, put it on his back. Call the musicians, get the festival ready. Kill the fatted calf, we are having the biggest party we have ever thought of having because this, my son who was lost is now found.
And what is that in James’ word? Look at verse 10, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord and He will” – tolerate you. Is that what it says? He will what? “exalt you.” You see He resists the proud but he gives grace to the humble. He gives grace to the humble.
You remember the proud Pharisee, Luke 18, “I thank you that I’m not as other men even as this Publican.” I tithe, I give – I fast twice a week, I tithe of all that I possess. Ahh, he was telling – he was a religious man. And over in the corner is the Publican. He won’t even lift his eyes because he’s such a wicked man. He doesn’t even dare look at God. He’s bent over, bowed, looking down, pounding his chest, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” And Jesus said that man went home saved not the other one. Why? God resists the proud and He gives grace to the humble, to the humble. We all come that way.
So, what is humble saving faith? If somebody wrote you a letter and said “I don’t know what believe means,” what would you say? Well, believe objectively means that I believe in the historical literal truth that Jesus lived and died and rose again for me and accomplished my salvation. I believe those facts and I believe that He is Lord and I acknowledge that with my mouth.
From the subjective side, what does that mean? That means that I submit to His leadership and rulership in my life. I pursue a loving personal relationship with Him. I hunger to turn from sin and pursue holiness. I am broken over the guilt and the stench and the shame of my miserable sin. And I now view life seriously, not in the frivolity of the foolishness of my former ways. In other words, I reject myself and everything about me. That’s humility. And He’ll lift you up. When it says He will exalt you, have you ever thought about what He wants to make you? You ever thought about that?
You remember as a kid reading the story of The Ugly Duckling? He was larger, more awkward and less attractive than the other ducklings. He was just flat ugly by their standards. They made fun of his clumsiness, they made fun of his bizarre gawky appearance. And he was crushed and he was forlorn and so he left the ducklings and he sought refuge with a cat and a chicken. Do you remember that? But they didn’t accept him because he couldn’t purr and he couldn’t lay eggs. “You don’t understand me,” he complained. They only mocked him all the more.
One day while he was out paddling around the pond trying his best to be like the other ducks, he caught sight of some graceful and elegant swans, creatures he’d never seen before. He thought they were the most beautiful birds in all the world. And as he watched the beautiful movements of the swans, a strange feeling came over him. He couldn’t take his eyes off them and he couldn’t shake the newness of destiny that overwhelmed him.
Well, the swans flew off and as he stretched his neck to try to follow their flight, he thought that he had loved them more than anything he had ever loved before. Winter came and all during the cold months the Ugly Duckling thought about the lovely birds he had seen. He had no idea what they were called or where they came from but he hoped someday he’d be able to see them again.
And at last spring melted the ice on the pond and the Ugly Duckling was able to swim again. And one day while spring was still very young, he was swimming and he saw two of those beautiful birds. They swam straight toward him and fear gripped his heart. He was embarrassed to have such graceful creatures see how ugly and clumsy he was.
As they approached him, he bowed his head in humility and covered his face with his wings. When he did that, he was amazed to see for the first time, his own reflection in the water which had just thawed. He was exactly like those beautiful creatures. He was never meant to be a duck in the first place. He was one of them, he was a swan. And as he removed his wings from his face, he lifted his head, not straight up like an ostrich but slightly bowed in gratitude and humility.
Do you see an analogy of your own life in that? My own experience as a Christian is like that. So is yours. My first look at Christ would be that of an ugly duckling looking at a swan, enamored with the majesty and the loveliness and the grace and the beauty of that creature and feeling ugly and sinful and unworthy and yet being irresistibly attracted. And then one day in humility, to bow our heads as it were, cover our face in humility before the swan of all swans. And then when we see ourselves in the water, we note that we are being made in His very image.
That’s what it means to humble yourself and be exalted. When Christ exalts you – and this is the wonder of wonders – He makes you like Himself. And someday you’ll be like Him for you’ll see Him as He is. That’s how far you’ll be exalted. If you humble yourself, beloved, the Bible says, “He will exalt you.” To what level? To the very beauty of Christ Himself. Second Corinthians 3:18, “You’re being changed from one level of glory to the next by the Holy Spirit” until sometime you will find yourself in the very image of Jesus Christ.
You start out in ugliness. When you finally see in Him the destiny you long for and when you’re humbled in the face of the beauty of Christ, and you see your sin and unworthiness, it is at that point that He saves you and sets you on a path to be like Him. What does it mean to believe? That’s what it means. And may it be the experience of every heart this day.
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