Friday, September 13, 2013

THE PERIL OF SELF-REFORMATION


Red Deer Advocate, August 13th, 2011. The apocalyptic look that descended upon Manhattan on 9/11 is so stamped on our memory that it is difficult to imagine a recovery there. But, believe it or not, this picture was taken after 9/11, not before. Over a decade has passed since that modern day of infamy in New York City. And business has begun to move on as it was doing when terror stopped New Yorkers in their tracks.

To rebuild and get moving again is good. Do not mistake me for being critical of that. And some of these folks in the picture may have gotten right with God since 9/11 just as they promised to do. I do not dispute the possibility.

But most persons who made promises in their moment of fear are back to “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Matthew 24.38.) This newspaper picture is an apt figure of this biblical text. There is nothing wrong with eating, drinking, and marrying. What Jesus teaches by the saying is that most people continue in this world, in spite of warnings to repent, with nothing but worldly objects in view; and in the end, because of that shortsightedness, they miss the kingdom of God and the glories to come, just as the multitudes in Noah’s day missed the boat and perished.

Now do not misunderstand what I say. I’m not saying that the terror strikes were a good thing. These acts of terror were evil, and the guilty parties deserve nothing but merciless justice. The culprits responsible who are still alive still deserve the full force of the law, and they should be found and put to death. What I am saying is that every single calamity, whether it be a terror strike or a natural disaster, should be taken by those yet alive as a warning to repent of their sins. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13.3.) Not all persons will perish by the same kind of blow. But anyone might perish suddenly without warning. That is the meaning. Jesus warns sinners to beware of perishing everlastingly.  

Naturally (or it may be more correct to say in some cases, supernaturally), many persons, when in the midst of a terrifying event, make promises. I have heard of two sorts of promises made by persons deeply touched by the terrible event we call 9/11. A few may have promised to get right with God and may have since been saved. I don’t remember hearing that promise being made, however. So I leave that alone. (1) Some have made promises to themselves to improve. (2) Others have made promises to God to live better lives. Let us suppose the best, and interpret ‘improvement’ and ‘better living’ to have meant moral progress by these persons. And let us suppose that some moral progress has been achieved by them. Moral progress by self-effort is self-reformation. This makes the world a better place. And it is better for the world to have self-reformation than degradation. But self-reformation falls short of getting right with God; and all persons who pursue this route will come short of entering God’s glory. They must, if they die still self-reforming, enter an eternity of misery instead. Therefore something better than self-reformation should be desired and promised.  

Because God demands perfection from all who desire heaven, and no man can become perfect by his own efforts, something more than self-reformation is required before eternal security can be granted. Man needs a fundamental change by God. He needs regeneration, not reformation. Reformation in the form of sanctification is acceptable; but this can only take place upon a basis of regeneration. “Ye must be born again,” says Jesus Christ. Regeneration (a change wrought upon the heart by the Holy Spirit) is a must, or a sinner cannot, and will not, be saved. Moral progress may be worth something to you right now; but it will count for nothing with God at the Pearly Gates.


Most of us have made promises to ourselves and to God; and we have utterly failed to fulfill these promises. We cannot live up to our promises; God can live up to his. The wise thing to do, then, is to lay hold of some promise by God. It says in John 3.16 that whoever believes on the Son of God has everlasting life. So the promise of God is that if you trust the Son, everlasting life is yours. The regeneration that you need will be taken care of so long as you believe on Jesus Christ. But how do you believe? Do not focus on your faith, or belief, or trust (all three are one and the same.) Focus on the proper object of faith: Jesus Christ and him crucified. You do this by Bible study, prayer, and close attention to godly writings (like those by C. H. Spurgeon or John Bunyan.) These are the means of grace available to you in order to your desired faith. You must unite to Jesus by the bond of faith; that must be your goal. Then, if by faith in Christ crucified for your sins, you lay hold of God’s promise of everlasting life, your eternal welfare will be secured. When death comes, maybe suddenly, maybe gradually, be ready, by faith in Christ and the promise of God that is annexed to it. Apply every means of grace at your disposal. Your promises will ultimately come short. Self-reformation will end in peril. What you need is a promise from God.

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