Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
If January is anything to go by, 2017 is going to be a busy year. Although I’ve been on leave, there has been a lot going on in the Parish. We’ve enjoyed and been challenged by the ministry of Matt Cole during his placement here. His sermons through Joel especially struck deep with many of us.
It has been encouraging to hear of his visits with so many of the congregation. Thanks to Graeme Hayes for arranging many of these visits. Alongside the sharing of Christian fellowship, there were direct discussions of eternal issues like the coming judgement and how we can have assurance of salvation. I pray that Matt’s presence with us has been a significant time for us all.
And a big thank you to Norm and Della for putting Matt up for his first week in town, and to all of you who invited him for a meal. I hope that this experience of having a final-year student with us will spur us on to having another student in the summer of 2018 and in the following years.
But as for this year, what lies ahead? The major projects of 2016 are virtually completed. Once again, you have an ordained and inducted minister, and (God-willing) the work on the Manse will be done in a matter of weeks. I pray that in 2017 we’ll tighten our focus on our main purpose: proclaiming Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:28).
Over my holidays, I’ve been meditating on how much we all need to hear the Gospel of Jesus. Sometimes we may think that the good news about Jesus is something which only unsaved people need. They certainly do! And let’s tell them. But the message of Jesus is something we need to hear too. In his excellent book Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges writes, ‘The truth is, there is never a day in our lives when we are so “good” we don’t need the gospel.’
The words of Augustus Toplady’s hymn “The Solid Rock” are likely familiar to most of us:
‘Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.’
We rightly focus on the need to be cleansed from the guilt of sin. However, we also need to be cleansed from its power. This doesn’t stop when we believe. Although we ‘died to sin’ (Colossians 1:13) we still need to be told, ‘Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions’ (Romans 6:12). Sin doesn’t rule over us, but it still tries to take over. That’s why we have to ‘put to death the deeds of the flesh’ (Romans 8:13). As the Puritan writer John Owen reminds us, ‘Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.’ Thankfully, God gives the Holy Spirit to help His children in this deadly fight (Romans 8:15-17).
Only as we face our sin each day and apply the Gospel to ourselves will we grow in maturity in Christ (Colossians 1:28). He is our model and our goal. But the sin we tolerate in ourselves will draw our energy away from growth, stunting and weakening us. Like mistletoe on a tree, unaddressed sin will make us go backwards in our faith instead of forwards. The only solution is to recognise and confess our sins to God with determination and dependence on Him to change, then to reassure ourselves of His forgiveness and our acceptance because of Christ’s perfect obedience (not any obedience of our own). That’s why those who trust in Christ need to hear the Gospel.
So, when we meet through the week and when we gather on Sunday, let’s make the Gospel central to our conversation. When someone is feeling down, gently remind them that we don’t deserve for God to treat as how we would like, but that in Jesus He has done and can do far more than we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). When we experience God’s help in overcoming sin or in growing in understanding, let’s share that too, recognising that none of us has arrived at perfection yet. That way, we can do that what writer to the Hebrews commands us to do: ‘Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today”, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.’ (Hebrews 3:13).
Let it be our goal this year to speak the Gospel to ourselves and to others.
Yours in Christ’s service,