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A Time for Confidence

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
May 20, 2024 12:01 am

A Time for Confidence

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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May 20, 2024 12:01 am

In an age of confusion and cultural upheaval, where can we place our confidence? Today, Stephen Nichols shows us that no matter what is happening in our time, it is a time for confidence in the Lord.

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Meet Today's Teacher:

Stephen Nichols is president of Reformation Bible College, chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is host of the podcasts 5 Minutes in Church History and Open Book. He has written more than twenty books, including Peace, A Time for Confidence, and R.C. Sproul: A Life and volumes in the Guided Tour series on Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, and J. Gresham Machen. He is coeditor of The Legacy of Luther and general editor of the Church History Study Bible.

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Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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Here is the singular truth that abides. It's the same truth that Augustine used as his anchor when Rome was falling, and it is this singular truth.

His kingdom is forever. That's the reality. And so no matter what is happening in our time, it's a time for confidence. Do you feel confident as you look around at the state of the world, even the state of the church? Are you encouraged? We all see the headlines and the changes in society as people call that which is evil good and that which is good evil.

Ligonier Ministries State of Theology Survey reveals the biblical illiteracy of even those who profess to be Christians. But over the next three days, Stephen Nichols will remind us that despite our circumstances, it is a time for confidence. This is the Monday edition of Renewing Your Mind, and I'm glad you're with us. To say that the pace of change is rapid may be an understatement.

If we're honest, it can be exhausting, even discouraging. But when we remember where it is that we're to place our confidence, we remember that this truly is a time for confidence. Here is Stephen Nichols, president of Reformation Bible College and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow to start this three-day study.

We're talking about confidence, a time for confidence. But I don't want to start in the twenty-first century. I want to go back to the church fathers. So let's tell a tale of two church fathers.

You all remember, of course, your Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Well, if we want to tell this story, we could say, it was the worst of times. It was the worst of times.

The year is 420. Now, for the last decade or so, the Vandals and the barbarians, and if you're not a Roman, right, you're a barbarian. So that's the definition. You're either a Roman or a barbarian. So the barbarians are literally at the gate.

In fact, they have pushed down the gate. This great empire of Rome was threatened. And so we have two church fathers who respond. One is Jerome. Now, Jerome was born in a region of the Roman Empire called Dalmatia.

Today, it's Slovenia. He showed exceptional talent as a young man, as a scholar. He was brilliant. So they sent him to Rome to study.

So it's very easy to remember. Jerome goes to Rome. He even has a nice rhyme, right? So he goes to Rome, becomes quite a scholar. In fact, it's Jerome, and his sort of claim to fame is that he's the one who gives us the Latin Vulgate. Vulgate is the Latin word for common. And so Latin was the common language of the empire.

Greek had subsided. Latin had come onto the scene. And so Jerome gives us the Latin Vulgate.

He was a scholar most of his life. And then in the 410s, Rome starts to crumble. Jerome thought Rome was it. He thought this was the Savior of the world. And when Rome started to crumble, he thought all would be lost.

He spends the last year of his life hiding out in a cave in Bethlehem, and in 420, he dies. Well, there's another church father, Augustine. We all know Augustine, his great work, The Confessions, where he tells this wonderful story of the hound of heaven tracking him down and how God brings Augustine to himself. Well, Augustine goes on to be the Bishop of Hippo Regis.

This is an area of North Africa. It's Islam country where Augustine was the bishop. And so he sees the same thing happening. And what does he do? He goes into his study, and he writes a book. And he writes a wonderful book called The City of God. It's a very long book, and early on in the book, this is one of the things that Augustine tells us. He says, this is a great work, this. It's arduous. And by great, he doesn't mean it's going to be excellent. He means it's going to be long, because he's going to tell the story of human history, a story told on two planes, the city of God and the city of man. So he says, an arduous work, this, which raises us not by a quiet human arrogance, but by a divine grace above all earthly dignities that totter. Do you hear that word he uses? That totter on this shifting scene.

Now, this is a total opposite. Here's Jerome. He sees the barbarians at the gate, and he says, the world is in ruins.

Yes! And he goes off into his cave. Augustine looks at this and says, we're going to take a perspective, a transcendent perspective on what's happening on the horizon of the temporary and the temporal and the earthly, because what happens on the earthly is the tottering, shifting sands. And so he writes a book, 869 pages in my English translation. I'll skip the middle, because we just don't have that much time together, and we'll go right to the end. So sometime I've read for you the beginning. I'll read from you from the end. Sometime you have to make a deal with me that you'll go back and read the whole middle. In fact, there's a funny line at the end of this book where he says, some may think I wrote too much.

I'm not sure who that is. Who would think that he wrote too much? Some would say I wrote too little.

Then he says, I think I wrote just right, kind of like Goldilocks and the three bears, right? But at the end of the book, this is what he says about the kingdom of God when it's the final reality. How great shall be that felicity, right? Old word for happiness. How great shall be that happiness, which shall be tainted with no evil, which shall lack no good, and which shall afford leisure for the praise of God who shall be all in all. There shall be the enjoyment of beauty. True honor shall be there. True peace shall be there.

God Himself, who is the author of all virtue, shall be there and shall be its reward. See, Augustine could have this perspective on what was happening in Rome and the collapse of the Roman Empire because he had his confidence in the right place. And Jerome goes off when the sand starts shifting and he can't quite, he feels like he's not getting his feet under him. He's got his confidence in the wrong place. He's got his confidence in the Caesar.

He's got his confidence in Rome. It's the wrong place. And when that wrong thing gets taken, he pulls a Chicken Little. Remember Chicken Little? Sleeping under the tree, the acorn falls on his head. He thinks part of the sky has broken away. And now that portends really bad things to come because the sky is falling.

And so there's a little Chicken Little running around saying, the sky is falling, the sky is falling. And that's exactly what Jerome did because the world was going to end in 420. Didn't it?

No. Okay, so we're here today, a few more centuries past 420. So it's an interesting tale, and it sets the stage for us to think about the moment we find ourselves in.

Let's think about the time that we live in right now. Now, we could pull any number of examples. We could go to the summer of 2015, and we could talk about the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. We could go back the summer before, and we could pull out what is a relatively small thing that happened, but the mayor of Houston issued subpoenas for sermons preached in the city of Houston to see if there was hate language in those sermons.

It seemed like a relatively small thing. We could look to those kinds of things. We could look to pop culture. There was a particular commercial I was watching, and it tells the story of a lady who gets up, and she has a breakfast food, and there's this sort of silhouette of her partner.

And as the commercial ends, we realize it's another woman, right? Just mainstreaming what would have been five years ago, ten years ago, would not even have been on the horizon in legislation, in court decisions, and in TV commercials for public consumption. So, we're talking about a time of change, a time of change that I would argue is systemic and rapid. We're also talking about a time of confusion. I was reading recently this article by some sociologists who spoke of cultural confusion, and that's a term, it's sort of a technical term that they want to use to speak of how categories are sort of getting jumbled up. And that cultural confusion also is contributing then not just to a jumbling of categories, but a lack of decisions, whether they're ethical decisions or legal decisions being made on principles. There's a confusion, and there's a change, and all of this can result in an uncertainty, a sense that I just don't feel like I have my feet under me, a sort of a Rip Van Winkle moment, although decades did not pass.

Really, only a couple of years passed. We could call it cultural whiplash. So, this is the time we live in, and there's a lot of folks who want to say, chicken little, the sky is falling, the end is near, we want to be like Jerome's, and we want to go off to our cave in Bethlehem and live out the last year of our life.

I don't think that's the right response. In one sense, some of this cultural shakeup, there might be a silver lining here. In one sense, some of this cultural shakeup might just be a good thing, because it might cause us, if we were a little bit like Jerome, putting our confidence in the wrong things, putting our confidence in culture, putting our confidence in celebrities, putting our confidence in getting the right guy in the White House, putting our confidence in getting the right judges to sit on the right courts.

Some of this cultural shakeout might actually be a positive thing, because it might just cause us to raise a question, where is our confidence placed? Were any of you on sports teams, and you had a coach? Did your coach ever tell you this expression?

You lack confidence. Have you ever heard that from a coach? I had a swim coach who would always carry two things, a whistle and a kickboard. Now the kickboard came in handy, because you know, you're swimming, you get water in your ear, you can't hear a single thing, and you're under the water and you're moving. So the kickboard was a really handy thing, because when you got near a wall and the coach wanted to tell you something, all he needed to do was take that kickboard and just bop you on the head, and he'd have your attention, and he'd tell you something. And I specifically remember this time, I was working on a backstroke flip turn, and I just wasn't getting it right.

And I'd swim out to the flags, and I'd go into the wall, and I'd try to get the turn, and then I'd come out and I'd go back into the wall, and I was doing this over and over and over again, and I just wasn't quite getting it right. Coach comes up to me, bop, right on the head. I look up, all bleary red-eyed at him, yes, coach, and he says, do you know what your problem is? And I start running through the encyclopedia of my mind.

I think there's a lot of answers to that question. And he says, you lack confidence, right? I had a friend growing up who was interested in a particular girl, was not very successful in securing a date with this particular girl. And I was at his house at the time, and we were chatting, and his dad was there. And he's trying to explain the situation to his dad and looking for some fatherly advice. And his father looks at him and he says, well, you know what the problem is? You lack, and he goes, I know, I know, I lack confidence. And he said, well, actually, I was going to say, you lack a car, but you also lack confidence. Here's the thing about confidence, though. In some instances, it is a question of degrees. So if you're going to be an athlete and you're going to stare down the goal, you need to have confidence.

You attack any work project. You've got to have a certain level of confidence. You walk into a situation that requires a delicate handling of it. You need confidence. But there's also a sense in which confidence is really not about a degree.

It's not a continuum. The issue is not why I need more confidence. The real question is, what is the object of my confidence? So I think we can answer this question. So what we are talking about is we are at a time for confidence.

Now, I like that word. I think we could say it's a time for courage. And we're going to say that. It's a time for moral courage. There's a moment in Pilgrim's Progress where Bunyan has Christian say, I could go along with the crowd, so to speak.

I could go along here with the expectation, but I won't. And even if it means I have to stand my ground until the moss covers my eyes, I pray that God will grant me the courage to do the right thing. So we can talk about this is a time for courage in light of moral confusion, in light of shifting sands, in light of what we're facing.

We could also talk about conviction, and I want to. This is a time for conviction when the cultural pressure, which has shifted now, so we enjoyed a certain moment, and especially American Christianity, where it was very acceptable to be a Christian, very acceptable to be a churchgoer, very acceptable to speak of the good book culturally. A lot of that's eroding. And so the pressure is, well, maybe I need to pull back a little bit. Maybe I need to not be so vocal about my beliefs. Maybe I need to sort of tuck away certain views that are just simply not culturally palatable anymore. And we begin to cower, and we begin to cave, and we even just simply capitulate and give it all up and just go to the other side.

We're going to talk about that in a few sessions later. Specifically, we're talking about our confidence needs to be in the Word and in Scripture, especially at times when that Word is being challenged. And make no mistake about it, we are seeing in these cultural issues that are happening, underlying them is a challenge that God's Word no longer applies, and God's Word no longer has authority or speaks meaningfully to human existence. Make no mistake about it.

That's what we're talking about. So it's a time for courage. It's a time for conviction.

I really think it's a time for confidence, that our confidence needs to be in God. There was a moment in Israel's history where the sky was falling. Babylon was bearing down on Jerusalem, and Judah didn't have a chance against the Babylonian army.

And Jeremiah knew it, and he knew it had nothing to do with Babylon's might. It had to do with Israel breaking covenant. And God made it very clear, follow the law and you will be blessed in the land. Set aside the law, transgress the law, and you will be punished.

And you may very well find yourself out of the land. Judah, the tribes to the south, had the example of the north. They saw it happen. They saw Assyria take the northern tribes, and there Judah persisted in its rebellion and its disobedience and its disdain for God's law. And so Jeremiah comes on the scene. It's truly the eleventh hour as Jeremiah is writing his book. And in chapter 9 of verse 23, he says this, "'Thus says the Lord, let not the wise man boast in his wisdom.'"

Now, here's the interesting thing about this. Wisdom is a good thing. Read the book of Proverbs. How many times are we in the book of Proverbs instructed to get wisdom? So, at Jeremiah chapter 9, verse 23, when Jeremiah says, "'Thus says the Lord, let not the wise man boast in his wisdom.'"

We really have to ask what's happening here. And then he says, "'Let not the mighty man boast in his might, and let not the rich man boast in his riches.'" I think the thing we see here is these are the sort of this plane kind of things that we can see. These are the temporal, the horizontal plane, the temporal existence kinds of things that we can see and that we want to almost reflexively put our trust in. So, I have my wisdom, I have my might, and I have my riches, so bring it on, Babylon.

None of those things are going to work. "'But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight.'" It's very clear what Jeremiah is telling his audience. You put your confidence in the wrong things. It's like showing up for a final exam, and you're all prepared, but you studied for the wrong exam, and none of that's going to help you to put that onto the exam. They were preparing for the wrong exam, and they were putting their confidence in the wrong things, and they needed to put their trust and their confidence in God. The year 1527 was a hard year for Martin Luther.

You would have thought it was a great year. It was the tenth anniversary of the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses. The New Church was up and running. Students were at the college at Wittenberg.

This is the start of grand new things. It was a hard year for Luther. The plague had hit Wittenberg. His family members fell ill. He was ordered to leave.

All the faculty of the university were ordered to leave by Frederick the Wise. Luther decided to stay to care for the sick. Martin and Katie had lost an infant son that year in 1527. They were still in the throes of the war, the Peasants' Revolt, and Luther tried to mediate some of that. And coming out of the war, both the peasants thought he had turned on them, and the nobility thought he had turned on them.

He really came out sort of lost on both sides. It was a hard year for Luther, and he wrote a hymn, and you know the hymn. It's the hymn of Luther's that we love.

It's, a mighty fortress is our God. It's all this distress in his life, this world with devils filled, this world with devils filled. There's unrest. There's tension.

There's unease. There's, I do not feel the ground beneath my feet in that hymn. And so where does Luther turn? He turns just as the psalm that he bases this hymn on, Psalm 46, the God of Jacob is our fortress. He turns to God, and he puts his trust in God. And as he puts his trust in God, he recognizes that he's also putting his trust in Christ, that one Word that will fall all of our enemies, that one Word that will fall all of those things that stand against us, and that one Word above all earthly powers. Let's not forget that.

No thanks to them, that Word abides. And so Luther says, our confidence must be in God. Our confidence must be in the Word.

Our confidence must be in Christ and in the power of His gospel. And then, you know how he ends it? If that's the case, the body they may kill. How glibly do we sing that? You know, when I sing that, I think Luther always was a man of extremes.

Nothing was ever halfway with Luther. It's not, oh, they might hurt me. No.

The body they may kill. Is that true? Is that existentially true? Because God's truth abideth still. And here is the singular truth that abides. It's the same truth that Augustine used as his anchor when Rome was falling. It's the exact same truth that Jeremiah, the mouthpiece of God, was being used to tell the people of Israel was the singular reality that they had forgotten about. And it is this singular truth. His kingdom is forever.

That's the reality. And so no matter what is happening in our time, it's a time for confidence. With all of the noise and angst and rhetoric, isn't it a breath of fresh air to be reminded that for the Christian, it is always a time for confidence, because our confidence is in God. That was Stephen Nichols on this Monday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. You'll be hearing three messages from this series this week, but you can request streaming access to the entire series and study guide. Plus, we'll send you the DVD and the companion book when you call us at 800 435 4343.

Give your gift online at Renewing Your or click the link in the podcast show notes. This is not a time to cower, cave or capitulate. It is a time for confidence. So be encouraged as you work through both the series and the book. Request this resource bundle today at Renewing Your Our confidence as Christians must be in God because all else will disappoint. And that will be Dr. Nichols focus tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-20 02:32:13 / 2024-05-20 02:41:14 / 9

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