June 16, 2002
The security we find in trusting God is everlasting.
I. The practical fact of security (Psalm 125:1-2)
II. The practical support of security (Psalm 124:3)
III. The practical evidence of security (Psalm 124:4-5)
MessageLast week President Bush proposed the creation of a department of Homeland Security, a cabinet level organization whose mission is to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, to reduce Americas vulnerability to terrorism and to minimize the damage from attacks that do occur. The new department combines over a hundred current federal agencies, including the Secret Service, the Coast Guard and the Immigration Service, hoping for better communication, better planning and faster action in the face of a threat or an event. But everyone involved, from the President down, knows that absolute security against terrorism will not be achieved by this agency and that a breach of homeland security is not only possible but likely.
On a human level security is never fully secure. For thousands of years people have tried to create a secure place. From castles to bomb shelters, they have tried to build a structure that cannot be breached. But since the advent of gunpowder, thats been a losing cause. It is always possible to build a bigger bomb and deliver it in a creative way so even the strongest fortress can be destroyed. During the cold war the Soviet Union and America tried to bury their command centers deeper and deeper into the bedrock of their countries, only to find that a better targeted nuclear bomb could destroy any sanctuary. You cant make yourself physically secure.
A second method people use to provide security is removing threats. The CIA, the KGB and this new department of Homeland Security are primarily intended to protect people by removing the threats against them. If you catch a terrorist before he acts, youve succeeded. But again, on a human level you can never achieve perfection. Some one person, especially if he or she acts alone in a free society, can probably find a way to do harm. The Presidents new department wont change that.
But as Christians we have a department of homeland security founded and maintained by one without human limitations. The security we find in trusting in God is everlasting and absolute. Thats the message of Psalm 125, the message were going to study this morning. Well find that God surrounds us with a fortress that cannot be destroyed or breached, that he protects us by dealing with what threatens us, and also that our behavior should reflect the truth of our security.
I. The practical fact of security (Psalm 125:1-2)
For the third week in a row we have a particularly short Psalm. Listen to all of Psalm 125. Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. 2As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore. 3The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land of the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil. 4Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart. 5But those who turn to crooked ways the Lord will banish with the evildoers. Peace be upon Israel.
Verses 1 and 2 of this Psalm show us the practical fact of security. Those who trust in the Lord are as secure spiritually as the most secure possible fortress is physically. Verse 1: Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion which cannot be moved but abides forever. There are few things in life as stable as a mountain. Even in modern times, with all our tremendous earth moving equipment and technology, the face of the landscape is essentially unchanged. We may remove a few thousand tons of rock and dirt, but we cant touch the sheer mass of even a small mountain.
Lets play with the numbers for a minute. Mt. Zion is a double hill with a total diameter of three or four thousand feet. It stands about 2500 feet above sea level, or about 1000 feet above the valley floors. If we take a cone that size and calculate its weight, we find it to be about 150 billion pounds, with a volume of four billion cubic feet. A standard dump truck carries about 300 cubic feet. Thus it would take about 14 million truckloads to move Mount Zion. Compare that to the 100,000 truckloads it took to remove the World Trade Center debris and youll begin to see why the Psalmist says Mount Zion can never be moved.
But he uses that fact to prove the point that those who trust in the Lord are just as secure as that mountain. Trust, of course, is one of the neon words in this text, and in the Old Testament. Its the word most directly related to the New Testament words faith and believe. So the Psalmist is saying believers cannot be moved. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament has a lot to say about this Hebrew word: It expresses that sense of well_being and security which results from having something or someone in whom to place confidence. The Old Testament contrasts the validity of that sense of confidence which comes from reliance upon God with the folly of any other kind. It is plain that all such other trust will end in disgrace and shame, whereas those whose hope is in God will be delivered and blessed.
Here is a small sample of the trust verses in the Old Testament: Psalm 22:4 In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Psalm 33:21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Isaiah 26:3 You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.
The Old Testament makes it clear that the reason we trust is not because of our merit with God, or some standard we have kept, but only because of Gods unfailing love, his chesed, his loyalty, his gracious kindness. Ezekiel 33 makes it plain that no one can hope for life on the basis of his own righteousness and Jeremiah 7 shows the folly of trusting in religious formulas and rituals. These verses look forward to the New Testament proclamation that salvation is for those who by faith or trust accept God's gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, trust in a trustworthy God is the key to eternal security. The important point Psalm 125 makes is not that we are immovable but that the God himself surrounds us - gives us security. Verse 2: As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore. Mount Zion is located in a saucer shaped circle of mountains - many of them higher than the top of the central hill. These mountains provide a circle of protection around the city. In fact the Scriptures record several incidents in which the armies of Israel were able to ambush attackers and either weaken or destroy them before they ever reached Jerusalem itself. The incident with Jehoshaphat - we dont know what to do but our eyes are on you is one such case - though in that case God did the ambushing.
Actually, thats the point isnt it? Security is not found in a landscape or even a fortress. Security is found in God who defends and protects and surrounds and keeps us. The hills are an image: it is the Lord who surrounds his people now and forevermore. It is because of him and his protection that the ones who trust him are secure.
How do you feel about this issue of eternal security? Some of you may not know that phrase, though it is one of the things Christians occasionally disagree about. Maybe youve heard a related phrase once saved / always saved. Maybe youve heard the theological term, the perseverance of the saints. All of these are just a way of asking whether a Christian can lose salvation or if that salvation is secure.
Wayne Grudem, in his systematic theology says this Is there anything that will keep us from falling away from Christ, anything to guarantee that we will remain Christians until we die and that we will in fact live with God in heaven forever? Or might it be that we will turn away from Christ and lose the blessings of our salvation? The topic of the perseverance of the saints speaks to these questions. The perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God's power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again.
Grudem goes on to say This definition has two parts. It indicates first that there is assurance to be given to those who are truly born again, confidence that God will keep them in Christ until they die, and they will surely live with Christ forever. On the other hand, the second half makes it clear that continuing in the Christian life is one of the evidences that a person is truly born again. It is important to keep this in mind lest false assurance be given to people who were never really believers.
Grudem begins in John 6, where Jesus says I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
What do these verses say? That everyone who truly believes in Christ will remain in Christ up to the day of resurrection; that Jesus will lose no one out of all those the Father has given him; and that those who are saved and who are secure are not saved or secure merely because of something they have done, but because God the Father himself had drawn them to the Son and given them to the Son.
Grudem then cites fifteen or twenty other passages in both the Old and New Testaments which indicate that what God has chosen and changed remains chosen and changed. In other words, if God declares us saved, applies the sacrifice of Christ to our lives, gives us new birth and the Holy Spirit he will not reverse those sovereign acts. The verses most convincing to me include Romans 8:29_30, where Paul says For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. Every act, past, present and future, is done by God and He doesnt change his mind.
But youll ask, cant we change our minds about him? The second part of Grudems definition says that only those who persevere are truly born again. Grudem explains While Scripture repeatedly emphasizes that those who are truly born again will persevere to the end and will certainly have eternal life in heaven with God, there are other passages that speak of the necessity of continuing in faith. They help us realize that God does not guard us apart from our faith, but only by working through our faith so that he enables us to continue to believe in him. Those who continue to trust in Christ are the ones who have assurance of their salvation.
This is where Grudems discussion and our text come together. What does the Psalm say? Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. 2As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore. It is those who trust in the Lord who are surrounded by the protecting power of God and who are thus safe. And notice that this surrounding is forever. The Psalmist is not talking about some temporary protection or protection that can be turned off like a switch. He is talking about true security - eternal security for you and me because we have trusted Christ as Savior.
Does this mean that as Christians we will always trust, never doubt, never sin, never fail? That if we do any of these things we should doubt our salvation? No. Eugene Peterson says it well in his commentary: All the people of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us. The opening phrase of the psalm is Those who trust in God - not those who trust in their performance, in their morals, in their righteousness, in their health, in their pastor, in their doctor, in their president, in their nation - it is those who trust in God who are secure.
II. The practical support of security (Psalm 124:3)
So the practical fact is we have security because God is trustworthy. Like the mountains that surround Zion God surrounds us with his eternal protection. All we do is trust that the trustworthy one is true to his promises. And he doesnt even make that trust as difficult as it could be - he watches over us to make it easier for us to persevere in faith. Look at verse 3: The scepter of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.
This verse is a little obscure but comforting. The scepter of the wicked over the land of the righteous indicates that Israel was under some kind of foreign rule when this Psalm was written. But the Psalmist knew that God would take care of his people, so he is confident this oppression will not continue too long - the scepter will not remain over the land. Why? Because if it did the righteous might be tempted to do evil - and God doesnt want that. He wants his people to walk in righteousness.
If the evil scepter, the oppression of our souls was permanent, if there was no hope of rescue or change, then even the most faithful and devout person might be tempted to break and to respond in wrongful violence - in sin. Ive known some in difficult marriage situations who have been close to this breaking point. But the Psalmist promises God wont let it go that far. Paul says in 1st Corinthians that God will make a way of escape. In other words, danger and oppression are never too much for faith. They were not too much for Job, they were not too much for Jeremiah, and they were not too much for Jesus. Evil is always temporary. As one author said the worst does not last. Nothing counter to Gods justice has any eternity to it.
So how does this fit in with eternal security. Its a reinforcement of the fact that what God gives, God sustains. He is aware of every circumstance of our lives and is always at work to keep us trusting in him at a heart level. We do sin, we do need to repent, we do go off course, but these things happen under the loving supervision of one who is constantly caring for us and will not let us go. The first two verses make our security seem static - just a fortress to live in. This verse reminds us that our security is dynamic - it comes through the constant care of one who is by our side.
Ive always been intrigued by the concept of dynamic stability. If you take a pyramid and set it on its base, it is statically stable - almost nothing will make it fall over. If you take the same pyramid and set it on its tip, it is statically unstable - it will always fall over. But if you spin it, it becomes stable again - it will stand on the tip until the spin winds down. Every time it starts to tip over it creates its own correcting force to keep it up, the same thing that keeps a bicycle stable when rolling. As Christians our security and stability is not static - it is dynamic: only as we tip into threatening circumstances does God create a restoring force to keep us secure.
III. The practical evidence of security (Psalm 124:4-5)
So God surrounds his people with security forever. Then he supports his people, guarding and guiding their circumstances so a complete departure into evil isnt an option. Finally, in 4 and 5, we find practical evidence of security: 4Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart. 5But those who turn to crooked ways the Lord will banish with the evildoers. Peace be upon Israel.
I firmly believe that those God saves he saves. If salvation is by grace alone, which is what Paul repeatedly teaches, then it only makes sense that what God saves by grace, he keeps by grace. But believing that raises two questions: how do know if Im one of those people, and how do I know if someone else is? It seems to me these two verses fit with the practical answer Scripture gives to these questions. We can be pretty sure were saved, and we can have pretty good confidence others are saved if we see salvation making a difference in behavior.
Jesus addressed this by talking about fruit. He said that you would know peoples hearts by the fruit of their lives. In the Sermon on the Mount he said Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
This principle, repeated many different ways in the both the Old and New Testaments is that a changed heart should yield a changed life. You yourself can look at your life and ask have I changed since I became a believer? You can also look at the lives of others, though with less certainty, and ask has this person changed under the power of God? Now again, Im not saying that we expect perfection or sinlessness. And Im not saying that we cant for a time be deceived about the answers to these questions, either by Satans lies about our own hearts, or by the behavior of others. But in the long run, if we dont see God at work at all, if God doesnt have a hold on that life at all, we should naturally begin to be suspicious about the salvation of that person, and thus their eternal security - or ours.
Verses 4 and 5 illustrate that God himself is at work to produce this difference in the lives of those who are saved. Verse 4 talks about those who are good, who are upright in heart. To them the Psalmist expects the Lord to do good. But verse 5 tells us that the Lord will banish those who turn to evil ways. Its clear to me that those who are banished dont have this eternal security, because they are not saved. It is those to whom the Lord has done a saving amount of good that he is keeping forever. Thus God himself is at work to make the good better and the bad worse - and this is evidence of the state of their hearts. Those who are saved will almost always in the long term display the fruit of righteousness. Those who have never trusted Christ will not be able to sustain a pretense of heart righteousness for the long haul.
So there are two questions you need to ask yourself to test your own assurance of salvation. First, am I trusting Christ for salvation? Faith or trust is the central issue. Therefore a person should ask himself or herself, "Do I today have trust in Christ to forgive my sins and take me without blame into heaven forever? Do I have confidence in my heart that he has saved me? If I were to die tonight and stand before God's judgment seat, and if he were to ask me why he should let me into heaven, would I begin to think of my good deeds and depend on them, or would I without hesitation say that I am depending on the merits of Christ and Im confident he is a sufficient Savior?" If you can say that, you have security.
The second big question is whether there is evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. There are many evidences of this kind listed in Scripture. First, there is a subjective testimony of the Holy Spirit within our hearts bearing witness that we are God's children, as seen in Romans 8. This shows up as a continuing present relationship with Jesus Christ, a personal relationship with him through prayer and his word and fellowship and worship. In addition, if the Holy Spirit is genuinely at work in our lives, he will be producing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Of course, the question is not, "Do I perfectly display this fruit in my life?" but rather, Is this a growing part of my life? As I look back a number of years, do I see change?
Related to this another kind of fruit__the results of one's life and ministry. There are some who profess to be Christians but whose influence on others is to discourage them, to drag them down, to injure their faith, and to provoke divisiveness. The result of their life and ministry is not to build others up but to tear them down. On the other hand, there are those who seem to edify others in every conversation, every prayer, and every work of ministry. This is evidence that the spirit is at work in their lives.
Finally, a major area of evidence that we are genuine believers is found in obedience to God's commands. Jesus says If you love me, you will obey what I command. We will have a desire to do what God wants and avoid what he condemns. Perfect obedience isnt possible, yet, but in general our lives ought to be lived in imitation of Christ. If we have genuine saving faith, there will be clear results in obedience.
So do we have eternal security? If we are believers in Jesus the answer is yes. The security we find in trusting God is everlasting. Can we know for sure that we are saved? I think the answer to that is yes, too, but the one thing that can make it shaky is if we will not live our lives like what we profess to be. If we dont see any of this evidence of salvation in our lives, we need to wonder about the reality of the salvation we claim to have. But if, however imperfectly, we do see evidence that Christ is at work - then we can have assurance.
The last phrase of the Psalm is peace be upon Israel. but Peterson says that in the context an accurate translation would be Relax. Relax. You are secure. God is running the show. Neither our feelings of depression nor the facts of suffering nor the fear of defection are evidence God has abandoned us. There is nothing more certain than that he will accomplish his salvation in our lives and perfect his will in our histories. Are you trusting Christ. Then relax. Your salvation is secure.