You Can’t Make Christ Lord of Your Life

The years of 2016, 2017, and 2018 were Hell on Earth for me. At least that’s the way I felt. Those years were not nearly as bad as Hell will be for those going there, not even close. During these years, nothing went right. I felt like I was being oppressed by God. I had big dreams for the ministry that I would do for Him and, at every turn, my plan was wholly ruined.

My wife and I were leading the unhealthiest churches I think I’ve ever seen. The core members and leaders hated people and hated what the Bible taught. I felt very abused in these places by people who claimed to be God’s church. I had a mentor who shared with me that if he had experienced the things we experienced through these years, he probably would have left the ministry. I thought about it. As I thought about it I came to a deep, deep realization of my own insufficiency and sin and unrighteousness. I was brought to my knees in repentance. I experienced the deepest praise I had ever experienced and it had nothing to do with how good the music was. Every person is oppressed by God. Few are drawn to repentance and brought to victory. What is the result of God’s oppression in your life?

1 Samuel 7:3-17

Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the Lord with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.”

So the sons of Israel removed the Baals and the Ashtaroth and served the Lord alone. Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel to Mizpah and I will pray to the Lord for you.”

They gathered to Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the sons of Israel at Mizpah. Now when the Philistines heard that the sons of Israel had gathered to Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the sons of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines. Then the sons of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.”

Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it for a whole burnt offering to the Lord; and Samuel cried to the Lord for Israel and the Lord answered him. Now Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, and the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel. The men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as below Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

So the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore within the border of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. The cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even to Gath; and Israel delivered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. So there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.

Now Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. He used to go annually on circuit to Bethel and Gilgal and Mizpah, and he judged Israel in all these places. Then his return was to Ramah, for his house was there, and there he judged Israel; and he built there an altar to the Lord.

Real repentance (v. 3-6)

Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the Lord with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.”

Repentance in the Christian life is the fruit of God’s work. Throughout this part of the story, we have seen God doing the work of defeating His people and people who are not called by His name. As He has defeated His people, God has brought them to a place of humility and to a place in which they can no longer rely on their own righteousness or the perceived righteousness of their priests. Under God’s Law, all people, those who were God’s chosen and those who were not, proved to be entirely insufficient. The response of those who really and truly loved God, being defeated and humbled by God, was repentance. So, our repentance is something that is worked out by God. The New Testament agrees with the Old on this point of doctrine, as it does every other:

“The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

The Lord’s bondservant, the one discipling others within the context of the gathering together of believers (2:2), is to be kind, patient, and gentle while correcting those who are in opposition because it is God who grants repentance. Repentance, itself, is a gift from God. It is not something that we are capable of just doing. Repentance is the thing that leads to the knowledge of the truth. Repentance is the thing that causes God’s chosen people to come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil. Without repentance, every person is held captive (as slaves) by the devil to do the devil’s will. This is consistent with everything we’ve seen in 1 Samuel leading up to this point in the story. This is why unbelievers and many irreligious people will never repent. This is why many of those in the organized church and many religious people are so prideful and never really come to repentance. A repentant heart has not been given to them as a gift from God. Regeneration precedes faith precedes works. We see this truth throughout the Scriptures.

The gift of repentance involves not only apologies but also a turning from idols, a restructuring of one’s life, getting rid of clutter, simplifying, and dedicating more of one’s self to God. This includes time, money, activities. In Acts 2:42-45, we see the result in the lives of people when God’s word pierces to the heart and brings people to repentance.

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

There was a willing devotion to Bible-centered preaching and to gathering together. People gave up their comforts as they reprioritized the way that they spent their time and the way that they used their money.

So the sons of Israel removed the Baals and the Ashtaroth and served the Lord alone. Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel to Mizpah and I will pray to the Lord for you.”

They gathered to Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.” And Samuel judged the sons of Israel at Mizpah

Repentance included a removal of idols. Idols can be anything from the sorts of things we spend money on, or money itself, to the things we spend our time doing to the material things we have. True repentance causes the people of God to reprioritize. True repentance involves grieving or mourning over sin. This may include fasting. In this part of the story, fasting is a sign of mourning and of human depravity. Throughout Scripture, it is practiced during times of great spiritual preparation. Here, fasting accompanies repentance because the people realized their depravity and their need for God’s providence.

Revival is to be vived again. If the Christian life begins with repentance, then it is also renewed through genuine repentance and a rededication to the things of God. We expect that revival will look like a high-energy concert or like a Billy Graham crusade. True revival is people who have been in rebellion against God (yes, even religious people) coming before God with broken spirits, apologizing to God, recommitting their lives, and  renewing their minds by the mercies of God. That is revival. Anything different is merely a good feeling. True revival, wrought in repentance by the mercies of God, is a sweeter experience than any other. 

The text, here, identifies Samuel as Israel’s judge. We remember that 1 Samuel provides the time of transition between the judges and the kings. Samuel is the final judge. This passage is officially closing out the time of the Judges. We will begin the time of the kings next week. The judges would not only make determinations concerning the people, but would serve the people and lead the nation against her enemies after God brought the people to repentance. 

Real and true celebration (v. 7-14)

Now when the Philistines heard that the sons of Israel had gathered to Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the sons of Israel heard it, they were afraid of the Philistines. Then the sons of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.”

Repentance is followed by knowledge. We saw this in 2 Timothy 2 (above). After this moment of repentance, Israel no longer considered  herself to be self-sufficient or any of her ways, works, sacrifices, strategies, or tactics to be either sufficient or effective. Just like what we saw with Hannah at the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2, there is first repentance and then a recognition of, confession of, and submission to God’s sovereignty over and providence in all things- including salvation, life, death, victory, defeat, and every event.

Those who receive the gift of repentance come to a knowledge of the truth according to the Scriptures. The first confession following genuine repentance, which is a gift from God, is that God is sovereign. This is why Paul wrote so clearly “…that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Following Romans 10:9, Paul explains that even though people heard God’s word, no one made this confession on his or her own. Instead, God took it upon Himself to reveal Himself to those who do not seek Him (Romans 10:20, quoting Isaiah 65:1). The Old and New Testaments agree on this. Confessing Christ as Lord does not mean choosing of our own volition to serve Him for the remainder of our days. It does not mean that we make Christ Lord of our lives. That is opposite of what the Scriptures are getting at. That adds works to faith. It is exactly the insufficient type of works-based religion we read about among the Philistines and among the Israelites at Beth-shemesh. I have been guilty of teaching Romans 10:9 this way because I always heard it this way growing up. This is wrong.

Confessing Christ as Lord means recognizing that He is sovereign and is the one working together all things (Romans 8:28). It is the understanding that comes out of this gift of a repentant heart. If this is not our confession, it is likely that we have not received repentant heart’s as a gift and are not actually saved according to Romans 10:9.

Samuel took a suckling lamb and offered it for a whole burnt offering to the Lord; and Samuel cried to the Lord for Israel and the Lord answered him. Now Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, and the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel. But the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day against the Philistines and confused them, so that they were routed before Israel. The men of Israel went out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, and struck them down as far as below Beth-car. Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

Ebenezer is a word meaning “the stone of help.” We consider the ways that the Lord has helped Israel. He defeated Israel, brought Israel to repentance, granted Israel some understanding of His sovereignty and providence, and then led them to victory against the Philistines. For a few weeks, we have seen how worship in many groups is ungodly, unholy, and unbiblical. Last week, we saw that the truest form of worship is lament. Here we see godly praise described in the text as Samuel erects this altar and names it Ebenezer. True and real praise is offered from a repentant heart, from a realization and submission to God’s sovereignty and providence, and as God gives victory.

So the Philistines were subdued and they did not come anymore within the border of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. The cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron even to Gath; and Israel delivered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. So there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.

God designs mountains and valleys, what we perceive as the good times and the bad, for the good of His people. Sincere celebration comes from humility and is not a matter of preference.

The sum of Samuel’s ministry (v. 15-17)

Now Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. He used to go annually on circuit to Bethel and Gilgal and Mizpah, and he judged Israel in all these places. Then his return was to Ramah, for his house was there, and there he judged Israel; and he built there an altar to the Lord.

During Israel’s time of peace, Samuel travels and judges Israel in the manner of the Judges. He travels the same circuit each year, visiting the same four cities beginning with his own home. These four cities are near each other and located in the land allotted to the tribe of Benjamin. This sums up Samuel’s life and ministry. He spends his whole life doing the same thing in the same area. This is God’s plan for Samuel’s life. At his home, Samuel builds another altar to the Lord, another ebenezer.

No matter what stage of life we are in, how routine things seem to be, what we are experiencing, and whether we are on the mountain or in the valley, we know that God has provided this season for our good if we are His. This is why we are content. We are not interested in self-advancement. We simply want to be faithful with what God has given us and called us to and trust in God to provide all things. He is the only one who can. Here I raise my ebenezer. Only God is worthy of our praise and devotion.

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