As I set out to write this final record of my time in the land of Scots, I am listening to the third Hobbit movie soundtrack. The movie comes out this Saturday here in the United Kingdom, but David was able to purchase the soundtrack early (thank you iTunes!). I look out my window, and I see the last line of clouds from the storm fade away into the distance. Today seems to have the theme of lasts. Last movie, last clouds, last blog post.
In the movie, there is a song that few of us can listen to without tearing up. It’s called “The Last Goodbye.” For the Scotland crew it’s the last of an era, the last of a collection of movies that have defined our lives up until this point. If you have followed The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, you probably understand our feeling. This movie couldn’t come at a better time. Tomorrow four of us will be traveling to a movie theatre with an elder from the Airdrie congregation to watch the movie with him and his wife, who have become our close friends. It will be the last activity we do with them here in Scotland. When that song of farewell plays, we will all be crying.
I don’t want to go. I don’t want to say goodbye. These people here in Scotland have changed my life. Without their love, their care, their selflessness, their love for Christ, I would not be the man I am now. I have been challenged in my faith. I have been tormented by various temptations. I have struggled and wrestled with the things of God. Yet, without this congregation, I would not have made it through. My relationship with God would not be where it is. On the outside have I changed much? Do I act radically different? Have all my desires turned around? Nope. It’s hard to change every facet of your life in a few weeks. Yet, my mind went through a shift these weeks, and it’s all thanks to this little congregation in Scotland.
You are probably reading this thinking, “Okay Ethan, that’s nice and all, but let’s talk about specifics. What do you mean?”
Since about May of this year, I struggled with the topic of my salvation. Was I saved? I knew I was sinful. But I also knew that I was living a new life, given to me by my Savior Jesus Christ. How then could I continue to sin? Were all God’s promises of growing in maturity in the faith, producing fruit of the Spirit more and more, and putting to death sin in every area of life just lies? Was I actually not saved? Was it just pretend when I joined the church almost six years ago? The devil gave me no rest, and my assurance wavered. As I hopped on the plane to Scotland, I prayed for safe travel, but not without a nagging voice crying out, “Hypocrite! He won’t hear you!” But I held onto the thought that had guided me even before I went to Geneva: Jesus was waiting for me there in Scotland.
For a few weeks I learned theology and doctrine, all about the sinfulness of man and the holiness of God. I also started to read the Old Testament in an effort to read through the whole Bible (I’d tell you the story on how I developed that plan, but that’s another long story). The books I read encouraged me to work out spiritual disciplines to bring me closer to God. I heard from Andrew every morning about the destiny of God’s children, found in Romans 8:29: “For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (emphasis mine). My destiny is to be united to Christ and conformed to His image, and my duty is to work out my salvation with fear and trembling and put to death sin in my life.
Naturally my question that never quite seemed to be answered was, “How???” How can I possibly do this? I sin, am bound up in sin, trying to break habits of sin that I had spent twenty years building up. I cried many nights to God, wondering why I couldn’t break free, why I couldn’t measure up to the commands, why I felt so far from Him. How? How can one that is sinful be free? How can I let the truth set me free, if I can’t even obey to know the truth (see John 8:31-32, 14:15, and chapter 15)?
It wasn’t until Andrew’s sermons through 1 John that my prayers were answered. In that letter, John writes to the church, which he loves very much. He even calls believers “my beloved children”. He loves them dearly. He is also writing near the end of his life. These are in the last days, when all the fear of man is gone, all the cares about the world, and the worries about this life are nothing to him now. He has every right to say to the world, “I am too old for this.” He has gone through all the trials and outlived all his brothers, the apostles. Now, he writes to a church struggling for Christ, sharing what he feels is most important for the Christian life.
John starts off by declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the person he touched after He rose from the dead, whom he ate with, whom he saw rise to heaven. Jesus was eternal life. John’s authority and reason for caring for the church was in the fact that he had seen Him and known Him. All the words of Jesus ring in his ears as he writes. He remembers the words of the gospel book he wrote, specifically that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5). In the letter, he writes about the light that is God. He calls the children of God to walk in the light. Why? So that they may have fellowship with God and other believers. John’s purpose in the letter is to get his readers to abide in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Why would this be such a big issue for him that he spends hundreds of words writing about it? What is so important about abiding in God? Andrew answered that same question for me by turning to John 13-17. In these pages, the hope of the Christian, the assurance of salvation, the reason for the love of God, the reason for the love of the Church, the truth of the work of the Trinity, and so much more are wrapped up in these chapters. The amazing thing is only John records this conversation of Jesus with His disciples in the upper room, the very last conversation between them before He dies in a few hours. And what is the central point for Jesus, who is so troubled in His spirit He later sweats blood? His one care is that His disciples would abide in Him, in the Father, and in the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ whole purpose in His life was to do the will of His Father in heaven (John 6:38). He prays in the garden “Not my will but your will”. He teaches His disciples to pray “Thy will be done.” His purpose and His Father’s purpose are the same: that the children of God abide in God.
This was the missing link. This was it for me. How can I be assured that I am saved and will persevere to the end? Because I believe in this Savior and King and love Him (though honestly very little due to my weakness).
But this assurance was not just from the fact that I believed. My assurance is in the fact that the King of the universe, that loved so much that He died for a people that hated Him to bring them into His joy — that God-man Jesus loved me. Who can stand against us if the King of the universe is for us? Not even us. That is where my hope is. That is where the ability to change lies. Jesus loved us as much as the Father loved Him. You cannot get any greater love than that.
This leads to another point that I learned in my classes. Jesus is a King. We learned the importance of Jesus’ kingship in class through several books about doctrine. Without the truth that Jesus is king, we have no reason to go out and evangelize, nor do we have the authority. It was only after Jesus declared that He had all authority on heaven and earth that He told the Apostles to go and make disciple of all the nations. In His rule we have the foundation for missions (out of country sharing the gospel) and evangelism (in country sharing the gospel).
This doctrine came alive for us when we learned about the Covenanters of Scotland. Why did thousands of Christians, male and female, young children and old folk, die in those years three hundred years ago? Why did they give up their lives? Why were they executed, slain without trial, murdered for merely reading the Bible? They died because they held that Jesus Christ was King over nations, including the monarchy of their day. They signed covenants declaring this truth, vowing before God that they would keep to the faith, and that the country would submit to His rule. This was not a piece of knowledge that divided the church, as some may say of doctrine today. This was living, breathing truth from the Word of the Living God, the Testimony of the Risen Savior and King, Jesus Christ. To deny Jesus being ultimate King and to assert that the monarchy of the time was ruler of the church was blasphemy (and still is). No one dies for an idea or a question mark. One only gives up their life for something they believe with their entire being. One does not submit to God alone unless he has faith that is grounded. A faith built on sand is washed away in the flood of the persecuting world.
I now call these Covenanters my spiritual ancestors. There have not been any Christians in my family for generations. I cannot look back and say, “My great-great-grandfather went to this church” or “my great-great uncle helped this woman come to faith in Jesus Christ, then married her, and they had so many kids”. My family is a first generation Christian family. I have no ancestors of the faith. But since I am Reformed Presbyterian, and since the Reformed Presbyterian Church descended from the Covenanters, I now call them my spiritual ancestors. It is my hope that I can follow in their footsteps and uphold the doctrine of Christ’s Kingship.
There is so much more, but I will leave that to the personal conversations. To Christ alone be the glory, forever and ever.