A Promise to Live By III (Matthew 1:21)

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Doug Van Meter - 13 January 2008

A Promise to Live By III (Matthew 1:21)

A Promise to Live By

The promise of Matthew 1:21—that every one of Christ’s people will be entirely saved from their sins—is indeed a promise to live by. It is a biblical truth that all of Christ’s people desire to be holy, but even more wonderful is the truth that every one of His people is destined to be holy. This is the message of Matthew 1:21.

From Series: "A Promise to Live By"

A short series of sermons focusing on the promise of Christmas.

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Scottish preacher and hymnist Horatius Bonar once wrote, “If we would be holy we must get to the cross and dwell there.” This is a profound truth that we would do well to live by. As we have seen in our preceding two studies in this text, as we apply our hearts and minds to the gospel we understand something of the magnitude of our salvation and are willing to work hard to enjoy the benefits of that salvation.

The promise of Matthew 1:21—that every one of Christ’s people will be entirely saved from their sins—is indeed a promise to live by. It is a biblical truth that all of Christ’s people desire to be holy, but even more wonderful is the truth that every one of His people is destined to be holy. This is the message of Matthew 1:21, and it stated with equal force elsewhere in the New Testament. For example,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

(Ephesians 1:3–6)

Our destiny drives our desire. That is, we desire to be holy because we are destined to be holy. One proof that we belong to God is an inward desire to be made holy. And this desire has a guaranteed fulfilment, for Jesus Christ will save His people from their sins. We will never be perfect in this life, but that is certainly the direction of all God’s children.

We have already taken two studies to consider the truth of Matthew 1:21, and we have concluded that the promise contained therein is a glorious one by which to live for several reasons. First, it is a glorious promise because it is extensive: It will reach all His people. Second, it is a glorious promise because it is exhaustive: It deals with the penalty, the power, the practise, the pleasure and the presence of sin in our lives. Third, it is a glorious promise because it is expansive: Its benefits extend beyond the individual to families, communities, nations, churches and even the very environment. Fourth, it is a glorious promise because it is explosive: It blows away all unbelief so that even the hardest sinner can experience the cleansing power of the gospel. Fifth, it is a glorious promise because it is expensive: It cost Jesus Christ His very life.

But having considered these five reasons for the glory of the promise, we come in this study to a sixth reason: The promise is expulsive. As we experience the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives, certain things are expelled from our lives. We know, based on this gospel promise, that sin will be continually expelled from our lives.

The thrust of these messages is to humble us by the gospel truth in order that we might have renewed hope in the gospel promise, so that we might live holy and honour the One who authored the gospel message. Let us further drive this truth into our hearts by considering the expulsive power of Christ’s promise.

The Promise is Expulsive

“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” As noted in previous studies, and as mentioned briefly above, the promise here is more than merely salvation from the penalty of sin. The promise is that sin will be increasingly expelled from our lives while we live on this earth. Christ’s people, those who know that they are sinners who have a Saviour, will be driven to drive out sin. The debilitating sinful actions and habits that formerly characterised us will, slowly but surely, be driven out of our lives. The new owner of our lives acts upon His right to evict our former tenants of sin. The new life that is ours in Christ pushes out that which has died.

I have an oak tree in my garden that was planted several years ago by a couple in our church. It has been growing in my yard for some eleven years. When autumn comes, most of the trees in my garden lose their leaves quickly, but not the oak tree. It is the last tree in my yard to lose its leaves, and oftentimes the dead leaves are still on the tree in the springtime. But as new life comes into the tree and new buds spring forth they quickly knock off the dead leaves.

That is precisely what happens in the lives of those who are Christ’s people. The new life worked in us by the Holy Spirit expels that which is dead. The old man is dead and thus the deeds of the old man are pushed out of our lives when we are made new creatures in Christ. When we understand something of the expulsive power of the gospel, then we begin to appreciate the radical change that takes place in our life. We begin to have great hope that indeed transformation of life is a promised possibility. The sinful habits can be pushed out of our lives and can be dropped off and raked up and be cast into the fire because we have the life of Christ in us.

But how exactly does this happen? It is not by mere stoic self-discipline, or by our own strong resolve. There are some practical measures we can take to aid this expulsion, such as accountability to other believers in the church. Taking practical steps can be extremely helpful. Many years ago when I battled to get up in the morning I placed a verse by my alarm clock, which would confront me before I hit the snooze button. The verse read, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” (Proverbs 6:6). This was a helpful means by which I could discipline myself to get up in the morning. My youngest daughter recently bought a speaking alarm clock that insults her if she doesn’t get up in the morning. It is quite humorous to walk past her bedroom and hear insults being flung at her if she doesn’t get up and switch off the alarm quick enough. It is simply a practical means by which she can be helped to get up on time.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with self-discipline and resolve, and whilst practical steps such as accountability partners and Scripture memorisation are certainly helpful, these are not the greatest motivations for the expulsions of sin. I would suggest that Matthew 1:21 provides us with at least two powerful motivations that will expel sin from our lives.

The Expulsive Power of a New Life

The salvation that we have is radical. It goes to the root, killing and making alive. Jesus delivers us from our sins not in some peripheral, superficial way, but by dealing with the very root of the problem. He gives us new life, which ensures that the sins of the old man are continually dropped from our lives.

My older sister is a nursing practitioner who works particularly with leukaemia patients, particularly children, in a hospital in Salt Lake City. Some years ago she explained to me what is involved in the treatment they use. I don’t have a medical mind, and would surely get the details horribly mixed up if I tried to explain it, but what it basically boils down to is this: They bring the patient almost to the point of death before doing the bone marrow transplant, which restores life. In order for the patient to be well (at least with this particular treatment) he or she must be driven to the verge of death before being given new life.

This is somewhat what the gospel does. Christ brings us to the point where we realise that we are dead in trespasses and sins, and only then, as we painfully feel the weight of our sin, will the gospel be good news to us. Only at the point of death can we be given new life by Christ. The only way that we could be saved was for us to die, but at least in our case it was painless. Consider Paul’s exposition on this matter in Romans 6.

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

(Romans 6:1–14)

When Christ died we died with Him. When He was buried we were buried with Him. When He rose to newness of life, so did we. He rose victorious from the grave and has no more union with the sin that He bore on the cross. And if He has no more union with sin, neither have we. We therefore have no desire to sin, for we are now dead to sin. Philip Graham Ryken explains it this way:

On that day at least four things were nailed to Calvary’s cross: One was a sign announcing that Jesus of Nazareth was the King of the Jews. Another was Jesus Himself, who was fixed to the cross with hammer and nails. Third … was the debt of our sin, which God cancelled by nailing it to the cross. The last thing that was nailed to the cross with Christ was every Christian: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him” (Rom. 6:6).

You may not have been physically present at Calvary but your Federal Head was, and therefore you were, as Ryken states, nailed to the cross with Christ that day. It cost Jesus tremendous pain and us nothing, and yet our old man was crucified with Him. Therefore, we walk in newness of life and are freed from bondage to sin. As Paul stated it elsewhere, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). We have the ability, by Christ’s sacrificial power, to overcome sin. William Perkins is helpful on this matter.

We are in mind and meditation to consider Christ crucified: and first, we are to believe that he was crucified for us. This being done, we must go yet further, and as it were spread ourselves on the cross of Christ, believing and withal beholding ourselves crucified with Him.

Since we have been raised to newness of life, God forbid that we should want to sin! Our new life is expulsive. Consider Zaccheus the publican, who when Christ saved Him immediately committed to giving half his goods to the poor and restoring fourfold to anyone whom he had cheated. Before that, he was a slave to greed, but when he experienced new life in Christ the deeds of the old man were expelled and he burst forth in generosity. Similarly, the apostle Matthew, one time also a tax collector, immediately left his tax booth upon his conversion, and hosted a feast to introduce his tax collecting friends to the Lord.

Another striking illustration of this truth was a man by the name of Mel Trotter, whose testimony I read recently.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Mel Trotter became a hopeless alcoholic by the age of twenty. Despite his mother’s godly example, the influence of his father’s saloon and drinking proved to be a temptation too powerful for the young man to overcome in his own strength.

Although Trotter would marry and have a son, his drinking problem persisted. In spite of his best efforts to stop drinking, he would always fail again miserably and go on another drinking binge. His family often suffered from lack of necessities as a result of his addiction. Trotter once sold his family’s horse and buggy to support his obsession. After one ten-day drinking spree, he returned home to find his two-year-old son dead in his mother’s arms. Despondent and penniless, he vowed to his wife never to touch another drop of liquor. But, only two hours later, he returned home drunk again.

He left home for Chicago, but his drinking continued. He even sold his shows in winter to buy liquor. Contemplating suicide, Trotter started walking toward the freezing waters of Lake Michigan, where he intended to plunge in and drown himself. Along his path, he passed the Pacific Garden Rescue Mission where he was pulled inside to hear the meeting that was in progress. Harry Monroe, who was the superintendent of the mission and a converted alcoholic himself, was giving his testimony of conversion and deliverance from alcoholism. At the invitation Trotter came forward and was converted. After gaining complete victory through Christ over his addiction, he chose II Corinthians 5:17 as his favorite verse: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” He was indeed a new creature, and he immediately started assisting Monroe in the work of the Chicago mission.

When Trotter was asked how he knew he was saved, his answer was simple: “I was there when it happened, January 19, 1897, ten minutes past nine, Central time, Pacific Garden Mission, Chicago, Illinois, USA.” Trotter proceeded to start mission stations all over the country, and thousands were brought to Christ under his ministry. What he failed to overcome in his own power, by his own resolve, was driven out of his life when Christ saved him.

There are plenty of examples that we can consider of Christ’s power expelling sin from the lives of His people. Perhaps you are not addicted to alcohol like Mel Trotter was, but I am quite sure that everyone reading this has besetting sins with which they struggle constantly. We all are, as it were, addicted to some form of sinful tendency, and the only way for us to fully gain the victory over these sins is by the power of Christ. If you are one of His people, there is no sin that you cannot overcome, for “he shall save his people from their sins.” His power is available to those who have new life.

The Expulsive Power of a New Affection

Thomas Chalmers was a Scottish preacher in Edinburgh in the 1800s. He once preached a sermon entitled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection,” and as I was meditating upon Matthew 1:21 some time ago, I Googled the sermon and read it. It is a powerful sermon, which took me easily an hour to read thoroughly. Chalmers based his sermon on 1 John 2:15–17: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

Chalmers spoke of the need to overcome the love of the world, and mentioned several attempts to overcome this love that are bound to fail. In essence, he argued that the love of the world is too strong an affection to overcome by mere resolve, by moralism, or by simply understanding the worthlessness of the world. “The only way to dispossess the heart of its old affection,” he said, “is by the expulsive power of a new one.” The expulsive power of a new affection, he argued, is available only through the gospel. “The object of the gospel is both to pacify the sinner’s conscience, and to purify his heart … The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one; and by the love of what is good, to expel the love of what is evil.”

Chalmers encouraged preachers that all they really need is the ability to preach the gospel. Painting a powerful picture of the worthlessness of the world may be helpful to a degree, but only the gospel can deliver people, and therefore the highest aim of the preacher, if he will help people overcome the love of the world, is to point them to the cross of Christ. As people have a new affection, as they grow in love for the God who has saved them, then the pull of the world increasingly weakens in their lives.

To take this to another level we might say that, if we would overcome the love of the world in our own lives, we must preach the gospel to ourselves every day. As we reflect daily on the gospel and thus understand God’s great love for us, an affection for God grows in us so powerfully that we begin to see the folly of sin. We increasingly grow in our hatred of sin, and we no longer want to do those things that displease our Father. Instead, we have the desire to say with Christ, “I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29). As Chalmers said, “We know of no other way by which to keep the love of the world out of our hearts, than to keep in our hearts the love of God—and no other way by which to keep our hearts in the love of God, than building ourselves up on our most holy faith.”

How did Jesus maintain the testimony of always doing those things that pleased His Father? Not by keeping before Him the vanity of the world, but by keeping before Him the love of the Father. My wife testifies that, as far as she can remember, she never lied to her father. She was not perfect, and she sinned in other ways, but somehow the sin of lying to her father seemed to be such an offence to him that she could not do it. She loved her father too much to ever offend him in such a way. And that is the only way we will overcome sin in our lives: by meditating on God’s love for us and thereby growing in our love for Him.

In Luke 7:36–50, Jesus was at the house of Simeon the Pharisee having a meal. During the meal a woman described as “a sinner” (probably a harlot) came into the house, anointed Jesus with an expensive ointment, and washed his feet with her tears and her hair. Simeon watched the entire encounter with a sense of self righteousness, and thought to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.” Jesus immediately read Simeon’s thoughts and replied with a parable of two men indebted to a creditor. The one owed a small amount of money, the other owed a large amount of money, but when neither could pay the creditor promptly wrote of both debts. Jesus then asked Simeon the question, “Which of them will love him most?” When Simeon correctly replied that the man forgiven most would love the most, Jesus said, “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” This woman loved God much because she realised that she was loved much by God.

We are forgiven by the love of God, and as we experience that love in our lives we are given a new affection, which results in those things that are displeasing to our loving Father being expelled from our lives. We want to overcome sin because we love God. And we love God because of the gospel. Every day we must come back to the cross. As Bonar said, we must get to the cross and dwell there. We never outgrow the gospel. The longer we are saved, the greater our appreciation for the gospel grows. As we preach the gospel to ourselves daily we grow in our understanding of the affection of God, which enables us to overcome sin.

I recently spoke to my sister-in-law, who lives in the United States. They had been in South Africa as missionaries for several years before returning to America. She recalled how, when they first came to South Africa and spent some time at our church, I was preaching a series through 1 John.  In that epistle, John provides various evidences of salvation against which we can gauge our profession to faith. One such evidence of salvation is love for fellow believers.

Since returning to America, their family has been badly mistreated by several people in a very trying situation. One particular family at the centre of the controversy has done a great deal of harm, and my sister-in-law said she wondered how she would treat this family if she ever encountered them. She recently saw the husband at a shopping centre, and she said that she was overcome with a desire to embrace him and tell him that she loves him. I jokingly asked whether she really meant “embrace” and not “throttle,” but she assured me that she did.

Such love for those who have harmed us is not a natural thing; it is supernatural. My sister-in-law understood that such love was evidence of salvation. She is definitely one of those people who daily preaches the gospel to herself, and this is evidenced in a new affection in her life.

We should understand, however, that it takes effort to ground ourselves in the gospel. We must exercise mental and moral effort. We will never make the strides toward holiness that we can if we do not make the effort to ground ourselves in the gospel. This means reading, studying, meditating, dialoguing, fellowshipping with others—only as we do these things will the truth of the gospel come alive in our lives.

Indeed, the expulsive power of a new affection expels fear, unbelief, pessimism and hopelessness from our lives, and propels us to victory in Christ. Chalmers sets forth a powerful challenge: “Let us not cease then to ply the only instrument of powerful and positive operation, to do away from you the love of the world. Let us try every legitimate method of finding access to your hearts for the love of Him who is greater than the world.”

Matthew 1:23 tells us that Jesus would be called “Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” The Bible then tells us that “Joseph being raised from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him” (Matthew 1:24). It was not an easy thing for Matthew to obey the Lord. He had to suffer scorn and mockery from others. He had to withhold his conjugal rights until Jesus was delivered. He had to persist in claiming the truth when no one believed him. But he was able to obey because of Emmanuel, because God was with him.

Believer, you are not alone in your responsibility to obey God and overcome sin. God is with you, and regardless of the nature of the specific sins with which you struggle, the promise remains firm: “He shall deliver his people from their sins.” May we take seriously this gospel promise and thus live gospel-centred lives. May we thus see increasing victory over sin, daily experience growth in holiness because we have God with us in His Son, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.