Tag Archives: walking with God

Our Greatest Need

26 Jul

The missing element in many American churches today is a real and deep understanding that being a Christian means following Jesus. Christianity is about time and eternity. We have boiled down the essence of Christianity to having right doctrine or having some past decision for Christ to lean on or having life enhancement to make my earthly journey more comfortable or happy or purposeful. So I can fail to pay my taxes as long as I hold to the doctrines of grace. Or I can treat my family like trash because I trusted Jesus when I was 11 and so I’m going to heaven. Or I can commit adultery because my spouse is inattentive because after all, God wants me to be happy, right? These false approaches are entirely out of step with the New Testament, where Jesus tells us, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Now to be sure, we can’t keep the commandments of Jesus apart from the power of Jesus. A living relationship with Jesus is essential and that relationship is understood and defined through sound doctrine, a biblical understanding of the gospel and it does have as a by-product a security and joy of heart that is a great blessing.  Jesus says, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

Most Christians know the basics of the gospel. They know God sent Jesus to die in our place, to bring forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God. Most know that we are saved by grace, not works. But there are certain truths which flow from the gospel that we have diminished our ignored and most of these have to do with our present lives. This ignorance of the present power of the gospel and the ensuing failure to walk in that power is the explanation for much of the hypocrisy and weakness in the American Church* today.

So by all means, let us recapture good gospel doctrine. Doctrine like adoption. We are part of God’s family now through the work of Jesus. We are sons and daughters of God. We have a secure place to grow in the family of God. God calls all His people to gather together with other believers for encouragement and worship and equipping. The doctrine of adoption forms a solid foundation for the local church. We are not a loose association of individuals. We are family. Let us recapture the doctrine of grace-empowered obedience. We are so allergic to anything that smacks of rule-keeping or legalism that we have moved to the other side and give everyone a license to do anything in the name of Christian liberty. By all means, many matters of preference are matters of Christian liberty and provide us opportunities to love and serve one another and to get along in spite of differences. But many other matters are matters of Christian obedience. Jesus commands us to seek first the kingdom of God, to serve one another, to love one another, to give generously, to endure persecution faithfully, to pray and not give up, to abide in Him, to not lust and covet, to not be ruled by the cares of this world or the deceitfulness of wealth. Dozens of other commands come just from the teachings of Jesus, not to mention other Scripture. So what do we do with those commands? If we ignore them and do our own thing we dishonor God, put ourselves on a destructive path and become a terrible witness for the kingdom. If we cry “legalism” or “works-righteousness” at this point we deny the voice of Jesus, because He tells us in the gospels alone dozens of things we ought to do. We sometimes criticize those who call themselves “Red Letter Christians,” who pay attention primarily to the words of Jesus and minimize other parts of Scripture. But are we not in danger of making the opposite mistake in the name of grace? Might we not be guilty of minimizing the commandments of Jesus in a misguided effort to uphold grace.

Here is the bottom line . . . in the Bible, grace changes us. Those Jesus saves are never left the same. Sanctification may be a messy, slow, frustrating process (mostly due to our stubborn hearts) but it is a reality. The one who began the work will see it through. So if you profess faith in Christ but see no growth in obedience to Him, no growing depth of love for Him, no progress in faithfulness, then all your sound doctrine and all your past experience and all your expectation of blessing should really be replaced by repentance and faith.

While it is undeniable that there is significant gospel ignorance in our culture, it is more true I think that we suffer more from a lack of gospel living than from a lack of gospel information. There is a connection of course and there is a sense in which many people do not thrive because they do not really understand how the gospel is to affect every day life. But many of us, I think, understand these things. We just don’t want to live by them. We are happier in our minds being our own Lord. But no man can serve two masters. And I wonder, if we have lived our lives being our own Lord here, what makes us think we will want to bow the knee to God when we pass into eternity? If we don’t really want to live under His authority here, why in the world would we want to live under His authority there? If heaven is going to be like Thanksgiving dinner with family members you barely talk to and hardly know, is it really going to be heaven?

It is interesting that in John’s gospel, both love and belief are linked to obedience (John 3:36; John 14:15). So obedience is not opposed to loving and trusting Jesus, it is an expression of love and trust. Don’t buy the lie that it is legalism to follow your Lord. And don’t buy the lie that you’re OK as long as you have right doctrine. And especially don’t buy the lie that God exists to make you the center of the universe and to give you what you want without hardship. Trust the Lord to work the full implications of the gospel into your life, so that while you are not perfect, you are being perfected and you are walking in the strength of a life lived by faith in Jesus Christ.

 

*I dislike the phrase “the American Church” because it is so broad and too general but I can’t really think of an alternative term so take it here with the reservation that I am not saying every single church or every single Christian is characterized by these things.

 

Behold Your God — Week One, Day Three

31 May

Knowing God is so hard only God can make it possible for us. The good news of the gospel is that God has revealed His love for us in the living and dying and rising of His Son Jesus. When we come to him in repentance and faith God brings us into relationship with Himself, a relationship we have a part in growing. Just as a human relationship is a two-way street, so our relationship with God depends on both parties. God initiated the relationship and His grace keeps it going, but we can have a part in cultivating the relationship. Since relationship with God is what we were created for, when we walk with Him we are fulfilling our purpose as people. Therefore, when we walk with God, we bring glory to God, blessing to others and benefit to ourselves.

The problem is that having entered relationship with God through faith in Christ, we often don’t experience the closeness and joy of this relationship. Just as a married couple’s love will grow cold unless their relationship is made a priority, so it will be for us in our relationship with God unless He is our priority.

The fear of God, purity of heart, childlike faith and joyful obedience are some keys the Bible gives us to cultivating our relationship with God. The Lord often reveals Himself to people who have these characteristics.

Has your love for God grown cold? Have you become accustomed to Him, bored with Him, or disillusioned with Him?

ACTION STEP FOR TODAY: Examine where you are at right now in your relationship with God. Talk with Him about any hindrances to relationship with Him. Confess your sin and feel His restoration. Begin walking with Him again in reverent and faithful obedience.

Notes on James 4:1-12

5 Aug

James unleashes some of his strongest words in the entire letter in chapter 4, verses 1 through 12. James’ concern is two-fold. He wants his readers to love God and to love their brothers and sisters in Christ. The focus of this section is to draw out the two ways people live: the self life or the grace life. Verses 1-5 describe the self life.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?

The Christians James was speaking to were in a state of conflict. We have already seen conflicts over favoritism and over poverty and riches in the book and now we see how these conflicts overflow into fights and quarrels. The end of chapter 3 told us about the life we should live: a life of mercy and gentleness and peace. But James’ readers were not living this life. They were not living a life for God but were living for self. And this living for self is what caused the conflict, because conflict is not a matter of outward controversy but of warring inward desires.

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

The self life manifested itself in self-centered desires which led to murderous action, covetous action, and fighting. And James says, “your desires aren’t met because you do no ask.” Rather than saying this as a way of telling us that we can have whatever we want, James is saying that if we drew near to God in prayer, our desires would align with His will and He would give us what we want (see Ps. 37:4, Mt. 6:33). But the self-life wants sinful, worldly desires and so even when prayer does happen, it is self-centered prayer.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

The harsh image of adultery makes it clear that James takes the worldliness of the church very seriously. The conflict and sinful desires of the people were an affront to God, a breaking of the relationship with the One who has done so much for us, even when there was nothing in us deserving of such grace. The self life spits on grace, counts it as nothing, and goes running after other loves. The Old Testament is filled with examples of the people of Israel, to whom God had bound Himself by covenant, going off in unfaithfulness against Him. One of the prophets favorite illustrations of this rebellion is the picture of adultery. One book (Hosea) even revolves around this metaphor. Jams minces no words. Friendship with the world is an act of hostility against God. Want to be God’s enemy? Cozy up to the world.

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

This is a difficult verse in the Greek text. It could be read “The spirit He put in us yearns jealously.” This would mean that James is saying that we have a bent toward worldliness and envy, so you must be aware of this and be proactive in our pursuit of God. The other way this verse could be rendered is “He yearns jealously over the spirit He has made to dwell in us.” In this case, James is saying that God is jealous for the affections of His people. This fits well the context of spiritual adultery and has Scriptural support in the ideas from Exodus and elsewhere that God is a jealous God. I can’t say with 100% certainty which interpretation is right, but I lean toward the second one.

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

God is a jealous God. But His grace is greater. He loves us in spite of our adulteries. But He doesn’t restore us unless we are broken. If we continue in pride and worldliness, if we continue to prefer our false loves to love for God, we should not expect God’s presence and blessing. This brokenness, this humility, is not passive though, but is expressed through actions of allegiance and commitment.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

On the basis of the grace God gives and the humility He honors, submit yourself. It is intentional humbling of self, intentional bowing the knee. In a world where submission is dishonorable and is even viewed equated with a loss of personhood, this command is distinctly counter-cultural. Having submitted to God, we resist the devil. The order is important. We can’t stand against the devil if our heart is not submitted to God. And when we resist the devil, he will flee. His power over us is in convincing us to believe lies. So when we stop believing lies, his power over us is broken. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. What a blessed picture. How great is our God to draw near to us! How kind is He even after we have turned away from Him to restore us! How do we draw near to God? By cleansing our hands (repenting of outward actions of evil) and purifying our hearts (repenting of our inward attitudes). We rejoice in God’s grace but we mourn the sin of our lives and come to God with an understanding that we deserve nothing but judgment. The life of flippant laughter and putting on a happy face which our culture values so highly is truly worthless. But the humble life of repentance and submission brings true blessing to our lives and it changes the way we relate to others. This is what verse 11 and 12 point towards . . .

11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

The grace life leads to a life of grace toward others. We are not out to nitpick people or to stand against people needlessly. We have an awareness of the grace we have received which causes us to deal with others humbly. Since we all stumble in many ways, we who are lawbreakers speak against the law when we hold others to law-keeping in which we ourselves fail. God is the judge, we are not. So we look to God to deal with all things rightly and to show us the way to interact with others. James urges us to deal with one another from the overflow of our relationship with God. People who know a lot about God but don’t walk with God tend to be harsh toward others, judgmental in tone and condemning in manner. But those who walk with God tend to be gentle, peaceable, meek, loving, and gracious. Those who walk with God take sin seriously but they take their own sin most seriously and even in dealing with the sins of others they deal from a perspective of redemption rather than condemnation. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

 

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