Delight

Psalm 37.4The noun delight has its origin in the 13th century.  It is defined as “a high degree of gratification”.  The French origin of the word points up the fact that it is a fairly intimate word.  Psalm 37.4 reads, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.”

I would guess that many of us have a very difficult time relating to this verse.  We live in a world that knows neither love nor hatred by the physical evidence in front of them (see Ecclesiastes 9.1-2).  Asaph pined away about witnessing the prosperity of the wicked during his life (Psalm 73).

But as the song writer penned, “If I could see beyond tomorrow as God does see…”  Our problem truly rests in the fact that we find a high degree of gratification in all the wrong things.  Our desires are tethered to all the wrong things.  If desire is tethered to time and the sensate experiences of life, we simply have the wrong desires.  It’s hard to convince myself and others that this is positively true.

Psalm 37.4 tells us to delight ourselves in the LORD.  This is a responsibility that we must meet, or we will become unsatisfied with life.  Psalm 81.10 has the clear directive of our LORD:  “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”  Nobody else is able to fill us but our Creator.  Feed on His faithfulness (Psalm 37.3b).

Think of Heaven.  The souls who have gone before us are indeed happy and care-free.  If eternal life is something we enjoy now (and it is), then we ought to bring a little delight from Heaven into our world today.  Don’t live below the position and privilege that you have in Christ as God’s dear child.  Heaven is to you an everlasting possession.  Find a high degree of gratification in the LORD.  Once you do, you will have the desires of your heart …all of them.

Depression and Suffering

depressed-216x300Reformed Theology has spent much time and effort with practical counseling.  Among these counselors is Dr. David Powlison.  Here is a talk he gave at RTS.  Well worth an hour and a half of your time.  You don’t have to agree with RT to profit.  Here are the notes I took while listening:

William Styron in Darkness Visible:  Depression used to be known as melancholia.  Depression describes an economic decline or a rut in the road.  Depression is a true wimp of a word for such a major problem.  Adolf Meyer first assigned the term depression to what was formerly known as melancholia.  The term leaves little trace of malevolence and horrible intensity of what one goes through in such a dreadful and raging experience.  

People like simple explanations and definitive solutions, but depression eludes such a reductionist formula.

Armand Nicolai, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard

    

  • Biological problems can effect mood.  But there are many other causes for depression that are not biological.
  • What goes on neurologically with depression?  Does depression cause neurological changes or is there a biological problem that causes depression (chicken or egg).  Nicolai says that it cannot be known.  Depression is not always biologically determined.

Joseph Glenn Mullin – Prozac Backlash (Harvard professor)

    

  • Antidepressants are less effective and more dangerous if you use them over a long period of time.
  • Placebo effect – 2/3 as effective as the real drugs.
  • 75% of those receiving medication could receive much less than they are taking.

Stephen Hyman (Harvard professor)

   

  • Psychiatrists cannot give people what they really need – meaning, purpose, and relationships.

Christian make the same error.  Is depression sinful?  Is there a place where Scripture reproves sorrow, anguish, and despair?  Does it call these things sin?  The wisdom books gives voice to this experience.  It is an experience of suffering.  The Gospel addresses what is wrong with us (sin) and what is wrong in the world (suffering).

Many of the psalms address this human condition of anguish, heart-ache, and sorrow.  

”Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Immorality is unruliness.  But depression belongs to the fainthearted and the weak.  Sinfulness can be tangled up with suffering, however.  We can fail and experience anguish and guilt.  This is a proper feeling if you’re accurately gauging true offenses.

There is a normal sorrow at betrayal and the destruction of some temporal hope.  But that can lead to suicide and other warped thinking.  It can reveal that we made an idol out of something or someone on this earth.

Depression is hard and messy with not simple explanation or fix.  Job felt great turmoil and great grief.  His sorrow and anguish attended his pursuit of the living God.  He was presumptuous and God corrected him.  There are many causes that are external and internal that lead us into temptation.

The Bible does not weigh all the factors and give you a comprehensive analysis or full explanation.  The Bible doesn’t attempt to give a scientific answer.  The complexity of depression eludes such a cut and dry method of diagnosis.

  • Psalm 31 – sorrow, grief, abandoned, forsaken, despised, desperate; I commit my spirit into your hands
  • Psalm 32 – my body is wasting away
  • Psalm 34 – many afflictions, all my troubles, all my fears – you fill in the details; what are your fears and troubles
  • Psalm 35 – bereavement to my soul
  • Psalm 38 – sick, in pain, crushed, burning, utterly weak
  • Psalm 40 – evils surround me, evils overcome me, my heart fails me
  • Psalm 42-43 – Why are you cast down, O my soul?  Why are you disquieted within me?

Go through whatever you have to in life in order to get to Jesus.

Psalm 25 – 

It’s ironic that David dealt treacherously without cause (Bathsheba and Uriah).  People dealt with him treacherously and without cause as well.  “Lord, when you think about me, remember Yourself.”  
Read Psalm 25 carefully.

Many do not see God in their struggle.  Many do not see their sin and idolatry.  Along with the struggle, you must see God’s invitation out of it.  Psalm 25 has three things that many sufferers do not have:

  1. No awareness of sinfulness
  2. No Lord – therefore not teaching on mercy and love
  3. No faith with any kind of substance to it

However, their are a number of things that tugs at the sufferer in the person:

  1. Acute sensitivity to the beauty of creation
  2. Camaraderie and fellowship with other believers; pleasure
  3. Great valuing of Christian friends
  4. Impulse to get straightened out spiritually – can be unformed but the longing or sense is there
  5. Responsive to the candor of another
  6. Awareness of weakness and essential need

Eight Questions Creating Direct Linkages into Ministry:

  1. Do I need help?  We need awareness that we need it.  One gives it and another receives it.  God gives it through believers.
  2. Do I trust you?  It’s hard to trust people.  But God is to be trusted.  The only one who is truly trustworthy is God.
  3. Will I be honest with you?
  4. Do you understand me?  Have you gotten enough into my life that you truly understand what I’m going through.  God understands us for certain.  God is merciful and filled with lovingkindness.  He is willing to teach sinners to walk in His ways.  Christ both suffered and gives aid to those who suffer.
  5. Will the person listen?
  6. Will the person take to heart what you are saying?
  7. Will the person act?  Faith must move to love.  Small obediences …one step at a time.  What is the next right step right now?
  8. Will I persevere?  Will one thing lead to the next thing?  

L

Live in a dark hole or a wide world?  You can move from one to another through Jesus Christ.  It’s more than feeling better.  It’s about getting to Jesus Christ.  God gives us His Word and lends us His ears in Psalm 25 (Bonhoeffer).  The Holy Spirit blesses fruitful sowing of the Word of God – careful listening and good questions.

The Need for Righteousness: Obedience of Faith

Why is Romans first among the letters written in the New Testament?  It doesn’t seem that chronology is the reason.  Galatians and the Corinthian letters were more than likely  written at an earlier date.  However, its placement in the New Testament makes perfect sense.  I have just finished preaching through the last half of Acts surveying the life of Paul.  Acts ends with Paul in Rome.  He was transferred as a prisoner from Jerusalem to Rome.  Jerusalem and Rome are central to the dissemination of the Gospel throughout the first century Jewish and Gentile peoples respectively.  Jews and Gentiles constitute all people.  There is no other category of people.  Either one is a Gentile or a Jew.

Romans reveals God’s nature and eternal purpose for all mankind (Romans 8.38-39), of the Jew first and also of the Greek (cp. Acts 28.17-29).  Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!  Romans teaches that the incomprehensible power of God to salvation is for everyone who believes (Romans 1.16).

Paul wrote to Christian brothers and sisters in Rome.  Some were Gentiles and some were Jews.  Some of them had been saved and filled with Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  Acts tells us that people from Rome were present at Pentecost (cf. Acts 2.10).  Indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit, they went back to Rome with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Paul said that the faith of Roman Christians was spoken of throughout the whole world (cf. Romans 1.8).

Romans is written to provide a theological understanding of the fullness of God’s plan of salvation for all mankind, Jew and Gentile alike.  Romans demonstrates that the plan of salvation is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Romans is filled with close, connected reasoning.  It is so tightly packed, that much is overlooked when simply surveying the book during Bible reading time.  The other danger is becoming too myopic when studying the book. It is a letter that should be read straight through. Individual paragraphs should be read within their context.

Significantly, Paul quoted from the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) when citing the many passages of the Old Testament Scriptures in Romans.  He did so because his audience was primarily a Gentile or Greek-speaking audience.

As already mentioned, Galatians and both letters to the Corinthians were written before Paul wrote Romans.  But the confrontations with the churches of Galatia and Corinth governed the content of those letters.  Romans is a cool, calm statement of the salvation of God for everyone who believes.  It is a universal book for a universal audience.

I am hesitant to say that one must master Romans, because it is impossible to master any book of the Bible.  I would say especially this book.  However, I do think it is important that you know its basic content, memorize portions of it, and know it very well.  For instance, until a Christian studies in detail Romans 5 – 9, I believe that they will struggle immensely with the Christian life.  I do think it is important for you to read Romans many times and meditate on it contents.  Romans, more than any other book of the Bible in my opinion, clarifies one’s understanding of the righteousness of God and the salvation of mankind.  My former pastor and seminary professor would say that instead of you mastering Romans, Romans should master you.

Very important questions will be addressed throughout the book.  Paul may state the questions explicitly, or the questions are implicit derived from factual data in the book.

  • If one is justified freely by faith alone, how can God be just?
  • How does the Gospel relate to the Old Testament Law?
  • How should a Christian view the Law of Moses?
  • What is the Christian’s relationship to the Law?  Does grace give us the right to ignore the Law?  If not, does one need to keep the Law in order to be saved?  Do we need to keep the Law to please God and advance in the Christian life?
  • Since God’s grace abounds even more than our sin, what will keep the moral fabric of our lives in tact?  What incentive does Romans offer to NOT sin?
  • What about Israel?  Has God cast Israel off forever?  Does the Church replace Israel?  Are the promises of God made to Israel fulfilled in Christ?  Will they be fulfilled at a yet future time?

These questions are all answered by Paul in Romans.  Paul calls himself the least of all saints and the chief of sinners.  He is a Pharisee of the Pharisees and yet an apostle to the Gentiles.  God led Paul deliberately through the Old Testament Scriptures.  The Lord Jesus Christ Himself taught Paul.  Paul paid the price for identifying with our Lord’s teaching and suffering.  Still, his overarching desire was to know Christ and be found in Him.

God breathed out this letter to Paul.  This is called the process of inspiration.  But inspiration is mysterious in so many ways.  God communicated through Paul’s experience, suffering, vocabulary, background, and education.  There are both divine and human aspects to the inspiration of this letter and of all Scripture.  The result is a masterpiece, a foundational document for the whole of Christianity.  How do we approach such a letter?

There are three major sections in the letter according to one of my favorite writers, J. Sidlow Baxter.  Baxter sees a doctrinal section (Chapters 1 – 8), a national section (Chapters 9-11), and a practical section (Chapters 12 – 16).  Some commentators divide the book into five sections dealing with the topics of sin (Chapters 1 – 3), salvation (Chapter 4), sanctification (Chapters 5 – 8), sovereignty (Chapters 9 – 11), and service (Chapters 12 – 16).  This division provides a good, memorable and alliterated outline.  Verses 16 – 17 provide the central thrust and theme of the book.  Paul reasons:  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith'” (Romans 1.16-17).

What is revealed in salvation according to Romans 1.17?  The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.  That is, we are growing in our understanding of God’s righteousness as we read and study Romans.  Our faith grows.  We live out of a vibrant and growing faith in the righteousness of God.  This is an eternal quality of life that enables our acts of righteousness through the power of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.  So the core doctrine in Romans is the righteousness of God.  The outline of the book I am using reflects this.  It is an outline modified from my reading of Romans and several other outlines of the book.

Romans 1.1-15 provide an introduction to the letter.  Verses 16-17 state the theme of the letter.  Then the body of the Letter is divided three major sections:

1.    The Revelation of the Righteousness of God (Romans 1 – 8)

2.    The Vindication of the Righteousness of God (Romans 9 – 11)

3.    The Application of the Righteousness of God (Romans 12 – 16)

Here are the three major sections along with a break-down of their sub-sections:

The Revelation of the Righteousness of God (Romans 1 – 8)

1.    The Need of the Righteousness of God (Romans 1 – 2)

2.    The Gift of the Righteousness of God (Romans 3 – 4)

3.    The Benefits of the Righteousness of God (Romans 5.1 – 11)

4.    The Contrast to the Righteousness of God (Romans 5.12 – 21)

5.    The Demonstration of the Righteousness of God (Romans 6 – 8)

The Vindication of the Righteousness of God (Romans 9 – 11)

1.    Election:  The Righteousness of God Vindicated in Israel’s Past (Romans 9)

2.    Rejection:  The Righteousness of God Vindicated in Israel’s Present (Romans 10)

3.    Restoration:  The Righteousness of God Vindicated in Israel’s Future (Romans 11)

The Application of the Righteousness of God (Romans 12 – 16)

1.    Righteousness Reflected in Our Duties (Romans 12 – 13)

2.    Righteousness Reflected in Our Support (Romans 14)

3.    Righteousness Reflected in Our Obedience (Romans 15)

4.    Righteousness Reflected in Our Fellowship (Romans 16)

While righteousness is the theme of Romans, this theme poses quite a problem for all mankind.  The reason this is true is because we are ungodly and unrighteous people.  Romans 1.18 states that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”  Our problem is that we must be godly and righteous, but we are ungodly and unrighteous.  God has revealed His wrath from Heaven against all mankind for this reason.  Our default position is “condemned already.”

Therefore, Romans is a study on evangelism.  It explains how the ungodly and unrighteous become godly and righteous.  “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1.17).  The Gospel or Good News is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1.16).  It is only by faith that the ungodly and unrighteous become godly and righteous.

Thus, we begin with The Revelation of the Righteousness of God in Romans 1 – 8.  Our first series of messages will key in on our need for righteousness as it is communicated in the first two chapters of the book.  This first study, examines the first seven verses of Romans 1.

Romans 1:1–7 (NKJV) — 1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God 2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. 5 Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7 To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

These seven opening verses identify who Paul is, what the gospel of God is, and what obedience to the faith is all about.

The Identification of Paul (Romans 1.1)

“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God…” (Romans 1.1)

He is a bondservant of Jesus Christ.

Paul identifies himself as a bondservant or slave of Jesus Christ.  It is a privilege to be a slave of Christ.  While it was a great honor for a man or a woman to be a slave in the household of the Caesar or some other great dignitary at the time, how much more so to be a slave of the One for whom all things were created!  But, as a slave…

He is called to be an apostle.

Apostle literally means sent one.  However, it is used in an official sense in our text.  Paul is called to be an apostle.  Paul was called in the sense that he was invited to be God’s messenger of the gospel.  The understanding of called includes an invitation.

It certainly would have never occurred to Paul to reject this invitation or calling after his experience upon the Damascus Road.  As an apostle, he would witness firsthand the resurrected Christ.  All apostles must do so.  This is one reason why there are no apostles in the Church active today.

Paul brought forth teaching from the Lord Jesus in order to establish the Church.  Again, this apostolic doctrine or teaching was received by Paul firsthand.  It was then ‘enscripturated’.  As a bondservant, Paul lived out his function as an apostle for the sovereign will and purpose of God.  Paul was a bondservant, an apostle, and…

He is separated to the gospel of God.

What is the gospel of God?  It is the good news of God’s salvation for everyone who believes (1.16).  It is the righteousness of God which comes through faith (1.17).  Paul was set apart for communicating the gospel of God.  Paul is a bondservant, an apostle, and he set apart for the gospel of God.

Once you choose to believe on Christ alone for eternal life, you are choosing to become His bondservant or slave.  Once you belong to Him, you are not permitted to choose for yourself in life.  You cannot pick and choose what you will obey in the Scriptures.  The true attitude of a Christian is one of complete devotion (Romans 12.1-2).

The Identification of the Gospel of God (1.2-4)

“…which [this relative pronoun refers to the gospel of God] He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1.2-4).

Verse 2 indicates that the gospel of God was promised beforehand through the Old Testament prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The gospel of God also concerns His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Again a connection is made with the Old Testament.  We are told that Jesus Christ was born of the seed of David as the incarnate Son of God (v. 3).  The Holy Spirit powerfully declares Jesus Christ as the Son of God or God the Son through His resurrection from the dead (v. 4).  The gospel’s two necessary components are the death and resurrection of Christ.  

These verses remind us that the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ is complex.  He is beyond our ability to explain.  He is fully man as the words “according to the flesh” indicate, but He is also the “Son of God with power.”  He is fully God the Son.  We cannot understand how it is true, but we believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man.  He is the son of David and the Son of God.  Born a baby in a manger, Jesus came in the weakness of human flesh.  Raised from the tomb, He broke the power of sin and death.  He died for our sin and was raised for our justification (4.25).

The Scriptures are God’s gift to us, and they all speak of the power of the resurrected Christ.  If we are to benefit from that power we must search the Scriptures.  All Scripture testifies of Jesus Christ.  All Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

Jesus said that religious people search the Scriptures because in them they think they have eternal life.  However, they fail to understand that the Scriptures testify of Christ.  They are not willing to come to Christ that they may have life.

John 5.40 does not teach that Son of God is unwilling to give people like this life; therefore, they do not come to Him.  No, Jesus teaches they were not willing to come to Him believing so that they may have life.  God is willing; man is unwilling.  We must search the Scriptures for the resurrected Christ!  See John 5.39-40.

Remember too that the Scriptures teach that Jesus Christ is our Lord as v. 3 plainly states.  If Jesus is Lord, we must obey Him.  You are not your own, but you’ve been bought with a price.  You are God’s unique possession.  As such, you must glorify Him in your soul and body, which are His.  This is the Gospel of God according to Romans.  Finally, we seek…

The Identification of Obedience of Faith (Romans 1.5-7)

There are five aspects to our understanding of the phrase “obedience to the faith” in these verses:

Obedience is an expression of God’s grace (1.5).

“Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name…” (Romans 1.5)

Through the resurrected God-Man, Paul and others received both grace and apostleship (v. 5).  Remember that Paul is a bondservant and an apostle set apart for the Gospel of God.  He may only fulfill his work as an apostle by the grace of God.  This grace he received from God.  The apostleship of Paul is an expression of the grace of God.  Paul could not be an apostle apart from the grace of God.  Yet, notice that…

Obedience is an expression of our faith (1.5).

Paul’s grace-enabled apostleship was for obedience to the faith among all nations.  Literally, the phrase in Greek translates “obedience of faith” [see NASB].  Faith is the substance of things men hope for, the evidence of things men cannot see (cp. Hebrews 11.1).  Faith is your personal trust in someone or something.

Obedience is sometimes tied to faith in the Scriptures.  This is because faith submits to its object.  Faith in Christ is giving up the notion that there is another way.  No, He alone is THE Way!  Faith is the realization that God alone gives us righteous and godly lives.  Faith in Romans is submission to the righteousness of God available through His resurrected Son.  Our faith obeys.

Faith is available to all.

Obedience of faith is among all nations.  This fact is not surprising to 21st century Christianity, but it would have been very surprising in the 1st century.  The Gentiles or the nations were considered dogs by the Jews.  But the gospel of God has changed all that.  Paul’s gospel includes the Jews but also every other nation.  He refers to the nations as Gentiles.  He uses the words nations and Gentiles interchangeably.  Thus faith is available to us.  But…

Faith is for His name.

Obedience of faith is among nations for His name.  The name of Jesus Christ must be defined by His perfect character and work.  The name of Jesus Christ is what Paul and all believers live for.  We long to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, and conformation to His death (cp. Philippians 3.10).  Thus, we look forward to our own resurrection from the dead.
 Obedience is a response to God’s call (1.6)

“…among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;” (Romans 1.6)

Paul speaks to all believers in this letter …not just apostles.  We also are the called of Jesus Christ.  We are called in the sense that we too have been invited, and we have come.  We too are obedient just as Paul was.  We too have believed just as Paul did.  Not everyone called will hear, understand, or believe.  But we have.  Many are being called, but few are chosen because few believe.  Many are saying, “Lord, Lord!” but few truly know Him.  The many are not chosen or obedient because they will not believe.

It is important that we obey and believe.  As believers we are urged to cast down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10.5).  Faith requires obedience.

Obedience is characterized by love and holiness (1.7a).

“To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1.7).

Verse 7 now brings the letter’s salutation:  To all who are in Rome.  Obviously, Paul speaks of believers.  These believers are characterized as the objects of God’s love and especially set apart for His work.  They are beloved and they are saints.  Love and holiness walk hand in hand when it comes to Christian character.  If we are growing in love, we are growing in holiness.  If there is growth in holiness, there will be growth in love.

Obedience is demonstrated by grace and peace (1.7b).

“To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1.7)

This verse speaks of two provisions for believers who are loved and set apart.  These provisions come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Again, Christ and and the Father are One in this verse.  They are co-equal, co-eternal, and co-eval (of the same duration – both have always been; there has never been a time when One existed apart from the Other).  The Father is eternal; the Son is eternal; the Spirit is eternal.  Three Persons; one God.

Grace is God’s gift coming to us in many forms.  First, grace is God’s favorable disposition toward the believer and unbeliever alike.  Grace includes all we need in the work He has for us to accomplish.  It is a gift because it is unearned.  God bestows it without partiality to those who believe.  For believers, the grace is God for us; grace is also God in us.  Second, God provides peace.  Peace simply means that all hostility between God and the believer has ceased.  As the hymn writer put it, “It is well with my soul!”

Peace as an objective reality is now a part of our lives.  But the believer may often be unaware of the peace he has.  His condition does not reflect his position.  Nothing can take away the peace of God.  We sin, are chastened, and face great opposition and sickness throughout life.  Peace guards and protects our hearts and minds at all times.  However, we often fail to experience the subjective aspects of this cessation of hostility with God.  But whether or not we experience peace, we have it!

The reason subjective peace is so elusive for us is that we don’t understand that hostility with God has indeed ended.  Peace in its subjective sense is for everyone who works what it good (Romans 2.10).  While we have peace with God, we often find it elusive because of our disobedience, rebellion, and pride.

Unsaved people do not know the way of peace (Romans 3.17).  Peace is a result of being made right with God (Romans 5.1).  But subjectively, believers are often carnally minded.  The Bible calls the carnal mind death.  However, we can be spiritually minded and find life and peace, but only as children of God (Romans 8.6).  The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14.17).

Paul prays that the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15.13).  At the end of Romans Paul states that ultimately the God of peace will crush Satan under our feet in a relatively short amount of time (Romans 16.20).

So, obedience stems from the grace of God.  Man responds to God in obedience by relying upon that grace through faith.  Therefore, we are called of Jesus Christ because we have responded to God’s grace through faith.

The obedience we offer by faith is characterized by love and holiness.  We know our obedience stems from grace through faith when it manifests the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in our present lives.

Prayer:  Father, teach us that we are your bondservants purchased with the blood of Your Son.  Convince us that Jesus Christ is both fully man and fully God.  Reveal to us the power of His resurrection in our present lives and in eternity to come.  Give us grace for obedience to the faith.  May we be willing to be set apart so that we might reflect your grace and peace to a world that is lost in darkness and at enmity with you.

Cultivating a Life of Faith:  A Man of Promise – Genesis 21.1-21 (Pt 11)

We must read Abraham’s story with our own in mind.  What have we learned from his journey?  Those cultivating a life of faith must…

  1. …be set apart from the world, to God, and for His glory (Genesis 12.1-4).
  2. …begin with a proper perspective of God and upon godliness (Genesis 12.5-20).
  3. …deny self and choose the path of separation (Genesis 13.1-18).
  4. …be courageous enough to see beyond today and serve the King of Peace (Genesis 14.1-24).
  5. …persevere and imitate those who have already received the promises (Genesis 15.1-21).
  6. …refuse to compromise and live lives of conviction (Genesis 16.1-16).
  7. …be properly motivated for a daily commitment to God (Genesis 17.1-27).
  8. …develop intimacy with integrity in order to effectively intercede on the behalf of others (Genesis 18.1-33).
  9. …be intolerant of sin (Genesis 19.1-38).
  10. …acknowledge and confess carnality before our Heavenly Father (Genesis 20.1-18).

Genesis 21 brings us to the realization of a promise God had made to Abraham through the provision of a son, namely Isaac.  Yet Sarah’s solution through her handmaid Hagar and the subsequent birth of Ishmael continues to create problems.  Hagar and Ishmael are both driven away from the homestead and into the wilderness where God continues to provide for both.

Isaac:  The Promised Son (21.1-7)

God promised an heir all along.  He had asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18.14).  Now in clear, unmistakable terms God keeps His promise “as He had said”, “as He had spoken”, and at the set time “of which He had spoken.”

The Lord visited Sarah.  This marks a momentous event.  God will visit the children of Israel and look upon their affliction when they are in bondage in Egypt.  Luke 1.68 tells us that the Lord God of Israel “visited and redeemed His people.”  Later, after Jesus raises the widow’s son, great fear comes upon all, they glorify God and say, “…God has visited His people” (Luke 7.16).  The birth of Isaac points to an even greater birth:  “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given…” (Isaiah 9.6a).

This passage reveals that Sarah laughs a second time.  The first time she laughed, it was a nervous laughter years ago when God had revealed what He would do.  She laughs now out of sheer joy, and we laugh with her some four thousand years later.  When she asks the question, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?”  She acknowledges that only God could be at work in her life.  And, indeed, only God could be at work in delivering the promised son.

Sarah desired to see God work in her life, but she hardly believed it possible.  Sometimes it is easy for us to ignore the fact that God is at work in and through us.  Other times, we take credit for what He has done and strut in arrogant opposition to Him.  Be careful with this.  As James Dixon wrote, “We seldom consider that a request to see God work in our lives may be a request for testing and trial.”  This is exactly what happened to Sarah, and God made her laugh!

Ishmael:  The Parting Son (21.8-21)

Ishmael scoffed.  You won’t settle what is meant by this by merely studying the lexical meaning of the word.  Was Ishmael cruel toward Isaac?  Was he arrogantly asserting his own position as the oldest son and, therefore, the rightful heir?  Was he simply being immature, showing a lack of respect?  Whatever the answer, Ishmael simply did not understand his place in the house of Abraham.  It was also some form of persecution because Galatians 4.29 makes that clear.  Isaac was the heir and Ishmael was not.  So Sarah has Abraham send Ishmael and his mother away into the wilderness.  But God meets them both in their distress.  He will not only care for Hagar and her son; he will make good on His promise to make a great nation from Ishmael.

Sarah sinned when she gave Hagar to Abraham back in Genesis 16.  Abraham sinned by not leading Sarah and fostering security in the promises of God.  Ishmael sinned in scoffing at the plan of God.  Sin brings judgment.  When Hagar realized she carried Ishmael, she despised Sarah.  Things were never the same.  Abraham gave Sarah the power and discretion to handle the situation with Hagar.  So in a spirit of vindictiveness and retaliation, Sarah treated her without mercy for her insolence.

Sarah sought for a solution to a problem.  But because she acted independently of God, an avalanche of consequences came crushing down on Abraham’s family.  Sarah sought for blessing and happiness but found only struggle and misery.  Hagar had to return to Sarah, which must have really been a humbling experience.  She must submit again to Sarah, but she must have struggled to maintain a good relationship with her.  Now in Genesis 21 Sarah casts out Hagar and Ishmael for good.

Abraham was very displeased.  This was his son that had been cast out.  God had told Abraham in Genesis 17.20:  “I have blessed [Ishmael], and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly.  He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.”  And God would do exactly what He had promised.  Only Abraham could not be a part of Ishmael’s life.  Ishmael would have to be entirely entrusted to God.  God will use this event in Galatians 4 as a portrait for the salvation He now offers:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband.” Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free (Galatians 4.21-31).

We are children of the freewoman.  Christians are similar to Isaac in that we experience supernatural birth.  We are a part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to mankind.  Unto us a Son is given!  We should not live as those enslaved.  As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, those according to the flesh persecute those according to the Spirit.  Those according to the flesh are true legalists.  They believe that what they do merits favor with God and will gain them an inheritance.  We should cast out the legalist from our assembly even as Abraham cast out Ishmael.  The legalist will not share in the inheritance with the legitimate sons and daughters of God.  Those who believe they can won’t!  But is it possible for a genuine Christian to revert to legalism?  Yes!  And when he or she does, they ought to be confronted.  They ought to repent and trust fully in Christ for sanctification as they did for justification.  We are children of faith not children of the flesh.

 1. Those born according to the flesh will persecute those born according to the Spirit.

We could not apply this text in Genesis 21 in this specific way if Paul did not do so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 4.  Genesis 21 is instructive in showing us the heart of man.  Those born according to the flesh will persecute those born according to the Spirit.  It will always be this way.  As a matter of fact, a Christian walking in the flesh (condition) even though he is in the Spirit (position) will often persecute his own brother or sister in Christ.

Anyone born according to the flesh or walking in the flesh just cannot endure the fact that anyone could walk according to the Spirit and be blessed and favored by God.  Jesus says in John 15.19:  “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  That we call ourselves saints or elect ones in Christ is enough to provoke the hatred of the world.  Ishmael mocked Isaac.  Israel mocked the Christ.  Those in the flesh mock the true sons and daughters of God.  “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (1 Timothy 3.12).

 2. Those born according to the Spirit are true children of the promise.

We are justified by faith; therefore, we are no longer bound under the tutor (Galatians 3.24-25).  We are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  If we are Christ’s, then we are truly heirs of the promise (Galatians 3.29).  As children of the promise, we must escape the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Peter 1.4).  We must cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7.1).  As Christians we are empowered by the Holy Spirit of God to demonstrate the righteousness of the Son of God for the glory of God.  Anything short of this goal is not normal Christianity.  We must truly be Spirit-fed and Spirit-led Christians.  True Christians evidence the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  If they don’t, they will have no personal assurance that they are children.  We won’t be assured of that fact either.  There are always weeds among the stalks of wheat.

 3. Those who are sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father shall share together in the inheritance as saints of light.

Paul wrote:

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light (Colossians 1.9-12).

Only the saints in the light are partakers of the Father’s inheritance.  He will cast out all others.  There is neither Jew nor Greek in God’s economy of grace.  All are one in Christ.  Anyone who refuses Christ will not participate in the inheritance which awaits us in Heaven above.  Those who stand on the promises will alone find a solid foundation for their hope, namely the confident expectation that Jesus is coming to take believers to be with Him forever!  What great assurance!  We will not be disinherited.  We cannot be.  We have so much in Christ!  There is so much yet in store for us.  It is simply unreasonable for us not to live for Him.

Parents must endeavor to keep their families together for the glory of God.

Every family is dysfunctional.  Dad acts like an imperial dictator.  Mom wallows in self-pity.  The children are lazy and rebellious.  Family members take one another for granted.  Children scoff and mock when it comes to their siblings.  Not much has changed in 4,000 years.  Our joy can turn to sorrow in a hurry.

As parents, we must endeavor to keep our families together in spite of all of this.  We must avoid rashness and unreasonable demands.  We must respond with the same compassion and mercy that governs our Heavenly Father when we sin against Him.  If we must correct our children, let us temper that correction with genuine prayer.  Let us not be extreme in our response.  We can be excessively permissive and excessively autocratic.  Both are hurtful.  Ask yourself, “What does the Scripture teach?”  Pray for discernment.

The most severe correction should be reserved for scoffing at the will of God in family life.  Meet children head-on when they don’t pay attention to and make fun of your Bible time together.  If they don’t take seriously the things of God, we cannot let it pass.  If they must pluck out an eye or cut off an arm to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, so be it.  What we must be careful of is to make sure we don’t correct our children for our pleasure and convenience.  We cannot discipline our children in anger for this very reason.  It is not for our profit, but for His (and theirs)!

All of us who are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father are secure.

Jesus said of His true disciples, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10.28-29).

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.35-39).

It’s not the privileges in store.  It’s not the possessions we hold.  It’s the promises we have.  Rely on the promises of God.  Read the Bible not just for a list of duties before God and man; read it to receive the promises of your Heavenly Father.  Let this sink in as you read it:  The Son of God loved you and gave Himself for you (Galatians 2.20).

“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” (Ephesians 2.19).

Cultivating Faith (Part 3)

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Self-Denial

The story of Abraham and Lot is a story of two roads which diverge.  It is a story filled with choices.  While the eternal destination of both men is the same, the ways in which they lived on this earth become a stark contrast.

As we enter Genesis 13, both men led their families side-by-side with unity of purpose.  As long as the interests of both men aligned, they maintained unity.  But a point came when their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together (Genesis 13.6).  The result was strife leading to separation.  The separation became necessary in order to promote stability and peace.  The diverging directions of both men teach us some very important principles.

It is possible to trace the choices of both Abraham and Lot under two main headings.  Both men represent diverging philosophies of could be termed as separation and infiltration.  Abraham separates from the world (Sodom and Gomorrah); Lot infiltrates the world – slouching toward Gomorrah to borrow Judge Robert H. Bork’s title from his 1996 book.  First, Abraham represents the choice of separation…

Choosing to separate leads to the path toward God (Genesis 13.1-9).

“Please separate from me …they separated from each other …the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him” (13.8, 11, 14).

The path to God leads away from strife and toward peace.

“If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will take the left” (13.9).

Abraham knew well the wisdom of his descendant Solomon who wrote, “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts” (Proverbs 17.14).  Once water is released, the breach widens as the water erodes it away.  It moves so rapidly that there is nothing we can do to stop it.  Therefore, stop contention before it starts.  Once it begins, you’ll never know when or how it will stop.

Abraham desired peace with Lot.  That governed the choice he made.  So we have his words, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren” (Genesis 13.8).  Abraham was a peacemaker not a peacekeeper.  The path to God leads away from strife and toward peace.  Our endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace necessarily separates us from the world to God.  If our family and friends choose the path to Gomorrah, they will be walking a different path.  But make no mistake:  They have left the narrow way for the broad road.

The path to God leads away from self-assertion and toward self-denial.

It should be clear that Abraham is the elder and Lot the younger.  Abraham the uncle and Lot the nephew.  Abraham was called out of Ur, and Lot came along for the ride and the blessings.  Wouldn’t you think that as soon as Abraham gave Lot the choice of the left or right that Lot would have deferred to his uncle out of respect?  Shouldn’t he submit to Abraham and not the other way around?  Abraham could have asserted his rights, but he practiced self-denial.

People in the world lord their authority over others.  This is the way it is and the way it will be with unbelieving people.  But as Jesus said, “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20.26-28).

The path to God leads away from self-assertion toward self-denial.  How can there be strife if one party denies self and assumes the role of a perpetual servant?  How can the self-assertive and the self-denying walk the same path?

The path to God leads away from greed and toward generosity.  

Abraham should possess at least as much as Lot if not more than Lot.  But Abraham was a sieve.  He simply allowed wealth to flow in and out.  Abraham gave; Lot took.  Abraham knew that the plain of the Jordan was fertile, lush land.  He simply deferred to Lot.

Faith reasons that God will take care of us and fight for us.  So if a man demands my cloak, I’ll give it to him along with my tunic also.  If he demands I walk with him one mile, I’ll walk the one and then another mile as well.  If it is within our power to meet a need, we should meet that need.

But greed leads to spiritual deadness.  The heart set on things below is more concerned with the comforts of this life.  Pure and undefiled religion is “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1.27).  It is truly more blessed to give than to receive.

A choice to cultivate a life of faith means a choice to separate, which leads us along the path toward God.  Lot chose differently and serves as a warning to us…

Choosing to infiltrate leads to the path toward Gomorrah (Genesis 13.10-18).

The path to Gomorrah leads away from the eternal and toward the temporal.

“Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan …Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan …Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom …They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom” (13.10-12; 14.12).

We can’t be sure when Lot placed his faith in the God of Abraham.  We know that when Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, he is a righteous man.  Perhaps his conversion is a result of the problems caused by this divergent path that he took toward Gomorrah.  But believer or not, he took the path away from the eternal and toward the temporal.

We don’t know for certain, but it does seem that Lot has no problem with separating from Abraham.  Such separation would expose him to the temptations of Gomorrah.  He would be able to infiltrate that world, and gratify his desires.  Perhaps greed and ambition were two of the top desires for him.

Lot saw comfort in the well-watered plains of the Jordan.  The text tells us that the fertile land resembled the Garden of Eden itself.  Worldliness includes a fixation on the temporal and comfort that we desire right now in this temporal life.  Covetousness and a desire to fulfill temporal desires govern the heart of a person slouching toward Gomorrah.  We will learn that Lot gets a position as a judge and leader in Sodom.  His temporal desire far outpaced eternal interests.  The path to Gomorrah leads away from the eternal and toward the temporal.

The path to Gomorrah leads away from the spiritual and toward the physical.

  • The days of Lot are characterized as days when “they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built” (Luke 17.28).
  • “On the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (Luke 17.29).
  • “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17.32).
  • ‘The LORD turned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, and made them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and “delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds” (2 Peter 2.6-8).

Lot certainly came to understand what the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were like.  Their sin was out in the open for all to see.  The Bible is right:  “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15.33).  Lot left Abraham and moved toward Gomorrah with little or no regret that we can determine from the text.

We lose so much when we sacrifice spiritual benefit for physical comfort.  We endanger our churches, families, and ourselves when we make this exchange.  We fail to feed on the Word of God and grab at the crust of bread we find in the world.  That crust of bread is a counterfeit form of life.  We need to be brought to repentance when living for this world.  God is merciful enough to do it.

Guard against a love for this world.  You must separate from it not infiltrate it if you are to cultivate a life of faith.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2.15-15).

Lot’s love for the world led to choices that nullified his testimony within it.  Lot only had the world for a little while.  In the end it was all taken away from him.  If you live for the present arrangement of things, then your life will be empty.

Cultivate a life of faith through a compassionate, self-denying spirit.  Look to the Holy Spirit.  Be grateful to God because He has enabled you to sacrifice your own interests for the interests of others.

  • Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12.10).
  • Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2.4-5).

Follow the faith of Abraham.  Walk the path to God instead of slouching toward the destruction of Gomorrah!

Cultivating Faith (Part 2)

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Perspective

The most wonderful result of cultivating a life of faith is that people will glimpse the character of God in one who genuinely believes His Word.  God blessed Abraham, but in him blessed all the families of the earth (Genesis 12.1-3).  There are two perspectives which become very important in the cultivation of our faith.  First, we must have a proper perspective of God.  Second, we must have a proper perspective on godliness.

Our Perspective of God

Acts 7 contains the account of the Christian church’s first martyr named Stephen.  Stephen’s address leading to his murder begins with these words:  “Brethren and fathers, listen:  The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham” (Acts 7.2).  What then is the glory of God but an understanding of His character?

The Power of God

We learn much from God’s character when we consider that He called Abraham, an idolater, to become the source of blessing to all the families of the earth.  How do we make sense of that?  I believe God does that which will bring Him the most glory.  Abraham’s conversion and calling is a demonstration of His omnipotence.  God delights in taking broken vessels and communicating His grace and power through them.

Man does not operate in the same way.  We always look for the best and the brightest.  I am sad to say that the best and the brightest among us often do not need God.  Their abilities and resources hinder them from relying upon the power and glory of God for effective ministry.  God does indeed save those who realize they cannot save themselves.  Paul cautioned Timothy about being ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or even of Paul and his imprisonment for the Lord.  Suffering for the Gospel is a part of our call to ministry; it must be according to the power of God, “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works (self-power), but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began…” (2 Timothy 1.8-9).

Not one believer should puff themselves up against the another believer.  God has made us to differ from one another.  Everything we have we received from Him.  Since we have received it, why would we boast as though we have not received it from Him?  (See 1 Corinthians 4.6-7.)  What was true of the formerly idolatrous Abraham is certainly true of you and me:  “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15.10).  The question remains, “Will God’s grace toward us be in vain?”  Anything worth doing in our lives must be empowered by Almighty God.

The Promise of God

While Abraham exemplifies a life-long cultivation of faith, it all began with the faithfulness of God.  God keeps His promises.  Yet Abraham would not own any of the promised land until he purchased his wife’s burial plot.  He would be an old man before Isaac, the child of promise, was born.  Yet God kept His promises.  The child was given.  Abraham’s descendants inherited the Land and will have it to the full one day.  Indeed, all the nations of the earth are blessed and will be blessed through him.

We can be very thankful for the promise of God.  “All the promises of God in Him are ‘Yes’, and in Him ‘Amen’, to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1.20).  The greatest promise God has made to us is the eternal security we have in Christ.  Jesus said, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10.29).  All of God’s children “are kept by the power of God through faith” (1 Peter 1.5).

Our perspective of God is sharply focused by a look at His power and faithfulness to keep the promises He makes.  If we are to cultivate a life of faith as Abraham did, we must keep an eye focused upon the power and promises of God.  But we also need a whole new perspective on godliness.

Our Perspective on Godliness

While Abraham move toward Canaan in Genesis 12, the LORD appeared to him and encouraged him.  He built altars to the LORD in both Shechem and Bethel.  He called upon the LORD as well.  Our perspective on godliness must include the ideas of dedication to God and communication with God.  I find it interesting and very ironic that Abraham epitomizes the cultivation of a life of faith, but he went down to Egypt when a famine came upon the Land.  It doesn’t seem to me that the LORD directs him there.  We don’t find it in the text.  Also, God’s Word makes it clear that Abraham felt the need to lie to protect himself even at his wife’s expense (see Genesis 12.12-13).  God faithfulness and power preserves Abraham and Sarah in the end, but we wouldn’t really turn to the end of this chapter for a perspective on godliness, would we?

Perhaps our perspective on a godly life is clarified over time.  The weakness of Abraham is becoming a strength as he is led by God.  But God will allow Abraham to strike out on his own and fail.  He will permit the same when it come to our own lives.  Still, Genesis 12:5 is evidence of Abraham’s faith.  He departed from Haran and went into the Land.  Clarity when it comes to godliness will require that we first and foremost follow the leading of the Holy Spirit by truly relying upon Him.  As we rely upon God’s power and promises, we will fulfill five very important requirements.

Godliness Requires Faith

Faith is not complicated from our perspective.  It is an unwavering stand upon the foundational power and promises of God.  Abraham went without knowing where he was going.  He simply believed what God revealed to Him.  It’s not that he never stumbled or failed in life; he did.  We simply must walk in the steps of Abraham’s faith (Romans 4.12).

After all, to be godly one must belong to God.  To belong to God one must believe.  “Abraham believed God …and therefore it was accounted to him for righteousness.  Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us.  It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4.3, 22-25).  God has always and will always require faith from the godly.

Godliness Requires Obedience

Obedience comes after faith; although, admittedly they often appear to be contemporaneous.  When God called Abraham, Abram obeyed God right away.  No hemming and hawing.  He went.  If we are to be godly, we must obey right away.  Obey right away isn’t just for our children.  We have the same litany of excuses as they when it comes to delayed or failed obedience.  Consider the words of our Lord Jesus who said…

“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”  But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”  And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”  But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9.58-62).

It is inexcusable for the godly to disobey or delay when it comes to the clear directives of our Heavenly Father.

Godliness Requires Self-Denial

It’s not only hard but impossible to get this right without relying upon the leading of God the Holy Spirit.  When you leave everything familiar to you (people and comfort), it can be disorienting and depressing.  Abraham certainly struggled.  This is when we must know the Person in whom we have placed our faith.  We know whom we have believed!

We must not only be willing but active in putting to death our members upon the earth.  Cut off the right hand, pluck out the right eye, and crucify the flesh and its affections.  It’s not easy, but God didn’t call us to easy.  He call us to self-denial.  If you lose your life, you most certainly gain it.

Godliness Requires Foresight 

Abraham certainly planned for the trip from Haran to the Promised Land.  It would be absurd to think otherwise.  He even calculated how he would handle things with Sarah once leaders saw how beautiful she was.  Abraham must support his family and provide for those close to him.  But wisdom does dwell together with prudence, which is the practical skill of being discerning.  If we do not provide for our families, are we not worse than unbelievers?

Godliness Requires Effort

Abraham stalled in Haran until Terah died.  When the LORD renewed His call for Abraham to go further into the Promised Land, he went.  He didn’t give up on God.  We, too, must press on.  Diligence is an essential part of a godly life.  But I hasten to add that effort is effortless when we are led by the Holy Spirit and supplied with the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Galatians 2.20).

Hopefully, we see that the link between a proper perspective of God and a proper perspective on godliness when it comes to the cultivation of a life of faith.  Those who follow Abraham’s example will find themselves to be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of Lord, because they know that their labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15.58).

Why Go to Church?

Most of us understand that the question is not, “How do I want people to remember me?” Instead, we wonder if anyone will remember us at all! I admire my wife because she has a keen interest in her ancestry. If someone offers me something about my family’s heritage, I like to hear it. But my wife will seek the information out. So, what do we want our great grandchildren to know about us? What is the one thing that they should remember about us?

David wrote, “One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple …When you said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You, ‘Your face, LORD, I will seek.” (Psalm 27.4, 8)

Foundational Character

Three NT verses remind us that Abraham’s foundational character trait was belief. “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4.3; Galatians 3.6; James 2.23). Therefore, Abraham found strength in his dependence upon God.

James 5.11 reveals, “Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and see the end intended by the Lord – that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” Job waited patiently for the Lord to vindicate him. Job found strength in his perseverance in the Lord.

Numbers 12.3 says that Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth. Moses found his strength in complete dependence upon the Lord to fight for him.

James 5.17 states that Elijah prayed earnestly that it would not rain; it didn’t for 3 ½ years. He prayed again and the heaven gave rain. Elijah was bold and courageous because of his witness I the dark day in which he lived. So, Elijah found strength in the courage God gave him.

But what of David? Since David wrote many of the Psalms, we know that he had a heart for God. Acts 13.22 says that God found “David, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.” 1 Kings 14.8 says that David followed the Lord with all His heart. The hearts of future kings were often compared to David’s own heart. Many of them had hearts that were “not loyal to the LORD [their] God, as was the heart of [their] father David” (see 1 Kings 15.3). It was in the heart of David to build God a temple (2 Chronicles 6.7). David’s foundational character trait was his devotion to God. So, when we read the Psalms, we read them primarily to cultivate a heart of devotion to God. It’s not enough to find comfort in them; we must find a devotion for God in them. “One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek ….to behold the beauty of the LORD …Your face, LORD, I will seek” (Psalm 27.4, 8).

One Desire

David’s one desire was to behold the beauty of the LORD, to draw close to the heart of God. “I have loved …where your glory dwells” (Psalm 26.8). David found the glory of God in the temple. Our bodies as believers are temples of the Living God. We are never exiled from God’s presence. We are never carried away from God in captivity. We have the privilege of beholding the LORD’s beauty and seeking the LORD’s face wherever we are. It is sweet to do so with other believers in church, but we have the privilege of doing so at all times and in all places.

Psalm 42 speaks of a psalmist in exile. He is not David but of the sons of Korah. His soul panted for God as a deer pants for water. He thirsted for God, the living God. He asked, “When shall I come and appear before God?” David driven into the wilderness caves longed for the presence of God in the temple once again. David desired to worship the beauty of God’s holiness. God honored this desire with great delight.

What is your one desire in life?

Jesus Christ has taught us the Great Commands: Love God supremely, tap into His love poured out in your hearts, and then love others even as you love yourself! We don’t offer blood sacrifices today. We see Jesus! He is the substance of the Old Testament shadows. His sacrifice is the keystone doctrine of all others in the church.

Believers today see the justice of God against the backdrop of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. This is something that Old Testament believers would have had difficulty grasping. Evidence for this is abundant. One need look no further than Jesus predicting His cross-work and resurrection on three different occasions in the Gospel of Mark. Yet it took His disciples by surprise.

We know the suffering of Jesus Christ as it is revealed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He drained the cup of God’s indignation for us each of us. The wrath of God poured upon Jesus so that the love of God should be poured out in each of our hearts. Amazing love! All of this not because we deserve it, but because He chooses to love us.

Our one desire is found in God’s love for us through the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Think of the mercy involved in the thought that the Father gave His only Son that we might not perish alone forever! “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:9–10)

So my desire is to attend church, be baptized, and partake of the Lord’s Supper. My desire is to open the Scriptures whenever believers gather. I might behold the beauty of God on a walk in the countryside. I am able to see His beauty when I listen to a sermon online. I see His beauty in my morning devotional time. But I miss no small measure of His beauty and holiness when I forsake the assembly of believers on Sunday or Wednesday.

One Delight

David’s desire became rewarding delight. It was in the tabernacle where David inquired of the Lord. Animals were sacrificed continually in order to remind him of the destructive nature of sin. David understood that God was the God of justice and that death was the price of sin.

Yet David witnessed God’s acceptance of the sacrifices. This acceptance gave David understanding when it came to the mercy and grace of God. He surely didn’t understand mercy and grace the way we do. We see God’s mercy and grace supremely through the Person and cross-work of Jesus Christ. However, David did see God as holy and loving. He responded to the revelation God gave him. It is in this sense that David is a believer, a saint.

A proper understanding of the evil of sin and the mercy of God offers hope and courage as David worships the LORD in the beauty of holiness. David is a realist. He is not living in a fantasy world. He doesn’t have an overly optimistic view of himself.

David had a private desire for God; he also privately delighted in God. But David desired to publically identify with God and other believers in the tabernacle. That public worship was sweet to David and offered him delight that could not be found privately. David understood that the worship of God was necessarily taking place in the assembly of the saints. This was approaching God on His own terms, not on David’s terms.

This also became the great equalizer for king, wealthy landowner, and poor carpenter. That is, the king must go to the priest just like the baker. All must look to the beauty of God’s holiness and find delight while they wait upon Him.

What is your one delight in life?

All of us would agree that nothing is worth missing even a glimpse of the beauty of the Lord when we gather at church on any given Sunday. I am troubled when I am even providentially hindered from missing fellowship with believers on Sunday. When I spent weeks in the hospital and in recovery from my cancer, I was all out of sorts. That time taught me the value of church attendance. It is something we take for granted. I never ask, “How many times should we go to church in a given week?” It seems absurd for me to think of it that way. We must have more opportunities to open our mouths wide so that the Lord may fill them (Psalm 81.10).

Church prepares us for Heaven. Church lifts us up from our down-below world. Church gives us eternal perspective in an earthly, temporal context. Church isn’t about the order of service, the pastor’s view on politics or controversial theology. Church is a foretaste of Heaven. It enable the glory and pursuit of holiness in our lives. It is the place where we sing and express our gratitude coupled with joy. Church assures us of the hope of Heaven, unites us with saints of the past, and teaches us to pursue the things of the Spirit. Church will once again invite us to look up to God and pray, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You” (Psalm 73.25).  So, if my great grandchildren are to remember me, I’d like them to remember me as someone who was all about the church of the Lord Jesus Christ during his earthly life.

One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.

Psalm 27.4