The “how” matters

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39–40 ESV)

You will find no mature Christian that will not tell you that one of the foundational ways to grow in your faith is to read the bible.  This has always been one of the foundational disciplines that leads to authentic spiritual transformation, especially since the scriptures have been translated and available to the common man.  But how we read our bibles matters greatly.  According to the the text above, it is possible to read our bibles and miss the Author all together.

It is not uncommon for us to read our bibles and see how we should behave, what we should feel and what we need to be doing.  Yes, indeed, the bible is full of these things, but if this becomes our primary focus in our bible reading, then we miss the entire point of the bible.  The bible is not about us and what we must do, the bible is about a good, sovereign and holy God and what He has done on our behalf.  The more that we read the bible through this lens, the more we will begin to see a God who is sovereignly ruling over what often times seems to us like an “out of control” world.  The more that we read through this lens, the more we will begin to experience the peace that transcends all understanding that Paul talks about in Philippians.  If you read your bible and hear “do more, try hard, run faster” then you will ultimately be worn out by what seems to be a litany of commands that you must follow to appease God.  Jesus perfectly obeyed on your behalf because you can’t.  Jesus said, “it is finished;” Hebrews tells us that the alter is closed and that we no longer need to drag our sacrifices into the temple.  All that is required now is your sacrifice of praise.

Our primary work is to abandon our work and believe in the One who worked on our behalf.  Jesus was asked “what must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28).  That sounds like us, doesn’t it?  What do we need to do?  Our identity is far too often tied up in what we do – even spiritually – rather than whose we are.  Jesus answers their (and our) question in the following verse (29), “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  Martin Luther said it like this, “It ought to be the first concern of every Christian to lay aside all confidence in works and increasingly to strengthen faith alone and through faith to grow in the knowledge, not of works, but of Christ Jesus, who suffered and rose for him, as Peter teaches in the last chapter of his first Epistle (1 Peter 5:10).  No other work makes a Christian.  Thus when the Jews asked Christ, as related in John 6:28, what they must do “to be doing the work of God,” he brushed aside the multitude of works which he saw they did in great profusion and suggested one work, saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent John 6:29.”  Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings by Martin Luther, Timothy F. Lull, William R. Russell and Jaroslav Jan Pelikan.  Page 395, chapter 32, The Freedom of a Christian.

That sounds good, you might say, but how in the world do I develop that kind of belief (faith)?  As a friend of mine put it, “you stare until you see it.”  Paul says it like this, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV).  We become like that which we worship.  Worship is an old English word that means worth-ship.  Whatever captivates and occupies the upper most affections of our heart is the object of our worship – and our lives will be marked by it.  It might be a relationship (or relationships), financial success, athletics, marriage, Christian service or a litany of other things.  John Calvin said that our hearts are little “idol factories.”  Unfortunately, in the church, these idols are good things that we turn into “god things” – these are secondary things that we make primary things.  Paul tells us that being transformed is the work of God (“for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”)  Our work is to stare, to beg God to enlighten the eyes of our hearts (Ephesians 1:18-21), to root out those things which we have come to rely upon other than Him, to see Him as the ultimate Treasure (Matthew 13:44) and to give us the faith to believe (Mark 9:24).

For most of us we know what we should and should not do, but lack the fuel to actually obey.  Who among us would say that fear, anxiety and worry are a good thing?  And yet, fear, anxiety and worry rule the hearts of far to many Christians.  Didn’t Jesus tell us not to worry about the things of this life in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-33).  We know we shouldn’t, and the advice that most people give us is to just “seek first the kingdom of heaven.”  Is there any more ethereal and abstract counsel than that?  We miss the entire middle part of the text – the birds don’t worry about these things, the lilies don’t work to be clothed in all of their splendor.  Why don’t they?  The real power to overcoming worry is understanding what the birds and lilies intuitively understand – that there is a good God on the throne that is in absolute control.  For me, I began to actually win the battle with anxiety when I began to believe at a deeper level that God was actually in control of all things – despite how things currently looked in my life.

How do you start?  “What can I do,” you might ask?  Pick a book of the bible (try the gospel of John) and start reading.  Ask God to show you who He is, what He’s like and what He’s done.  Then take some notes, write down everything that you notice about God’s character, nature and behavior.  Avoid writing down what you should be doing (you already know that).  Try this for a month or two and see if the Creator of the universe does not reveal Himself to you in new ways!

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Moses’ Farwell Address

The book of Deuteronomy is a sermon given by Moses just before the people cross the Jordan River and enter the promised land.  We can learn a lot from the man who met face to face with the Living God.  Here are a few things that stand out:

  • Moses intends to instruct and inspire the people that their God is both faithful and able to do what He says! Moses shows that God is faithful to a sinful people because of the promise that He made to Abraham. They are a people of His choosing, not because of their own effort, striving or obedience.
  • God’s sovereignty and grace are in focus. He is sovereign over all nations. He is gracious to those who do not deserve it.
  • Moses explains how the Law is the outflow of the Great Commandment given in 6:5 (Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might).
  • “Deuteronomy constantly addresses the “heart” of its audience: embracing this law, seeking the good of this people, is the right response to God’s grace and the embodiment of virtue.”  ESV Study Bible
  • Moses recognizes that God must act in the heart of the Israelites if they are to be faithful.
  • Israel exists to love God with every fiber of their being which is the means by which the world will learn of the one true God.
  • Remembering God’s faithfulness & the people’s unfaithfulness AND looking forward to God’s continued faithfulness & warning the people not to fall in to idolatry.  The theology of Deuteronomy provides the fuel for the reforms instituted by Josiah in 2 Kings 23.
  • The heart and the need for full embodiment of the Law through heart felt affection and obedience.  Deuteronomy recognizes that God must move in the hearts of men if they are to faithfully obey Him and His law.
  • The Sovereign hand of the Almighty is in focus.  God provides Egypt as provision in the midst of drought to Joseph (who acknowledges the sovereign hand of God by working out for good, what his brothers meant for bad), God protects and raises up Moses – even raising him under Pharaoh’s own roof.  Then God calls Moses, who is weak of speech, to lead the people out of Egypt.  God commands control over all things with the plagues, parting the sea and provisions for His rebellious people in the wilderness.  He continues His display of His sovereignty as the people take the land.  It is not because they were faithful or special of their own doing, it is because He is mighty and will glorify His name.

The Everyday Work of Appropriating the Gospel

“How then do we learn to live daily in the present reality of our justification and the hope of God’s blessings on our lives coming to us through Christ? The answer is we must work at it daily. As I stated previously, we have a natural drift toward a performance-based relationship with God. We are like a person in a rowboat trying to row upstream against the current. The instant the rower stops pulling on his or her oars, the boat will start drifting backward with the current. We can never, as the old saying goes, “rest on our oars” in our daily dependence on Christ. Practically speaking, how do we keep plugging along? We go to the Scriptures containing the promises of God regarding the forgiveness of our sins and the imputation (crediting) to us of Christ’s perfect righteousness.

The following are Scriptures regarding God’s promise of forgiveness of our sins:

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Here are some Scriptures regarding reliance on Christ’s perfect righteousness:

As by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19)

Being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:3-4)

Because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. (Philippians 3:9)”

Bridges, Jerry (2012-01-13). The Transforming Power of the Gospel (Growing in Christ) (Kindle Locations 858-887). Navpress. Kindle Edition.