Category Archives: Prayers & Principles

God Centered Perspective: Dependent

God Centered Perspective:  Dependent.  There comes a point in our lives, God willing, when we begin to realize that we can’t fix ourselves, those around us or the world that we live in.  The rage, bitterness, insatiable desire to achieve, need for the approval of others, pretending, coveting, idolizing or hopelessness that follows us around is something that we cannot fix on our own.  This brokenness follows us from relationship to relationship, job to job, season to season and place to place.  Hopefully there comes a point at which we recognize that we don’t posses the power to fix ourselves and realize that our primary problem is not outside of us, but is inside of us.  A quick trip to the bookstore will demonstrate humanity’s obsession with fixing our broken psyches and attempting to make ourselves “whole” – the largest section is entitled “self help.”  To be fair, a large portion of modern Christian books are nothing more than “Christianized” versions that one can find in the “self help” section of any other book store.  How many times have we resolved to stop a certain behavior, banish sinful thoughts or terminate dangerous relationships only to find ourselves doing the same things that we don’t want to do.1  Our best resolutions, discipline and white knuckled effort yields very little progress toward true, ongoing change in our lives.  We must recognize that we are powerless to effect true ongoing change apart from God’s intervention; we are utterly dependent upon God.

We don’t like being dependent – Adam & Eve certainly didn’t.  Every sin that we battle has, at its root, the sin of autonomous self rule.2  We have to answer the same question that Adam & Eve had to answer in the garden – upon whom will I truly trust and depend?  They chose themselves, and we normally do too.  We don’t like being told what to do and what not to do, but even worse than being told what to do and what not to do is realizing that we don’t have the ability to adhere to these requirements.3  This is why God gave us His law – to show us what He requires, that we can never measure up and to push us to depend upon Him & His grace.

We must get to a point where we understand, at a deep level, that we were indeed objects of wrath.4  Wrath is not a popular concept to discuss, but an understanding of it is central to the Christian’s maturity and joy.  Most of us have such a low view of God that we tend to perform in an attempt to earn His favor and an overly inflated view of ourselves that we don’t think that we’re really all that bad which leads to pretending we have it all together despite knowing that we don’t.5  Until you feel the weight of your offense toward the Creator of the cosmos, you will never see a need to live dependently; you will think that you can handle most things on your own.  Jerry Bridges summarizes this well, “we can’t begin to appreciate the good news of the gospel until we see our deep need.  Most people, even believers, have never given much thought to how desperate our condition is outside of Christ.  Few ever think about the dreadful implications of being under the wrath of God.  And none of us even begins to realize how truly sinful we are.”6  The deeper our understanding of the massive gap between God’s holiness and our depravity, the more dependently we will walk; the byproduct of this is true humility and a walk that is refreshingly absent of any sort of self righteous swagger.

Jesus’ first point in the sermon on the mount was “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”7  Jesus, in one of His earliest sermons, says that we are profoundly fortunate to be aware of our spiritual inability – to recognize that we are spiritually bankrupt before God is a good thing.  There are two types of bankruptcy in the United States:  chapter 7 & chapter 11.  Chapter 7 bankruptcy is for companies who have no hope of restructuring, reorganizing or surviving; it is permanent.  Chapter 11 is for companies that need assistance in working through their financial problems and given some time and effort can get their books in order, restructure their debt and emerge from bankruptcy to stand on their own; this is temporary bankruptcy.  The question is, “what type of spiritual bankruptcy did you file?”  Permanent or Temporary.  The church at Galatia had filed chapter 11 and were now trying hard to emerge from their dependent posture, attempting to prove their worth and ability – to stand on their own.  The bible says that it is not at our worst when we are most offensive to God, but when we are at our very best.8  The currency of our good works is worthless before the Creator; we enter in to the kingdom based solely on the work of Another and we never “pay our own way” with our good works; we were dependent upon the grace of God for salvation and just as dependent today as we were the day we accepted Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.  We add nothing to the finished work of Christ.

Utter dependence upon Christ is not merely our initial posture when we are saved, it is our ongoing posture in relationship with God.  We are justified by dependent grace and are sustained by this same dependent grace.9  We, sometimes, think that we needed Jesus to get our act together, but now it is time to roll up our sleeves and pull our own weight (though few would actually say this).  The book of Galatians addresses this very problem, Paul asks who had bewitched the young church in Galatia10 and said that anyone who added to the sufficiency of the gospel by adding works to it was accursed.11  The church had departed from dependent faith based in grace alone and had embraced a works based righteousness rooted in adherence to the Jewish law.  We are acceptable (righteous) before God based on the perfect life that Jesus lived and gave to us, period.12  Our own efforts to obey and follow God do not make us more acceptable to Him.  There is nothing left to earn, Jesus earned it all for us; the writer of Hebrews tells us that the alter is closed, no other sacrifice is required.13  Though we’d never say it, we often times believe that we needed Jesus to get into His kingdom, but then it is up to our own self-disciplined effort to effect change and transformation in our lives.   We look to ourselves, adherence to rules and formulas for ultimate deliverance instead of the Deliverer; these amount to nothing more than self salvation projects.  When we operate in this mindset, we become glory thieves because the focus is on us and our contribution to any change that we experience.  However, when we realize that we are completely dependent upon God for transformation14, He is the one that is glorified by the transformation that happens in our lives.  We never grow out of our dependence: “Mephibosheth never got over his crippled condition. He never got to the place where he could leave the king’s table and make it on his own.  And neither do we.”15

We bring nothing to the table in our negotiation with God except for our sin that makes our salvation necessary.  There is no room for our morality when coming before God – “for by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”16  We, often times, believe that we bring all of our best efforts to God and Jesus‘ sacrifice makes up the difference between our morality and God’s perfect standard.  This is heretical thinking!17  We were dead, unable to please God and even our morally good & righteous deeds are like filthy rags before God.18  It is not as if God determined before He created the world that we’d be pretty clean and He’d make up the difference – no!  We were objects of His wrath, spiritually bankrupt and utterly dependent upon Him to intercede on our behalf and make our dead hearts alive!  We never depart from this desperate dependent state.

But, surely we can do some good things on our own, we aren’t dependent for everything good.  Jesus attacks this thinking by saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”19  Righteousness does not come from obedience, righteousness comes from faith which leads to obedience.  They may look the same on the outside, but the innards are worlds apart!20  Abraham believed (trusted/depended on) God and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Our obedience earns us nothing before God.  Abraham was a far cry from righteous on His own, but because He depended upon God, he was viewed as righteous.21  “Faith is believing in and relying upon God.  It is “not a work, but a relinquishment of all work, an unqualified trust in God who gives life to the dead (Rom. 4:17), who raised Christ from the dead (4:24), who in Christ gave ‘a righteousness from God.’”22  Martin Luther, in his commentary on Galatians said, “there is no middle ground between Christian righteousness and works-righteousness. There is no other alternative to Christian righteousness but works-righteousness; if you do not build your confidence on the work of Christ, you must build your confidence on your own work. On this truth and only on this truth the church is built and has its being.”23  Many set out to earn God’s approval or prove that they are worthy of it.  You aren’t and you don’t have to.

Jesus addressed our propensity toward self righteousness in Luke 18:  “he also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”24  When we are proud of our moral cleanness, disciplined efforts and good works, we show that we are at odds with the Gospel.  Those who are proud of their ability to manage their behavior treat others with contempt.  When we approach God attempting to impress Him or earn His approval and affection, He sees our most righteous acts as nothing more than a pile of filthy rage in His presence.  The Gospel, however, beckons those who recognize their complete inadequacy and long to lean upon Another.  As Christians, we should view ourselves as nothing more than beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.

The spectacularly good news is that Jesus not only forgave you of your sins so that you could enjoy eternal life, but He also lived a perfect life on your behalf because you couldn’t.  This means that you are approved, accepted and loved despite your own performance and that you have nothing to offer God to win His favor!  The warmth of God that is displayed toward Jesus when He said, “this is my beloved son, with whom I’m well pleased,”25 is the same warmth that He extends toward us.  If you will assume a dependent posture, then you will walk more freely than ever before.  You can stop striving and start depending upon the finished work of Christ on your behalf.  Faith makes us righteous, not adherence to the Law.  Our joyful works are a byproduct of faith.  One is damning & burdensome, the other is liberating and profitable!26  May we all have the same zeal as Paul had when he abandoned all of his accomplishments and boasted only in the cross of Christ.  We don’t merit additional affection and approval from the Almighty by our obedience.27  The question is, “are we willing to rely on God’s grace and mercy alone instead of our performance, to boast in nothing except the cross?  If so, we can bask every day in the grace of God.  And in the joy and confidence of that grace we can vigorously pursue holiness.”28  We must rest in the finished work of Jesus as the only acceptable sacrifice that is pleasing to God.  When we understand this, we begin to move from behavioral modification to heart level transformation and everything changes.

Prayer:  Lord, please help us to remember that we are utterly dependent upon you.  Let us not stray from this place and begin to trust in ourselves or our systems instead of you.

Notes:
1 Paul articulated this struggle in Romans 7 when he says “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18–19 ESV).  All Christians wrestle with this, but Paul ends chapter 7 with resolution and hope:  “wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25 ESV); for Paul, the living presence of the risen savior was the answer to his battle with sin.
2 Adam & Eve abandoned a life of dependency upon God for one of autonomous self rule.  They chose to disobey because they wanted to be the director of their own lives.  See Genesis 3.  Every sin that we battle with has, at its root, unbelief in God’s promises and goodness and our desire to be autonomous.  See Battling Unbelief by John Piper for more information.
3 We don’t like law, but we like grace even less.  As much as we are naturally disobedient to the laws that God has given to us and the ones that He has written upon our hearts, we tend to feel like we have some degree of control when we are successful in obeying these laws to some degree.  Grace, however, derails our glory train and tells us that we can’t obey well enough and that we must completely trust in the obedience of Someone else.
4 “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:3 ESV)
5 “If we are not resting in Jesus’ righteousness, this growing awareness of our sin becomes a crushing weight.  We buckle under its load and compensate by pretending that we’re better than we really are.  Pretending can take many forms: dishonesty (“I’m not that bad”), comparison (“I’m not as bad as those people”), excuse making (“I’m not really that way”), and false righteousness (“Here are all the good things I’ve done”). Because we don’t want to admit how sinful we really are, we spin the truth in our favor.”
“If we are not rooted in God’s acceptance of us through Jesus, we compensate by trying to earn God’s approval through our performance. We live life on a treadmill, trying to gain God’s favor by living up to his expectations (or our mistaken view of them).”  https://thegospelcenteredlife.com/2012/02/28/shrinking-the-cross/
6 Gerald Bridges;Jerry Bridges. Holiness Day by Day: Transformational Thoughts for Your Spiritual Journey Devotional (p. 15). Kindle Edition.
7 Matthew 5:3 ESV.  “In Matthew 5-7, Jesus wants us to see that regardless of how well we think we’re doing or how much better we’re becoming, when “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” becomes the requirement and not “look how much I’ve grown over the years”, we begin to realize that we don’t have a leg to lean on when it comes to answering the question, “How can I stand righteous before God”? Our transformation, our purity, our growth in godliness, our moral advances and spiritual successes–Spirit-animated as it all may be–simply falls short of the sinlessness God demands. And since a “not guilty verdict” depends on sinlessness, assurance is ultimately contingent on perfection, not progress.” Where Can I Find Assurance? by Tullian Tchividjian
8 Relying on our good works to earn us anything of merit before God is offensive to God.  See Isaiah 64:6 & Philippians 3:7-11.
9 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:23–24 ESV); “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2 ESV)
10 “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:1–3 NIV)
11 “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.  For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.” (Galatians 1:8–9, 11 ESV)
12 Paul jettisoned all of his hard fought obedience and accomplishments and viewed them as worthless.  He found that he was righteous before God not because of what he had accomplished or how well he obeyed, but by faith in Jesus’ perfectly lived life on his behalf.  God “imputes” (gives) Christ’s perfectly obedient life to the person who depends upon God for salvation.  When God views the believer, He sees the sinless perfection (righteousness) that Jesus earned for us.  “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and 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 3:8–9 ESV)
13 This is one of the common themes in the book of Hebrews, especially in chapters 9 & 10.  The author summarizes this in 10:12-14 “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12–14 ESV)
14 “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 ESV).  All spiritual progress is rooted in who God is, what He has done and what He has promised to do.
15 Gerald Bridges;Jerry Bridges. Holiness Day by Day: Transformational Thoughts for Your Spiritual Journey Devotional (p. 28). Kindle Edition.  The story of Mephibosheth is told in 2 Samuel 9 and is a poignant picture of our acceptance based upon another, Mephibosheth couldn’t earn his way and neither can we.
16 Romans 3:20 ESV
17 Q:  But why cannot our good works be the whole, or part of our righteousness before God?
A:  Because, that the righteousness, which can be approved of before the tribunal of God, must be absolutely perfect,1 and in all respects conformable to the divine law; and also, that our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.b
________________________
a “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”” (Galatians 3:10 ESV); ““‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” (Deuteronomy 27:26 ESV)
b “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV)
The Heidelberg Catechism (#62)
18 God counts nothing that we do under our own power as good.  Even our most ardent striving at obedience and moral goodness still has stains of sin in them.  “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV); “I will declare your righteousness and your deeds, but they will not profit you.” (Isaiah 57:12 ESV)
19 John 15:5 NIV
20 Righteousness in the old testament was not achieved through obedience, but through faith (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3, 22; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23).  Ultimately, everybody’s righteousness (due to their faith) is accomplished by Christ’s perfect fulfillment of the law.  Our obedience is never a director of God’s favor; it is a reflection that we have already received God’s favor – their is a huge difference.  See Isaiah 58:1-5 & comment at http://wp.me/p1GPj4-in
21 God called Abraham in 12:1-9; in the following verses, Abraham tells the Egyptians that Sarai was his sister (12:10-20) in order to save his own skin!  He again repeats this pattern in Genesis 20 with Abimelech.  This occurred after Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6); in Genesis 16, Abraham demonstrates a lack of obedience by attempting to fulfill the promise of God on his own by having a child with Hagai.  The bible is full of examples of men and women who fall woefully short on their own, but have faith that God will deliver and provide a way.  Let us never lean on our own obedience as a means to make us righteous.
22 Hedges, Brian G.; Donald S. Whitney (2010-12-01). Christ Formed in You (Kindle Locations 1094-1097). Shepherd Press. Kindle Edition.
23 Martin Luther Commentary on Galatians
24 Luke 18:9–14 ESV
25 Matthew 3:17, 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35
26 Isaiah 64:1-7
27 “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and 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— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:3–11 ESV); “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14 ESV)
28 Gerald Bridges;Jerry Bridges. Holiness Day by Day: Transformational Thoughts for Your Spiritual Journey Devotional (p. 29). Kindle Edition.

Download PDF
Previous Section
Next Section

Advertisements

Bankrupt – chapter 7 or chapter 11?

“You and I and every person in the world are spiritually bankrupt. Except for Jesus Christ, every person who has ever lived has been spiritually bankrupt. In Romans 3:10-12, Paul declared our spiritual bankruptcy in its most absolute state. We were spiritually destitute, owing God a debt we couldn’t pay. Then we learned salvation is a gift from God, entirely by grace through faith (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9). We renounced confidence in any supposed righteousness of our own and turned in faith to Jesus Christ alone for our salvation. In that act, we essentially declared spiritual bankruptcy.

But what kind of bankruptcy did we declare? In the business world, financially troubled companies can declare bankruptcy according to “chapter 7” – if it has no future as a viable business – or “chapter 11,” for companies that, given time, can work through their financial problems.

So what kind of bankruptcy did we declare – permanent or temporary? I think most of us actually declared temporary bankruptcy. Having trusted in Christ alone for our salvation, we have subtly and unconsciously reverted to a works relationship with God in our Christian lives. We recognize that even our best efforts cannot get us to heaven, but we do think they earn God’s blessings in our daily lives.” 

Gerald Bridges;Jerry Bridges. Holiness Day by Day: Transformational Thoughts for Your Spiritual Journey Devotional (p. 9). Kindle Edition.

God Centered Perspective: Broken

God Centered Perspective:  Broken.  Our current experience is a far cry from the paradise that the bible describes in Genesis 1 & 2; we intrinsically know that we have all been born outside of Eden.  The restful rhythm of life that existed in the paradise of Eden, and that every human soul longs for, now evades us; the contentment, rest, and happiness that was once experienced in perfect paradise in the presence of God was fractured as a result of sin.  When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they shunned God’s authority, care, sovereignty, provision & protection and the results were catastrophic.1  The main thrust in Genesis 3 is to teach the Jewish people that humanity was not created in its current state, but this condition was brought on by their own doing.2  The fracture that occurred as a result of Adam & Eve’s rebellion (you and I would have done the same thing) is a complete fracturing of the entire created order – this is not a simple break; it is akin to a shattered mirror.  The consequences of sin are grave:

1.  Humanity’s relationship with God has been fractured; the Bible says that we are spiritually dead, totally depraved, broken, hopeless, helpless, in need of outside intervention.3
2.  Human relationships are fractured; this relational fracture is most poignantly seen in the  battle for authority in marriage – women now have a tendency to rebel against their husband’s leadership role and men now naturally drift towards oppressing women.4
3.  Death, pain & suffering are now an everyday occurrence; physical death enters and pain during child birth is just one example of the pain and suffering that are now part of the world.5  Death, disease and difficulty were not part of Eden.
4.  The creation itself has been subjected to futility (meaninglessness)6; God cursed the ground that He had called man to cultivate.  The central calling of Adam was to cultivate, to work at and invest in his culture, his work, his wife, his children; everything that we are called to cultivate and have dominion over now wars against us.  The perfect paradise of Eden has been lost.  This means work, children, husbands & wives, relationships and health will, at times, war against you.

All things that were created to glorify God are now but a glimpse of the majestic grandeur that they once were.  This fracture is the reason for poverty, injustice & oppression; cancer, hospitals & nursing homes; tornadoes, tsunamis & earthquakes; holocausts, genocides & jihads; Zoloft, Adderall & Xanax; wheelchairs, walkers & hearing aids7.  Our sin is the reason that there is pain, suffering, death, crime, disease, poverty, divorce, murder, natural disasters, hardship & a soul level meaninglessness in this world.8  All things are now broken and will never be made new until Jesus’ second coming when He ushers in His eternal kingdom.9  The creation that God made and called “very good” is now fractured as a result of our sin and rebellion.10

So how do we life productively in a world gone wrong?11  How do we keep from resigning ourselves to passively trying to merely survive this life?  The Jews in the first century wanted a Messiah that would overthrow the Romans and set up His own rule and reign on earth.  But, before God could set up an earthly kingdom, He had to deal with the real problem which was not outside of man.  Sin and rebellion in the hearts of man was (and is) the real problem that Jesus came to defeat.  The kingdom of God has begun by setting up the rule and reign of Christ in the hearts of His children.  God restores part of the created order in the hearts and lives of those that are His, but they are still fallen and still live in a fallen and broken world; their hearts, however, increasingly long for home.  Redemption has begun, but is not yet complete.  Messiah is ruling & reigning in the hearts of His people; He is progressively restoring the image in us so we are more accurate reflectors of His glory.

The world is broken and will never be restored until Jesus returns.  However, many believers set their hopes here, believing that they can get things to work and make them right, but the believer that finally understands that all things will never be made new on this earth is free to set his hopes and affections on Christ and eternal things.  Our hope is not in repairing this world and the things in it; our confidence is in the Creator who promises to recreate this world so that it needs no fixing.  The gaze of the child of God is heavenward, it is on Jesus and the day when He, not us, will make all things new.  Redemption has begun!  This focus gives us the ability to face affliction, depravity, death, disappointment and difficulty with hope. Instead of running and hiding from difficulty or insulating ourselves as if hardships do not exist we can weep with those who weep12 and empathetically enter in to other’s pain offering Hope because we know that this world is broken. Only Hope in God will satisfy.

As image bearers of the Almighty that He is progressively restoring, we are moved to action to be agents of restoration & reconciliation because we increasingly identify with our Father.  We work to restore that which is broken because we are reflectors of the Almighty.  We become eager to engage in and attempt to meet the overwhelming amount of physical needs in this world because we see them as a result of the fracture and not how they should be!  However, we never loose sight that the the rebellion of the human heart against its Maker is the greatest need of all.  No degree of water wells, education or food – on their own – have the power to redeem the soul.  We are not surprised when things are difficult and progress is hard; the sustained fuel to continue working is knowing that there is coming a day when God will make all things new – all things will be remade and nothing will be broken.13  The harmonious rhythm and rest of Eden will return.  Yes, sin has fractured the universe and our best efforts at living gracefully & faithfully still fall woefully short in their real world implementations in family, work and relationships because we are all broken.  Our hearts plead, “your kingdom come,” as we become increasingly more aware that we are “aliens and strangers” in a world that has been subjected to futility.




Prayer:  Lord, please help us to remember that we live in a world that is broken because of our sin.  Help us to set our hopes on you and on Your promises of restoration.  Help us to serve faithfully and become more accurate reflectors of your glory.

Notes:
1 In Genesis 2:16-17, we see God prohibiting Adam from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  A question might arise, “why then did God put this tree in the garden, wasn’t He tempting the first couple?”  Adam had been given rule and reign over the entire earth, everything was beneath him.  He was at the top of the proverbial food chain; the image bearer of the Almighty.  However, the tree was a visible reminder that he was not over all things; the tree and its prohibition to eat its fruit reminded Adam that he was still under authority and that all things were not under him.  In short, the tree was a reminder that God was sovereign, ultimate and supreme and that he was not; Adam was created, God was Creator.
In Genesis 3, we see Satan tempting the couple to shun God’s authority and take life in to their own hands.  If we are not careful, we will tend to minimize this rebellion by thinking that it was a simple act of eating a piece of fruit.  We might think, “what’s the big deal?  Is eating a piece of fruit really worthy of the death penalty?”  We reckon that the death penalty is not worthy of jay walking.  The act of eating the fruit, however, was only the evidence of the rebellion that existed in the couple’s heart.  Adam and Eve effectively said, “I know that you say that you are sovereign, ultimate and supreme, but we want to be sovereign ultimate and supreme.”  This is treason, for which death is still handed down in many cultures.  The Maker of all things, the One who gave the couple their breath, their live, their food, their water is the One that they shunned and rebelled against.  The couple only had one commandment to follow and yet their lust for independence, power and control fueled by their pride rendered them incapable of obeying.  How much more incapable are we to obey, being born in sin and objects of His wrath (Ephesians 2:1-10)?
2 For a more in depth discussion on the fall of mankind, see The Fall by Bruce Henry
3 The theological term for this concept is Total Depravity.  Total Depravity means that no part of us remains untouched by sin’s staining effects.  Though we are not as bad as we possibly could be, no part of us is free from the effects of sin (our emotions, our minds, our hearts, our desires, our motives, our bodies, our intentions) even from birth.  This does not mean that we are utterly depraved; utter depravity is when every area is as depraved as possible. We are not as bad as we could be, but no part of us is clean.  Total Depravity does not teach that man is incapable of doing anything good in some ways (even as fallen people we are still image bearers), but we are unable to do anything good in relation to God.  Wayne Grudem summarizes this well:  “Scripture is not denying that unbelievers can do good in human society in some senses.  But it is denying that they can do any spiritual good or be good in terms of a relationship with God.  Apart from the work of Christ in our lives, we are like all other unbelievers who are “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart (Ephesians 4:18).”  Grudem, Wayne (1999).  Bible Doctrine (pages 215-216).  Zondervan.
As a result of the fall, we are spiritually unable to know or pursue God; the bible says that we are spiritually dead. God told Adam that rebellion, as evidenced by eating the fruit that God prohibited and would result in death (Genesis 2:17).  Additionally, the bible paints a grim picture of our condition when it says that every intention of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5); the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9); we are sinful before we are born (Psalm 51:5); no one is righteous, seeks God or does good (Romans 3:10-12); sin & death entered through Adam & affects all men (Romans 5:12-14); nothing good dwells in our flesh; we lack the ability to do anything good on our own (Romans 7:18); apart from Christ, we are dead in our trespasses and sins and by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3); apart from Christ, we are darkened in understanding, alienated from God due to hardness of heart (Ephesians 4:18-19)
4 “To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”” (Genesis 3:16 ESV)
5 Genesis 2:17, 3:16
6 Romans 8:18-39.  Man and creation was created to glorify God, but in its current state we are unable to do that fully.  Imagine the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone before it was subjected to futility by the fall!
7 Because of God’s common grace, we are fortunate to have medications, institutions and aids that help us to live in a broken world.  However, none of these were necessary in Eden.
8 The book of Ecclesiastes discusses the meaninglessness of life below the sun, when viewed in the context of the here and now.  We have to experience life above the sun, in pursuit of God, for things to make sense.
9 Revelation 21
10 Genesis 1:31
11  Paul David Tripp, Broken Down House:  Living productively in a world gone wrong
12 See Jesus Loved Mary, Martha & Lazarus so He Stayed Two Days Longer
https://thegospelcenteredlife.com/2011/07/15/jesus-loved-mary-martha-lazarus-so-he-stayed-two-days-longer/, Romans 12:15
13 Revelation 21

Download PDF
Previous Section:  God Centered Perspective: Position
Next Section:  God Centered Perspective: Dependence

God Centered Perspective: Position

God Centered Perspective:  Position.  One of the best places to start our discussion of position is in the book of Job; Job is a difficult, yet encouraging book that is theologically rich.  We see the opening portion of the book describing Job as “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil,”1 who even offered sacrifices on behalf of his children, just in case his “children [had] sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.”2  Surely, if there was a man that deserved God’s favor and protection, then it was Job!  The story, however, takes a jarring turn when God recommends Job (two times) for the job of suffering.3  Catastrophe strikes!  Job’s wealth is taken, his children are killed, he is robbed of his health4 and yet the bible tells us that “in all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”5  He even attributes his situation to God by saying “naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”6  The only thing that Job had left was a nagging wife that encouraged him to curse God.7  The bulk of the chapters that follow are comprised of Job wrestling through his feelings and emotions regarding God and his current situation, and this is accentuated by some of the worst friends in history who are “counseling” Job!  As the book progresses, Job is pressing for an audience with God because he is convinced that he could argue his case that his treatment was unjust at the hands of the Almighty.  This opportunity is finally afforded to Job in chapter 38 and God begins what ends up being a monologue on his eternal power, perspective and Job’s woefully limited understanding of things.  Job begins to understand that he is limited in his understanding and tries to stop the conversation8, but God is not done “talking” with Job.  God spends four chapters asking Job questions like, “where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth,“ “have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place,” “can you send forth lightnings,” “do you give the horse his might,” and “is it by your understanding that the hawk soars.”9  God informs Job that “whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.”10  Job understands that he was presumptuous in thinking that he could bring his case before God.  Job’s response is a good pattern for us:  “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”11  There is no indication that Job ever knew the entire drama that was played out in chapters 1 & 2.  Job realized that he was limited in his understanding and that God was infinite and eternal; that their perspectives were worlds apart.

Adam & Eve were placed in the garden of Eden with a job to do and nothing was outside of their dominion12 – nothing, except God.  God had placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, not to tempt the couple, but to serve as a constant visual reminder that they were still under the authority of the sovereign Creator.  The tree forced them to answer the question, “who is sovereign, who is ultimate, who is supreme, whose earth is this?”  When the couple took the fruit and ate it, they answered this question – they reckoned themselves to be ultimate, unlimited, sovereign and supreme.  And this has been the struggle of humanity ever since.  Our perspective, like theirs, is very limited and clouded – God sees from the beginning of time to the end in one glance, he understands all things while we are woefully limited in our understanding.  There is a battle that rages in the soul of all humanity for personal sovereignty; who (in our own mind) is ultimate and sovereign – us or God?  The reality is that we often times don’t really like the way God has decided to govern His universe, we have authority problems.  We aren’t God, and the truth is that we would make a sorry god, though we delude ourselves in to thinking that we are privy to how all of creation works.  We must acknowledge that “our God is in the Heavens and He does all he pleases.”13  There is a grounding effect that happens in our lives as we understand our place in the universe before the holy God.  God is not only our sovereign Authority, but also our greatest Treasure.  If He is only our sovereign Authority then our faith will be oppressive and marked by duty & obligation.  If we see Him as both, our faith will be marked by delight and joy; the latter is the picture the bible paints of authentic faith.  A deep heart level understanding of our position in the universe begins to produce authenticity instead of pretense; it produces an understanding that we don’t have to have it all figured out – it gives us the freedom to not be ok and the motivation to not stay that way.  It moves us to worship as we proclaim, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”14

Prayer:  Lord, please help us to remember our place in the universe – that you are Creator and that we are created; that you are sovereign and that we are not; that your perspective and understanding is eternal, infinite, and unlimited and ours is limited, finite and tiny.

Notes:
1“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1 ESV)
2““It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.”” (Job 1:5 ESV)
3“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.” (Job 1:6–12 ESV); “Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. And the LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.”” (Job 2:1–6 ESV)
4See Job 1:13-20, 2:7-8
5Job 1:22, 2:10
6Job 1:21, see also Job 12
7“Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:9–10 ESV)
8 ““Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?” (Job 40:4–9 ESV)
9Job 38:4, 38:12, 38:35, 39:19, 39:26
10Job 41:11 ESV
11Job 42:2–6
12“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.” (Genesis 1:28–30 ESV)
13Psalm 115:3 ESV
14Psalms 8:4 ESV

download PDF
Previous Section:  God Centered Perspective Overview
Next Section:  God Centered Perspective: Broken

Prayers & Principles Outline

Prayers & Principles

Purpose.  To build a culture that is God glorifying, Christ centered, gospel (grace) saturated and redeeming to those that are a part of it; a culture that is marked by people in authentic pursuit of Jesus to know Him more deeply and serve Him more fully; people that are intentional about having their heart’s affections stirred up for the Lord.  The fabric of this culture has some common threads that are woven in to it and help to create a worldview through which we see life and engage others as we chase after Christ.

Introduction

Background Assumptions.  God created all things for His glory.  Man was the pinnacle of God’s creation and are his image bearers.  As image bearers, man is to glorify God by reflecting his attributes to all of creation, relating with God & each other, and reigning over the created order.  Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  God is sovereign over all things and nothing happens that is outside of the sovereign will of the Creator.  Even the fall of man did not surprise God; God is infinitely more glorified in the redemption of a rebellious and spiritually dead creation than if man would not have rebelled.  The cross was not “Plan B” because “Plan A” had failed.

I.  God Centered Perspective.  Intentionally placing God as the central figure in our faith by removing us from center stage.  This means that we dwell more on who God is and what He has done than on who we are and what we need to do.
A.  Position.  God is Creator and we are created; He is sovereign, we are not; His perspective and understanding is eternal, infinite, and unlimited and ours is limited, finite and tiny.
B.  Broken.   As a result of the fall, ALL things are broken – man & creation – and will never be completely restored until Jesus returns.  We don’t posses the power to fix things within ourselves and are powerless to effect true ongoing change apart from God’s intervention; we are spiritually dead and totally depraved.  We must fix our hope on God and eternal things – this gives us the ability to face affliction, depravity, disappointment and difficulty with hope. Instead of running and hiding from difficulty or insulating ourselves, as if hardships do not exist, we can weep with those who weep and enter in to their pain and offer Hope. Only hope in God will satisfy.
C.  Dependent.  Our initial and ongoing response to God is one of absolute surrender; we recognize that we have nothing to offer God to win His favor; all of our righteous works are like filthy rags before God.  We are spiritually bankrupt and have nothing with which we can barter; we recognize our total inability before God.  We rest in the finished work of Jesus.  Acknowledging this moves us from behavioral modification to heart level transformation.

II.  Heart Motivations.  When the bible refers to the heart, it is saying that it is the center of our feeling and thinking.  It is what drives us and sets the direction for our life.  It is where our motives and convictions lie.  Whatever captivates the heart sets the trajectory for life by determining what it will pursue to gain its identity.  Whatever the heart looks to establish its identity will drive the actions and behaviors to build that identity and purpose. Our hearts always move slower than our minds, just because we know it with our heads does not mean that it has transformed our hearts.  God is after our hearts.
A.  Worship.  We all worship something, we are worshipers.  The problem is that we prefer to worship created things rather than the Creator of all things (Romans 1:21-25).  We prefer the gifts rather than the Giver.  The greatest problem in the world is not a moral, economical, or social problem; the greatest problem in the world is a failure to acknowledge and worship God.  The heart must have something to worship, something to fix its gaze upon, something to pursue.  It will be an idol or the true God.
B.  Grace.  Grace is God pursued and regenerated us as we ran from and rebelled against Him; grace is God’s work in which we had no part.  Law reveals sin (Romans 3:20-26) and functions to restrain its effects, but is powerless to redeem and restore the soul – only grace redeems and restores.  Grace is what produces heart level transformation that empowers real and lasting change in our behaviors.  Grace causes us to fix our eyes upon Another, for nowhere in scripture are we called to fix our eyes upon ourselves.  Instead of just addressing the emotions and surface level behaviors, the gospel of grace addresses the root; the emotions and behaviors are symptoms of a much deeper sickness, a sickness that is terminal and can only be treated by the application of the gospel in one’s life. The gospel kills the “functional saviors” that exist in our lives.  As the gospel is pressed deeper into our souls, it reveals the things that we really trust for our identity and hope. Only the continual application of the gospel in the life of a follower of Christ can transform the life and the behaviors of the Christian.
C.  Treasures.  What you treasure is what you chase and what you chase is at the center of your soul.  Until we see Jesus as our ultimate treasure, we won’t chase Him or see Him as infinitely worthy of knowing and loving; instead, He becomes a means to the end (staying out of hell, protecting us, giving us something we want, blessing our ministry efforts).  Our greatest joy and fullness of live is found in Christ; this is the fuel that drives our pursuit

III.  Grace Driven Effort.  The pursuit of Christ likeness and holiness from grace, not for grace.  There is a big difference between the two.  The gospel of grace is the basis of our holiness not the goal of it.1  All of our efforts are fueled by grace, not self discipline.  This is a significant shift since many Christians discipline themselves rigorously and then become self righteous or worn out as a result.  Discipline and effort that is fueled by the gospel of grace is sustainable.
A.  Pursuing Depth.  The normative state of Christians is to be in constant pursuit of Christ to know him more deeply and be made more like him.  Shallowness of faith is a sign of immaturity.  It is by chasing Christ that sin looses its grip, control and influence over our lives.  As the unbelievably good news of the Gospel is pressed deeper into the heart of the saint, he views God with greater grandeur, awe, appreciation and worship that produces a desire to know Him and walk with Him.  Mature believers feed themselves, follow good doctrine and leave milk behind; we should develop a taste for truth, even difficult ones (like Romans 9 or Leviticus 21), pressing in to them and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself more deeply.  As we work through hard and difficult truths we learn important things about the character and nature of God and ourselves.
B.  Spiritual Disciplines.  The spiritual disciplines are often times called “The Means of Grace.”  There is an acknowledgement that the disciplines, in and of themselves, are powerless to produce love and affection or effect any sustainable change in our lives.  The disciplines, rather, put us in a position to empty ourselves of us and position ourselves under the waterfall of God’s grace so that we can be filled and transformed.  The disciplines move us to dwell on ultimate realities.  The disciplines exist to stir up our affections for the Lord and foster authentic pursuit of Christ.
C.  Missional Living.  If the gospel has transformed us inwardly, it will propel us outwardly.  If we are here to glorify God then living on mission, by nature, involves tangible ways in which we glorify God.  Not just “religious ways,” but also in our every day lives as accountants, mom, mechanics, engineers, doctors and construction workers.  If God just gave us a formula of what we should do then that would be the law and God is after the heart.  We might feed the poor, build a school or care for orphans, but we will not make disciples, transform souls or glorify God.

Conclusions & Applications

Notes:
1Christ Formed in You by Brian Hedges (Kindle Edition location 1749)

download PDF

God Centered Perspective Overview

This is the third post in this series.  The last post is here.

GOD CENTERED PERSPECTIVE
God centered theology sounds like an oxymoron!  Someone might interject and say, “of course we are God centered, we’re a church!”  Unfortunately, God is often the most assumed topic in our churches and we talk very little about Him.  Sometimes, we begin to view the bible as a self help guide designed to fix us rather than it being the revelation of God about who He is and His plans for His glory in His world.  We migrate to the bible being a field guide for how to make our lives “work,” which ultimately breaks down when life does not “work” according to our plan – which it never does1.  There is a big difference between these two points of view:  one puts us on center stage, the other places God on center stage2.  It is risky business when we make ourselves the focus because we rob God of glory and take that which is not ours to own; we become glory thieves.  Being at cross purposes with the God of the universe should strike a chord of fear in us because God says “my glory I will not give to another.”3  We need to be constantly asking ourselves, “who gets the glory?”
We must intentionally focus more on God and far less on us and what we must do for God (as if He needs anything from us4).  We need to be persistently reminded of the sovereign majesty of our Creator because we easily forget; this seems to be the pattern of humanity’s response to God in the scriptures.5  When this happens, we make moralism and the practical application of scripture our primary pursuits, brushing over the deep truths of scripture that provide the fuel for applying them to our lives.  Practical application is good and necessary, but when we spend the majority of our time on how to apply the scriptures and very little time on the God of the scriptures, we rob our people of the very Fuel that it takes to apply the scriptures to their lives!  The irony in this is that the more emphasis that we place on what people should be doing, the less people actually do the very things that they are being told to do!  Their lives aren’t truly transformed by the gospel of grace, they don’t live missionally, their souls are dry with no affection for God nor do they have any significant influence on the world around them.  This is because they are depending upon themselves to see their lives changed and obey God.  Instead, we need to be captivated with God’s goodness, love, grace, mercy and the wrath that He has rescued us from – these are the things that produce true spiritual transformation.  In a God centered culture, it is understood that proximity to Christ6 is what changes us, not our own efforts.  As we focus more on God’s character and nature we move from external behavior modification to heart level transformation and see spiritual sustainability established in the lives of Christians.
Everyone has a theology – a believe about God – it is just that the theology held by many Christians is not biblical, historically accurate nor orthodox.  For many, they are far more influenced by pop culture than by orthodox doctrine or theology.  We must have a steady diet of Christ centered, God exalting, biblical, orthodox teaching that forms an accurate worldview through which we view God, others, the world, pain & suffering and our place in this world.  Most Christians know what they should do – how they should act & feel – but fail to consistently pursue these things because their theology is man centered.  Our theological framework provides the foundation for everything that we believe, think, feel and ultimately do in life.  A strong God saturated theological framework answers the question of “why we live our lives the way the bible tells us to,” and provides us with the fuel to live our lives that way.   We need to develop a taste for doctrine, theology and biblical Christianity so that we are able to face many of life’s greatest challenges.  Theology and doctrine are not primarily academic or intellectual pursuits, but are the vehicle for us to know God more deeply and passionately pursue Him more fully.  We need good, solid God honoring doctrine woven in to the fabric of the culture of our churches in order to foster authentic pursuit of Christ.  This must be intentional or it will naturally devolve into man centeredness.  There are many ways to accomplish this, but whatever the method, it must be infused in the culture of the church by being intentional about what is taught and how it is taught.

NOTES:
1“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:18–25 ESV)
2When we say God centered versus man centered, what is meant is who do we focus on primarily in our study, teaching and practice.  In a God centered culture, the bulk of time and teaching is spent expounding on who God is and what He has done for His people.  In a man centered culture, the bulk of time and teaching is spent on who we are and what we should be doing for God.  This may sound subtle, but its implications are profound; one places God as the central cause of transformation and the other places transformation on our shoulders to pull off on our self disciplined efforts.
3“I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:8 ESV); “For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:11 ESV)
4“nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:25 ESV)
5The Old Testament is filled with narratives of God’s people regularly forgetting God and pursuing their own way, they are shifting from God centered to man centered and the consequences are always catastrophic.  The pattern we see repeated in the New Testament, especially by Paul in the epistles, is a systematic approach to reminding the churches that are being addressed of their inability, depravity, and place in the universe and God’s greatness.  There is a constant rebuilding of who God is and who they are before any application is mentioned.  We see this especially in Romans when Paul spends the first eleven chapters discussing the richest and deepest truths of our faith before he ever begins to address what our response is in chapter twelve.  The first three chapters of Ephesians is a systematic unpacking of the gospel and God’s grace towards those who believe before any application is mentioned in chapter four.  Philippians and Colossians both intertwine the gospel and the grace of God with how to live out the gospel in practical ways.  The entire letter of Galatians is about shifting from man centered faith (law) to God centered faith (grace).  Apparently, we need to be reminded on where our strength and affections lie.
6“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4–5 ESV); Jesus’ proclamation, regarding believers being the salt of the earth and the light of the world in Matthew 5:13-16 is a direct result of a person coming before God as being spiritually bankrupt (Matthew 5:3); “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 NIV)

download PDF
Previous Section:  Background Assumptions
Next Section:  God Centered Perspective: Position

Prayers & Principles Background Assumptions

Background Assumptions.  It is important to articulate some assumptions that are made because these will form a foundation upon which we will build in the subsequent discussions.  First, we must answer the question, why did God create the heavens and earth?  The answer is that God created for His glory2.  This is not because God is lacking in any way or that He needs anything from His creation (Acts 17:25); this is because He is Creator and a creation that is glorifying to Him is a natural outflow of who He is3.  Secondly, let us answer the question what is God like?  God is sovereign over all things and has no equal or challenger of any significance; God is good, love, merciful, gracious, patient, holy, peace love, righteous, just, jealous, and wrathful towards all evil4.  Thirdly, what is the purpose of man?  Man was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27) to reflect the attributes of God to creation, to relate with God and others, and to reign over creation5 with the purpose of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever6.  Our representatives, Adam & Eve, chose to rebel against God by jettisoning His sovereign authority over them; this was then evidenced by the act of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which God had specifically forbidden.  This was not a minor infraction, but was an act of grand treason!  Before this rebellion, life functioned harmoniously and in rhythm, like that of a spectacular symphony.  But that is no longer the case.  The consequences of sin are catastrophic:  death (Genesis 2:17), difficulty in child-rearing (Genesis 3:16), distorted roles in marriages (Genesis 3:16), creation opposing man’s efforts to cultivate it (Genesis 3:17-20) and the creation itself is broken (Romans 8:20).  And these effects will not be eradicated until Jesus returns and makes “all things new” (Revelation 21:5).  The fall of man did not surprise God or catch him off guard.  He is sovereign and the scriptures tell us that Jesus existed before the foundation of the world and that God’s plan always was to atone for the sins of his people through the death of Jesus.7  The cross was not plan “B” because plan “A” failed.  So this requires us to answer the last, and perhaps the most difficult, question:  “did God allow the fall to better display his glory and grace?”  If God is sovereign Creator that rules and reigns with absolute authority, then we are compelled to answer ‘yes.‘  God knew before He formed the world that man would stray and had already provided an acceptable sacrifice to reconcile us back to Himself.  God never initiates or is the author of sin, but He does use it to accomplish His sovereign purposes and will – this is visibly seen in the life of Joseph (Genesis 37-46).  If God has the power to stop it, and does not then we must conclude that He permitted it for His greater glory and purposes.  If we probe this question a little further, by daring to ask why would God allow this, what greater purpose could it possibly serve?  Is God’s mercy and grace more apparent to Adam and Eve in the garden or to us in the person of Jesus Christ?  It becomes obvious that the boundless love, mercy and grace of God is more completely displayed in adopting us than it was in Adam and Eve.  We are a depraved, rebellious, hard hearted, idolatrous people who want nothing to do with God, and yet He loves us and chases us down and extends forgiveness and grace by living the life that we could not live, dying the death that we could not die to pay the penalty that we could not pay.  So in short, God’s glory is much more revealed in His grace extended to fallen and rebellious humanity than it ever would have been had we never rebelled.8

NOTES:
1Webster defines a culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture.  A culture is formed out of what is valued, what is important.
2Isaiah 43:7:  “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made”, and “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalms 19:1 ESV).  As time, as we know it, is brought to an end God will receive the worship that is rightly His:   “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”” (Revelation 4:11 ESV).  David proclaims “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” (Psalms 8:1 ESV) and Ephesians 1:11-12 tells us “that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:12 ESV).  God created for His glory because it was a natural outflow of the character and nature of who God is.  One can hardly glance at the stars on a quiet night or take in the Swiss Alps or the Pacific ocean or the Grand Canyon without worship welling up in his soul.  When we take in so much of creation we want to proclaim with Jeremiah that “it is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens” (Jeremiah 10:12 ESV)!  More information on this available at http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/biblical-texts-to-show-gods-zeal-for-his-own-glory
3For a more in depth discussion on this, see The Character and Nature of the Created Order by Bruce Henry.
4For a more in depth discussion on this, see The Character and Nature of God by Bruce Henry.
5Brian Hedges’ book, Christ Formed in You:  The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change, is very helpful in developing these ideas of reflecting, relating and reigning.  (Kindle edition, location 260-334)
6The Westminster Shorter Catechism, AD 1647; 1 Corinthians 10:31, Romans 11:36, Psalm 73:25-28.
7“He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” (1 Peter 1:20 ESV); “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24 ESV); “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV); “everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” (Revelation 13:8 ESV)
8“For since the Son of God was made man in order to restore us, who were already lost, from our miserable over throw, how could that be foreseen which would never have happened unless man had sinned?”  “God created man flexible; and not only permitted, but willed that he should be tempted. For he both adapted the tongue of the serpent beyond the ordinary use of nature, to the devil’s purpose, just as if any one should furnish another with a sword and armor; and then, though the unhappy event was foreknown by him, he did not apply the remedy, which he had the power to do. On the other hand, when we come to speak of man, he will be found to have sinned voluntarily, and to have departed from God, his Maker, by a movement of the mind not less free than perverse.”  “For his grace is more abundantly poured forth, through Christ, upon the world, than it was imparted to Adam in the beginning.”  John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete) on Genesis (trans. John King; Accordance electronic ed. Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), n.p.

download PDF
Previous Section:  Introduction
Next Section:  God Centered Perspective

Prayers & Principles Introduction

This post is the first of several (number still undefined) posts that will help define what a God-centered culture looks like and some of the key prayers and principles required to create a God-centered culture.

Purpose:  To build a culture that is God glorifying, Christ centered, gospel (grace) saturated and redeeming to those that are a part of it; a culture that is marked by people in authentic pursuit of Jesus to know Him more deeply and serve Him more fully; people that are intentional about having their heart’s affections stirred up for the Lord.  The fabric of this culture has some common threads that are woven in to it and help to create a prism through which we see life and engage others as we chase after Christ.

Introduction:  The majority of the modern evangelical experience in the western world today is failing in its discipleship efforts and is having little influence on the world that it professes to reach and influence.  In the west, we regularly gather large crowds in church buildings on Sundays, but there is little evidence in the lives of the attenders that they are different than their non-professing friends and neighbors.  Why is this?  There seem to be some common themes in American evangelicalism that are not biblical, orthodox or have been part of the church culture historically.  The modern church tends to emphasize morality over the gospel, external accomplishments & numerical growth that are easily measured over depth, practicality over doctrine, and a formula based approach to faith rather than pursuing an abiding relationship with the Creator.
On any given Sunday in the western church you will hear messages that are grounded in what we need to do and are devoid of the deep doctrines of our faith.  The messaging is almost always topical, very pragmatic, and results/application oriented.  Titles like “5 ways to reduce debt,” “3 ways to serve your wife,” “4 ways to be sexually pure,” or “how to overcome pornography” are the common topics that are covered.  These churches tend to be highly entrepreneurial, very organized, gather large crowds, have very impressive services and teach people bible based “formulas” for making life work (i.e. marriages, child rearing, finances, etc).  The problem with this approach is that it produces a man-centered culture that is theologically weak, values morality over grace, likes to measure spirituality by accomplishments, have no real understanding of who God is, are ill equipped to handle life’s difficulties when things don’t go as planned according to the formulas and provides little comfort to those who don’t seem the “measure up.”  These churches tend to produce people who have an appearance of godliness, but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5).  These tend to produce morally clean people who are never spiritually transformed by the gospel because the gospel is not lived out on an ongoing basis.
Is everything bad in American Evangelicalism?  Absolutely not!  We have a rich heritage of God doing miraculous things in His church in America.  But, it is time to ask some difficult questions with honesty and biblical sobriety – and perhaps we will experience a spiritual revolution!  Perhaps, God will be gracious to us and will reconstruct God-centered cultures that are glorifying to him, biblically accurate, doctrinally strong and redeeming to those who experience them.  If someone has been in the church very long they have undoubtedly embraced much of this teaching as the core of their faith and significant deconstruction is required before a biblical, God-centered theological system can be reconstructed.  The goal of these posts is to provide some of the key prayers and principles required to deconstruct our false religious paradigms and reconstruct a vibrant God-glorifying, gospel saturated culture.

download PDF
Precious Section:  Outline
Next Section:  Background Assumptions