Tuesday, December 30, 2008

C. S. Lewis on Calvinism and Free Will

Reading in Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C. S. Lewis, a selection from among his many letters, I came across a couple of interesting takes on Calvinism and the question of free will:
On Calvinism. Both the statement that our final destination is already settled and the view that it still may be either Heaven or Hell, seem to me to imply the ultimate reality of Time, which I don't believe in. The controversy is one I can’t join on either side for I think that in the real (Timeless) world it is meaningless. (pp. 117-8)

All that Calvinist question — Free-Will and Predestination, is to my mind undiscussable, insoluble. Of course (say us) if a man repents God will accept him. Ah yes, (say they) but the fact of his repenting shows that God has already moved him to do so. This at any rate leaves us with the fact that in any concrete case the question never arrives as a practical one. But I suspect it is really a meaningless question. The difference between Freedom and Necessity is fairly clear on the bodily level: we know the difference between making our teeth chatter on purpose and just finding them chattering with cold. It begins to be less clear when we talk of human love (leaving out the erotic kind). ‘Do I like him because I choose or because I must?’ — there are cases where this has an answer, but others where it seems to me to mean nothing. When we carry it up to relations between God and Man, has the distinction perhaps become nonsensical? After all, when we are most free, it is only with a freedom God has given us: and when our will is most influenced by Grace, it is still our will. And if what our will does is not ‘voluntary’, and if ‘voluntary’ does not mean ‘free’, what are we talking about? I’d leave it all alone. (p. 186)
That pretty well says where I am on the matter. I wore Calvinism for about 25 years, from a couple of years out of Bible college until a few years back when I hung it back up on the rack because it didn’t fit. It just doesn’t seem to be relevant to anything real. The whole point-counterpoint between Calvinism and Arminianism seems to be trying to answer questions that the Bible does not ask or means to answer.

The discussion often proceeds as if God is bound by time, as we are. But He is the creator of time and as such is not constrained by it. We speak of foreknowledge, as if it is prior knowledge from God’s point of view, as it is from ours. But for God, it is simply knowledge with no “before” or “after” about it. He can know something as it happens — and it all happens for Him in one moment — without that knowledge being the cause of it happening. Knowledge does not equal causality. For example, if you and I were sitting together and you turned to me and said something, I would know what you were saying as you were saying it. But my knowledge of you saying it would not be the cause of you saying it. You would be free to say it or not. Likewise, God’s “foreknowledge” (which to Him is simply knowledge) of what we do, say, think or believe does not require that He be the cause of it.

In His sovereignty God has, for whatever reason, chosen to give us free will. That is a grace. And if He has chosen to influence our will by a further grace to turn to Him, it is still, as Lewis says, our will that does so. If we treat the will as anything other than voluntary and free to do or not do otherwise, then we are really not talking about will but determinism.

After years of batting the question around I have found no significance to it. With Lewis, I suspect it really is a meaningless question, and agree that perhaps the distinction it makes really is nonsensical after all.

Blessings to all my Calvinist friends, as well as my non-Calvinist ones.

Greetings to our friends in Dubai and Singapore.

Happy New Year to all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Discerning a Heart of Faith

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrew 4:12)
This verse is often quoted out of the blue, as if it were not related to a context. But the word “for” at the beginning of this verse alerts us to the fact that it is connected to the idea of the previous verse: “Be diligent to enter that rest.” The “rest” in view is the rest God has for His people. In the larger context, the author illustrates his point by reminding us that the children of Israel died in the wilderness instead of enjoying the Promised Land, the rest God had prepared for them.

What does this have to do with the Word of God being living and powerful and discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart? Everything. Because it has to do with faith. The children of Israel did not enter God’s rest because of their unbelief, even though God had promised He was giving the land to them.

It is not that they were unable to believe. No, they were unwilling to believe. Had they been willing, they would have been able because faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Every promise of God carries with it the faith to believe that promise. The children of Israel heard the promise but they did not give any room for faith to arise in them to believe it. The word of promise tested them and found they had rejected faith.

The Word of God offers us many wonderful promises and gives us the faith to believe. But it also probes us with surgical precision to see whether we will lay hold of that faith. There is no fooling God. He discerns the thoughts and intents of our hearts to see whether we are willing to believe Him.

In the wilderness, God promised the children of Israel that He was giving them the land of Canaan, and that promise tested them: Were they willing to believe God above all else? Would they believe the truth of His Word more than the facts of their current circumstances? More than the giants in the land? More than their own eyes?

As we know, out of all that generation, only Joshua and Caleb choose to believe God. They were not unaware of the circumstances, and they had certainly seen the giants in the land, just as the other spies had. But they understood that the truth of God’s promise was far greater than what they experienced with their senses. As the author of Hebrews tells us, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). The greater reality is not that which can be seen or felt but is apprehended by faith. That is why Paul teaches us, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

The same Word of God by which faith comes also discerns our hearts. It cuts through all our rationalizations to reveal whether we are willing to believe the promise of God. Those who are willing enter into His rest.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Diligence of Faith

Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:11)
Be diligent to enter into rest. Sounds like a paradox. As verse 10 said, “For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works a God did from His.” To enter the rest of God, we must cease from our own works just as God rested from His on the seventh day of creation. Still, there is a diligence to which we must attend. But what is it?

Earlier, the author of Hebrews used the illustration of the children of Israel, who wandered in the wilderness for forty years and did not enter the rest God had for them, the Promised Land. “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19). “For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it” (Hebrews 4:2). Nevertheless, the promise of rest remains, even though “those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:6). Put simply, the disobedience of Israel in the wilderness was their failure to believe the promise of God. They were not diligent to believe God; therefore, they did not enter His rest.

To see how this happened, go back to Numbers 13. The Lord said to Moses, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel” (v. 2). Notice the promise: God was giving the land of Canaan to Israel. Moses believed the word of God and sent out twelve men, one from each of the twelve tribes, on a reconnaissance mission.

Ten came back and reported, “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who dwell in the land are strong … There we saw the giants; and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (vv. 27-28, 33).

The other two spies, Joshua and Caleb, having seen the exact same things the ten had, came back and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it” (v. 30). The ten answered, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we” (v. 31).

The children of Israel were persuaded by the report of the ten and, in their fear and unbelief, rose up against Moses, Joshua and Caleb. Joshua and Caleb exhorted them to be diligent in their faith and believe God.
If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, “a land which flows with milk and honey.” Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them. (Numbers 14:8-9).
Israel persisted in fear and unbelief. Except for Joshua and Caleb, that entire generation never entered the Promised Land but died in the wilderness. Joshua and Caleb, however, were privileged to lead the next generation into the land forty years later.

What made the difference? Diligence. Diligence in what? In believing the word of God. The same promise was given to all, but only a few believed. Joshua and Caleb were diligent in faith. The fact that God had promised them the land of Canaan settled the matter for them. Their focus was sustained on God. They saw the same giants the ten had seen but they did not let that, or anything else, distract them from what God had said. Their hearts were lined up with the promise, and when they spoke, their words overflowed from the abundance of their hearts and they spoke in accord with what God had spoken. They were diligent and focused in their faith to believe what God said, so they entered into the rest of God.

Faith is simply believing the Word of God. When we are diligent to believe what He says, we enter into His rest. When we move away from believing His Word, we get back into our own works, our own strength, and end up wandering in the wilderness of fear.

Monday, December 8, 2008

What We Have Tasted

Enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come. (Hebrews 6:4-5)
Though the thrust of this verse goes in another direction, it gives us a brief but amazing picture of what it means for us to know Christ.

  • We have been enlightened. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, who convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). In other words, He reveals to us the Lord Jesus Christ, the Light of the World (John 1:4-9). The Spirit reveals the things of God which would otherwise be unintelligible to us (1 Corinthians 2:9-14). Early Church Fathers saw in this a reference to baptism, the sign of initiation into the truth of the gospel and the body of Christ.
  • We have tasted the heavenly gift. To taste is to experience. We experience the heavenly gift. “Gift” means that it is not earned by us or owed to us. It is given freely to us as an act of divine grace and we receive it simply by faith. It is not of this age but of the next. It does not come from earth but from heaven. It is the kingdom of God breaking into the present age, the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). Early Church Fathers saw in this a reference to the Eucharist, the Table of the Lord, the continuing sign of Christ’s presence in the world.
  • We have become partakers of the Holy Spirit. “Companions” of the Holy Spirit is how the HCSB puts it. This is divine fellowship with the One by whom we cry out joyfully, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). He reveals and works in us everything that belongs or pertains to Jesus (John 16:15). He brings forth in us divine fruits, the character of Christ (Galatians 5:22-23). He gives us manifestations of divine power by which He works miracles among us (1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Galatians 3:5). He ministers to us the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Father.
  • We have tasted the good word of God. This is the message of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, in whom all God’s promises to us are fulfilled in every way. No good thing does He withhold from us who have become the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ (Psalm 84:11; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • We have tasted the powers of the age to come. The Greek word for “powers” is dunamis, often translated as “miracles” (for example, 1 Corinthians 12:10 and Galatians 3:5). It is the miracle-working power of God. It is not of this age but of God’s kingdom age now breaking into the world. It is the power of the Holy Spirit by which Jesus healed all who were oppressed of the devil (Acts 10:38). It is the power Jesus promised His disciples would receive when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8). Paul said that God is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20).
Though we live in this present age, as believers in Jesus Christ, we are part of the next. We are not relics of the past but agents of God’s coming kingdom. Jesus taught us to pray, “Kingdom of God, come! Will of God, be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The tense of the Greek verbs speaks of a continuous action. We are not waiting for the kingdom of God to begin — it has begun already! We pray for it to increase until it is present in all its fullness. As John said, “The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).

Jesus also taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This has usually been taken to be a request to meet today’s need with today’s substance. But the Greek word for “daily” actually speaks of “the coming day.” What day is that? The day of God’s kingdom fullness, the day when His will is completely done on earth as in heaven.

We have tasted the bread of this present age and it does not sustain. There is no life to it. It is full of darkness and is already passing away. The provision we need is the substance of God’s kingdom, the will of heaven manifest on earth — the bread of that coming day. The prayer is that God give us that bread today. It is a prayer God has been answering ever since Jesus taught us to pray it and will continue to answer until heaven and earth are one.

God gives us that bread today so that we may experience, in this life, the heavenly gift, the good word of God, the powers of the age to come and fellowship with God by His Spirit. Christ gave His body and shed His blood — tasted death for us — that we might taste these things (Hebrews 2:9).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Under His Feet — and Ours

He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
Paul was speaking about the working of God’s mighty power “which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21). This is the same power He has at work for us and in us (Ephesians 1:19 and 3:20). And it is the power by which He put all things under the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every principality, power, might and dominion, and everything that can be named in this age and the coming one has all been placed under His feet. That is, all things are under His authority and dominion.

Not only that, but God has given Him to be the head over all the Church. Pay close attention to what this means—it’s a real corker. The Church — every believer in the Lord Jesus — is the body of Christ. Christ is the head. All things have been placed under His feet. Where is Christ’s body in relation to His head? It is beneath. Where is His body in relation to His feet? It is above. His body is between His head and His feet. What a silly picture it would be otherwise — I mean, imagine His head sitting on top of His feet and His feet sitting on top of His body.

Now, remember that God has placed all things under Jesus’ feet and do the math: All things are under the feet—the authority of Jesus Christ — and we, the Church, are the body of Christ. That means that everything that is under His feet must be under our feet as well.

Process that for a moment, then consider this: Christ’s body, the Church, is the fullness of Him who fills all in all. He is the one who fills everything with His glory and power. We are full of Him, but we are not merely filled with Him along with everything else He fills. More than that, we are that fullness of Him which fills everything with His glory and power.

It is what God created us for in the beginning when He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion” (Genesis 1:26). That fullness and dominion was lost to us when Adam sinned and separated from God, but it is restored to us in Jesus Christ. Now we are full of Him, but also the fullness of Him with which He fills everything else.

Notice carefully that this is not future tense. It is an accomplished work. God has already placed all things under the feet of Jesus. He has already given Him as head over His body, the Church. We are right now the fullness of Christ in everything.

When we try to understand this by our senses, our emotions and our circumstances, it simply does not add up. How can it be true when the world is still such a mess? Yet, God has spoken it so it must be true, because it is the Word of God, which created the world in the beginning (Hebrews 12:3) and sustains it today (Hebrews 1:3). No doubt, the world is out of joint with the Word, and that is because of sin. That’s a fact — but it’s not the truth. Paul tells us the truth in Colossians 1:19-20.
For it pleased the Father that in Him [Christ] all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
That’s the reality, and all the facts of the world must eventually come into line with the truth of the Word and the blood of the Cross. The substance, the underlying reality of it, is already in place. We are merely waiting for the outworking of it in creation. More importantly, creation is waiting for the outworking of it in us. “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). It will happen as we embrace the truth of who we are in Jesus Christ and who He is in us.

This requires a revelation, a divine enlightenment, a realization from God. That is how Paul began the long and weighty sentence that forms Ephesians 1:15-23.
Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know …” (Ephesians 1:15-18)
Paul knew it would not be enough for him simply to write down the words. He understood that it requires wisdom and revelation, enlightenment by the Holy Spirit, to help us see and understand this world-changing truth.

My prayer for you, me and all the Church is that God give us Holy Spirit wisdom and revelation to see and understand that all things have truly been placed under the feet of Jesus, and under ours as well, as His body.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Where We Have Come

For you have not come to what could be touched, to a blazing fire, to darkness, gloom, and storm, to the blast of a trumpet, and the sound of words. (Those who heard it begged that not another word be spoken to them, for they could not bear what was commanded: And if even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned! And the appearance was so terrifying that Moses said, I am terrified and trembling.)

Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to God who is the judge of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, to Jesus (mediator of a new covenant), and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24 HCSB)
What the author of Hebrews writes here is true of every believer in Jesus Christ. We are in an amazing place. Notice that he does not say, “You are going,” as if he is just talking about our destination some day when we die. No, he says, “You have come.” This is about present reality, not future hope. It includes future hope, but the future is breaking into the present. It is now and we are there.

Yeah, it is different from the way we are used to thinking, the way we have been taught by the world and even by religion. We thought it was about us and what we could do, and we were painfully aware that we were very far from measuring up.

That is where we were, but where we have come is very different. It turns out that it’s not about us after all — never was — but about the reality of Jesus Christ, who He is and what He has done. That changes everything! We are no longer limited to the reality of earth but now free to partake of the reality of heaven. Consider where we have now come:

We have come to Mount Zion. This is in contrast to Mount Sinai, the place where the Law of Moses was given, the law that inevitably led to condemnation (see Romans 7 for Paul’s experience on that). Mount Zion, however, was the place where God chose to dwell and manifest His presence among His people. The author of Hebrews is not speaking of natural geography, though; he is talking about spiritual reality.

We have come to the city of the living God. In the natural, Mount Zion was the city of God, the place of His temple, His habitation. But again, the author is speaking of spiritual reality. He has noted already, in Hebrews 11, that Abraham was seeking “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (v. 10). Indeed, of all the saints of the old covenant, he says, “But now they desire a better, that is a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (v. 16). Now we have come to that city and Paul reminds us, “You are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:16).

We have come to the heavenly Jerusalem. Earthly Jerusalem was situated on Mount Zion and was a type, or shadow, of heavenly Jerusalem. Heavenly Jerusalem speaks of a higher realm and in the Jewish mind represented the hope of a future age. Now we have come to that city and the reality of heaven is breaking into the world. It is just as Jesus taught us to pray, “Kingdom of God, keep coming! Will of God, keep being done on earth as it in heaven” (that is the sense of the Greek verbs). It is not a singular event but a continuous action, already begun, and will ultimately align earth with the reality of heaven.

We have come to myriads of angels in festive gathering. The angels of God are not gathered together to execute judgment on us but to celebrate Jesus, who endured God’s judgment in our place. It is a joyful convocation, a festival of praise, and Revelation 5:11-12 gives us a glimpse:
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
We have come to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven. “Firstborn” shows that we have a Father, who is God. It speaks of the “double portion” we receive of Him, the very best of inheritances. Paul says that we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). “Joint heirs” means that everything the Lord Jesus receives from the Father we receive also. As David declared, “O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5-6).

Not only are we heirs of God, our names are written on the citizen rolls of heaven. Paul says, “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). “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). This citizenship we have received gives us every blessing and benefit heaven has to offer. We can now live out of a higher reality.

We have come to God who is the judge of all. “Judge” speaks of God’s sovereign rule and authority over everyone. He is the one who sets all things right. His judgment on our sin was poured out on the Lord Jesus. As Paul says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “The chastisement for our peace was upon Him” (Isaiah 53:5).

We have come to the spirits of righteous people made perfect. This speaks of communion, connection stronger than death, with those who have gone before us and no longer walk this planet. While we are still in the process of reckoning ourselves dead to sin but alive to God, they have been made thoroughly and completely perfect in Christ. “Perfected at last!” is the sense of the text. It is a perfection that could never be achieved under the Law of Moses or by any work of our own, but is received only in Jesus Christ, through faith in Him.

We have come to Jesus, mediator of a new covenant. Jesus is the reason for all our coming, and all the blessing is summed up in the new covenant, of which He is the mediator. “Now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). What could not be accomplished by the old covenant of law, and all our striving, is fulfilled by the Lord Jesus in the new and better covenant.

We have come to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel. This is the heart of the covenant. In the Bible, no covenant was made without the shedding of blood, demonstrating the surety of the promise. In this new covenant of grace Jesus is the sacrifice—He gives us Himself. On the night before He was crucified, He took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). This covenant, and the blood by which in which it was cut, speaks incomparable things for us than any other blood ever could. The blood of Abel cried out for revenge. The blood of Jesus speaks of our redemption, restoration and all the blessing that entails.

In Jesus Christ, we have come to a place we have never been before, a place we could never reach apart from Him and new and better covenant He cut for us in His own blood. Now we have access to heaven, and it is enough to change the earth when His will is done here just as it is there.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holding on to Confident Rejoicing

Christ [is] a Son over His own house, who house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:6)
The author of Hebrews is writing to a group of people who were up against severe persecution. As Jewish believers in Christ, they were getting it from two sides — from Jewish leaders who had rejected Christ and from the Romans who, oddly enough, view Christians as atheists because they did not worship Caesar and bow to the Roman pantheon. It was tough for them, no question about it.

In the midst of that, the author of Hebrews encourages/exhorts them to hold on to their faith in Jesus the Messiah because He is the Anointed One who fulfills all the promises God has made. Moses was faithful as a servant in the house God was building, and certainly to be greatly honored (Hebrews 3:2, 5). But Jesus is faithful as the Son of the house. The house is all those who believe the promises of God and receive His Anointed Son.

There is a great confidence we can have in that. The Greek work for “confidence” means courage, boldness, outspokenness. It speaks of the right of access we have before God. That is why the author says in the next chapter, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). The Greek word for “boldly” in 4:16 is the same as the word “confidence” in 3:6.

Under Moses, the people of God were afraid to approach God. In Jesus, we can come boldly before God:
For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.”And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.”)
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24)
That is the confidence we have now because of Jesus Christ, the confidence the author of Hebrews encourages us to hold onto. It is that faith which can see us through great difficulty.

The word for “rejoicing” means to glory in, boast in or brag about. It is the same root word Paul uses when he says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). See, this boasting is not about who we are and what we have done — there’s nothing to brag about there and certainly no reason to have confidence. No, the boasting Hebrews speaks of is about Jesus Christ, what He has done for us and the boldness we can now have in Him.

How do we hold on to this confidence and rejoicing and manifest the household of God in turbulent times? There are a number of keys the author of Hebrews gives us which will be of great help to us (you can search these out in the book of Hebrews), but it all comes down to this, found in Hebrews 3:1. “Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus Christ.” It is only as we keep our focus on Him that we are able to continue walking in the victory He has won for us. (See The Table of Considering Him)

Yes, things may be getting difficult for you right now, but hold to your confidence and boasting in Jesus Christ and you will make it through.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Don’t Blame God for Calamity

I form the light and create darkness,
I make peace and create calamity;
I, the LORD, do all these things.
(Isaiah 45:7)
Though it is not always clear in our English Bibles, there is a difference between what God perpetrates and what He merely permits. Concerning this verse, Walter Kaiser notes that physical calamity in the world is a matter of what God permits.
Thus, according to the Hebrew way of speaking, which ignores secondary causation in a way Western thought would never do, whatever God permits may be directly attributed to him, often without noting that secondary and sinful parties were the immediate causes of the disaster.
The evil spoken of in this text and similar passages (such as Jer 18:11; Lam 3:38 and Amos 3:6) refers to natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil is seen in a volcanic eruption, plague, earthquake and destructive fire. It is God who must allow (and that is the proper term) these calamities to come...
Augustine taught that evil is not a substance. It is, as it were, a byproduct of our freedom, and especially of our sin. The effects of that sin did not fall solely on the world of humans. Its debilitating effects hit the whole natural world as well...
What we can be sure of, however, is the fact that God is never, ever, the originator and author of evil. It would be contrary to his whole nature and being as consistently revealed in Scripture. (Walter C. Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible, p. 306 s.v. Isaiah 45:7, emphasis mine)
God certainly allows many natural calamities to befall people as a consequence of sin in the world but that does not make him the perpetrator or author of those things.

Given the nature of the Hebrew way of speaking, which often blurs the distinction between what is committed by God and what He merely allows, it is a very tricky proposition to build a doctrine on this and similar Scriptures which makes God the executor of calamities in the world. They are not things God does to us, and we can resist them by prayer and faith without violating the sovereignty of God, for God is not the one to blame for them.

God's promise for His people is, “I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). How much more this is true for us under the New Covenant, in which all the wrath of God toward sin was poured out fully on Jesus Christ at the cross.

God’s plan for you is not calamity but for a future and a hope, and it is found in Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Blessing Your Grandchildren

But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting
On those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
To such as keep His covenant,
And to those who remember His commandments to do them.
(Psalm 103:17-18)
Your relationship with God can be a wonderful blessing to your grandchildren. When you know the Lord and honor Him, you are leaving a legacy that will greatly benefit them if they are willing to receive it.

God knows no generational barrier. He is eternal and His mercy is everlasting. The Hebrew word for “mercy” is hesed, which can also be translated as “steadfast love” and “faithful love.” It speaks of covenant, the commitment the Lord has made to His people to love them forever. It is for you, your children, your grandchildren.

God has always worked through families. When Adam and Eve disconnected from the life of God in the Garden of Eden, He promised them a Seed who would trample the serpent on their behalf and restore them (Genesis 3:15). When the earth was destroyed by the Flood, God made covenant with Noah and all his descendants (Genesis 9:9). God called Abraham out of the house of idolatry and promised him an heir from whom a mighty nation would arise to bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3). This covenant was confirmed to Isaac, then to Jacob. Jacob prophesied it over his children, especially to Judah. David arose from the line of Judah and received promise from God that his descendant would rule and reign on his throne forever. Generations later, it was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God whose mother was of the house of David.

In the reign of King Jesus, God continues to work through families. When Paul and Silas were jailed at Philippi for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ but were miraculously released by an earthquake, their jailer fell to his knees begging, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30-31). The jailer’s decision to receive the Lord Jesus brought divine salvation within reach of his household. They all believed and received this great legacy. The Bible records, “And immediately he and all his family were baptized … and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household” (Acts 16:33-34).

Proverbs says that “a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children” (Proverbs 13:22). There it is speaking of a physical inheritance, but it is true in the natural because it is first true in the spiritual. Whether we realize it or not, we all leave an inheritance, whether good or bad, to our children and grandchildren. When we walk in the awe of the Lord, to love, trust and serve Him alone, we leave a legacy of divine blessing for them. The word of promise, the message of the gospel, comes very close to them and if they are willing to believe it, they will live in the reality of it.

In the branches of my family tree, I have discovered generations of godly men and women who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and were saved. Generations later, here am I, of their house and walking in relationship with the same Jesus in whom they entrusted their lives. From their faith, through the convergence of many family lines, I can trace a path that led me to faith in Jesus at a very early age.

Many people do not have that kind of heritage but the good news of the gospel is that, in Jesus Christ, they can leave that kind of legacy. There was a time when my family lines did not know anything of the grace of God in Christ. But then there were some who heard the message and dared to trust Him — and I have reaped the benefit of their faith. In the same way, you might be the first in your line who has received the Lord Jesus, but it can be a blessing to a thousand generations.
Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments. (Deuteronomy 7:9)
Your relationship with God will be a legacy for your children, your grandchildren and generations to come.

Monday, November 17, 2008

No Recession in God’s Provision

The LORD is my Shepherd;
I shall not want.
(Psalm 23:1)
When we look to the Lord our Shepherd, we will not lack or be in want for anything. No recession there.

Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
Who delights greatly in His commandments …
Wealth and riches will be in his house.
(Psalm 112:1, 3)
No recession there, either, when we live in awe of God and delight in His commandments.
The LORD give you increase more and more,
You and your children.
(Psalm 115:14)
God has increase for us, and that is the opposite of recession. That goes for our children, too.
Honor the LORD with your possessions,
And with the firstfruits of all your increase;
So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine.
(Proverbs 3:9-10)
That certainly doesn’t sound like recession. God gives us increase, we honor Him with it. That brings forth even more increase — plenty and abundance.
“Bring all the tithes in the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And try Me now in this,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it.
And I will rebuke the devourer for you sakes.”
(Malachi 3:10-11)
Recession is a devourer. When we give God charge of our finances, He rebukes the devourer for our sakes.
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
Always having all sufficiency in all things, and abundance for every good work. Certainly no recession there.
And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
God has increase, provision and abundance for His people and it is far greater than any recession the world has to offer. So keep giving, sowing, investing and doing what God has called you to do. You will have more than enough.

There is no recession in God’s provision. Never has been, never will be.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Table of Considering Him

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus. (Hebrews 3:1)
In Hebrew 3, the author compares the Lord Jesus to Moses. Moses was the “apostle” of the Old Testament. The Law and the pattern for the Tabernacle were given through him. As John notes, “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14). The Lord Jesus is the Apostle of the New Covenant. Not only the Apostle, but also the High Priest, for as the author of Hebrews later tells us, “He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). Indeed, He is the sacrifice on which that covenant is based, as He declared at the Last Supper: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20).

It is this Jesus whom we are called to “consider.” The Greek word speaks of a fixed attention to Him. It is not a passing thought or acknowledgment but a sustained focus. In Him, we are made “holy brethren” (to be holy means to be set apart for God’s will and desire). In Him, we are partakers of the “heavenly calling.” For we were born, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). We belong to Him.

He is called the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. The Greek noun comes from the verb homologeo, which means to speak the “same word.” It is a word of agreement. In this case, it is about agreeing with God about Jesus Christ. Everything He has promised is fulfilled for us in Christ, who is the mediator of the new and better covenant we have with God.

At the Table of the Lord, we focus all our attention on the Lord Jesus, His body and blood given for us, and with it, all the blessing and promise of God. We confess Him, that He is our Lord, our salvation, our resurrection and our life. In Him, we are made holy and called brothers. In Him, we partake of the heavenly calling, which speaks of divine initiative and living life on a new and higher basis — the reality of heaven becomes ours.

Come to the Table of the Lord and consider, in a sustained and sustaining way, the Apostle and High Priest whom we confess as our own.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Your Identity, Position and Possession in Christ

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)
We are very used to leaning on our own understanding, particularly when difficulties arise. It is how the world has discipled us very patiently for so many years. When we do not have a vital relationship with God, it is all we know. But in Jesus Christ, we are called to a new discipleship, to understand and live in a radically different way. It comes out of our new identity, our new position, and our new possession in Him.

Who we are in Jesus Christ.
We are now children of God. We are no longer orphans, for He has not given us “the spirit of bondage again to fear,” but “the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:15). As His children, we are made partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Where we are in Jesus Christ.
We are now seated with Christ in the heavenlies, at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:20-21; 2:6), the place of ruling and reigning.

What we have in Jesus Christ.
Jesus has given us the authority of His name:
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do , that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it. (John 14:12-14)
Jesus has also given us the power of the Holy Spirit, just as He promised the disciples: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me” (Acts 1:8). We have been given the testimony of who Jesus is, all His aspects, and why He came. It is not just the testimony of words, but also of power. “For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed … in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (Romans 15:18-19).

In the uncertainty of these times, do not let your heart be troubled by falling back on your own understanding. You believe in God, believe also in Jesus and who you are, where you are seated and what you have been given in Him.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pouting and Whining, or Patiently Waiting?

LORD, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I do not get involved with things
too great or too difficult for me.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself
like a little weaned child with its mother;
I am like a little child.
Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
both now and forever.
(Psalm 133 HCSB)
Weaning is the difference between pouting and whining, and patiently waiting. It is not needing to understand everything or getting involved with things that are beyond us. It is not complaining when things don’t go the way we think they ought.

Weaning is very different. It is about calming and quieting oneself. God will not do it for us; we must do it ourselves—it is part of coming to maturity. It is a matter of faith—trusting God—without which we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).

In the natural, little children wean away from their mother’s breast. They get less agitated and begin the process of learning patience, trusting that their hunger pangs will be satisfied and their basic needs met.

Many people move past those early forms of weaning; others do not. You can tell them when you see them; they are the ones who whine, complain, mutter and mope about everything. They have not learned patience. The do not calm and quiet themselves. They have not learned how to wean.

Unfortunately, there are even Christians who have not weaned themselves concerning a great many things. They are forever complaining to God. “Well, I don’t understand why God doesn’t do this?” and “Why doesn’t God something about that?” and “How could God let this happen?” They do not exercise self-control. Self-control is in them. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), who is in them, but they do not yield themselves to the Spirit and allow Him to bring forth that fruit. When they complain, they are not really trusting God (faith is another fruit of the Spirit).

Because they are not quieting and calming themselves by trusting in God, they are full of fear about everything. What they experience with their senses becomes more real to them than the promise and provision of God. They are controlled by their circumstances and full of anxiety. “God has not given us a spirit of fear,” the Bible says, “but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). The Greek word for “sound mind” actually means “discipline” or “self-control.” In other words, God has given us the ability to quiet and calm ourselves, to wean ourselves.

David learned how to wean himself from a proud heart and haughty eye. When things didn’t go his way, in fact, when things went seriously against him, he learned how to encourage himself in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6; see How to Encourage Yourself in the LORD for more on this). When the nations were against him, the word he received from the Lord was, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

Having learned the lessons of calming and quieting himself before God, his protector and provider, David gives us this advice: “Put your hope in the LORD, both now and forever.” The Hebrew word for “hope” is not tentative, but certain. It speaks of a positive expectation, even a joyful anticipation. It is a word of faith.

Have you learned to wean yourself, to calm and quiet yourself before the Lord, to be still and know that He is God? Are you pouting and whining about the circumstances of your life, or are you patiently waiting. Put your trust in God. Believe His Word, stand on His promises, expect His goodness to come through for you, both now and forever.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Whatever Happens, Please Remain Seated

God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us … made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-6)
Every believer in Jesus Christ has been made alive together with Him, raised up together with Him, and seated together with Him in the heavenlies. Notice carefully that this is not something that has yet to happen; it is an accomplished fact. It is not a future hope, but a present reality.

Where is Jesus seated? Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:20-22. God raised Jesus and seated Him “at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is name, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet.”

Jesus has been seated at the right hand of the Father. It is a throne, a place of ruling and reigning. He is seated far above all principality, power, might and dominion, and every name that can be named. This is a statement about His authority. All has been placed under His feet.

That is where Jesus is seated. In Ephesians 2:6, Paul tells us that we are seated there with Him — in that same place of ruling and reigning! We are not merely “above the fray.” We have authority over it. It is the authority of prayer in the name of Jesus and faith in the Word of God.

We are fully authorized agents of God’s kingdom, given charge by our Lord and High King to pray, “Kingdom of God, come. Will of God, be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Do not be shaken by the turmoil of these days. You are a representative of the kingdom of God — indeed, of the King Himself. You have the authority to bring things on earth into line with the plan of God and the purpose of heaven, just as Jesus taught us to pray.

Your place is on the throne of heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever happens, please remain seated.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Time to Speak Up for the Voiceless

Speak up for those who have no voice,
for the justice of all who are dispossessed.

Speak up, judge righteously,
and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.
(Proverbs 31:8-9 HCSB)
It is time to “speak up,” to “open your mouth,” as the NKJV puts it, for those who have no voice, for those who are dispossessed, for the oppressed and needy. Today in America, there are none more helpless, oppressed and needy than the millions of preborn infants who are being aborted.

It is time for us to judge righteously and to choose righteous judges — judges who will do what is right.

This election season, the choice before us is quite clear. How morally misguided and confused does one have to be to suppose that a baby would ever be a punishment? The Bible says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD” (Psalm 127:3). To ever view them as anything less is misanthropic.

How morally bankrupt does one have to be to say that it is “above his pay grade” to determine when life begins and then proceed to advocate for the destruction of preborn through abortion? It would be like a hunter who thinks he sees a deer rustling in the woods, but suspects that it could possibly be a human being — and goes ahead and shoots anyway! It is morally irresponsible.

And what can be said for the same man who supports killing an infant who somehow survives and abortion. There is no doubt that life had begun for such a little one and to advocate for his destruction is nothing short of evil.

This candidate does not judge righteously, but evilly, and his legacy will be evil as he selects judges with same morally warped standards.

It is time to stand up and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. The slaughter of millions of innocents is quite sufficient cause to vote against one who is so callously for their destruction.

Let your voice be heard.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

There is Always a Choice

How happy is the man
who does not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path of sinners,
or join a group of mockers!
Instead, his delight is in the LORD’s instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night.
He is like a tree planted beside streams of water
that bears its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
(Psalm 1:1-3 HCSB)
We always have a choice about which direction we will go: Whether we will follow the advice of the wicked, take the path of sinners and join the mockers—or instead, delight in the instruction of the Lord and meditate continually on it.

It is the difference between the way of the world and the way of the Word. The world has a wisdom to impart, but it is a way of envy and self-seeking and leads to confusion and every kind of evil (James 3:15-16). It is, in a word, demonic.

But the wisdom of the Word is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and hypocrisy. It is the wisdom that comes from heaven, and is encompassed in the instruction of the Lord. This wisdom will always lead to good results. It says,
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
and He shall direct your path.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
and strength to your bones.
(Proverbs 3:5-8)
The one who trusts in the Lord with all his heart and acknowledges Him in all things will be firmly established and well supplied, like a tree planted beside streams of water. He will have abundance in the season of bearing fruit and will prosper in everything he does. However, things will not work out so well for those who follow the way of the world.
The wicked are not like this;
instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment,
and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.
(Psalm 1:4-6 HCSB)
There is always a choice of which way we will honor, even in this election season. Trust in the Lord and meditate on His instruction. Acknowledge Him with your vote, and He will show you where to cast it. His way is greater than that of either of the candidates, and far more powerful and productive of righteousness and prosperity.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bringing Many Sons to Glory

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of our salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren. (Hebrews 2:10-11)
“It was fitting,” the author of Hebrews says, for the Captain of our Salvation (Jesus) to be made “perfect through sufferings.” Made “perfect” does not refer to Jesus in His own nature or being, as if He was somehow flawed. Rather, it is about His role in our salvation. The word “perfect” refers to completion. In order for Him to make our salvation complete, it was necessary for Him to suffer.

Why was it fitting that the Lord of all and Creator of everything should come and suffer anything? Would it not be a disgrace for the Most High to become so low, and that for the sake of sinful man? Yet we are told that it was indeed fitting, appropriate for Him to do so.

But why? God did not do this for any of the angels who fell in satan’s rebellion, but He immediately moved to do so when Adam sinned. Why for us and not for the angels?

Look back in Hebrews 2:5. “For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying” [here the author quotes Psalm 8:4-6]:
What is man that You are mindful of him,
Or the son of man that You take care of him?
You have made him a little lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And set him over the works of Your hands.
You have put all things in subjection under his feet.
Then the author of Hebrews makes this observation: “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him” (v. 8).

Consider carefully what he has just said: The world to come is not placed in subjection to angels, but God has created and cared for man and place all things in subjection under his feet.


See, God created man in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). This was never said of angels, or of any other creature except man. Then God blessed them — male and female — and gave them dominion over all the earth, to subdue it, that is, to bring it into line with the plan of God. That is what David was talking about in Psalm 8.

When Adam sinned, the image of God in us was marred, but God’s purpose remained. That is why the Son of God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He is the perfect man who fulfills Psalm 8 and God’s purpose for mankind. In Him, we are made complete, perfected in the salvation for which He suffered.
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil. (Hebrews 2:14)

Jesus partook of human nature — flesh and blood — but not the nature of angels. Why? Because man was created in the image and likeness of God; angels were not. God created man, not angels, to have dominion, with all things in subjection to him.

So it was fitting, quite appropriate, that Jesus would come and suffer for our salvation. It was not a matter of divine necessity, but of divine grace. For there was no necessity upon God to create man in the first place, much less to give him dominion over His creation. That was pure grace. Then God graciously restored and fulfilled that plan at the terrible price of the Cross.

Man was created in the image and likeness of God, and Jesus became human, partaking of flesh and blood in order to redeem us and “bring many sons to glory.” This glory is not about a place we go to but a state of being in which we exist, the glory of God we were originally created to bear. We are, by this, true sons of God and the brothers of the Lord Jesus. As the author of Hebrews says, “For this reason, He is not ashamed to call them brothers.”

Jesus partook of human nature that we might partake of the divine nature (2 Peter 2:4) as sons of God restored to glory.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Divine Union with God

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that they world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given to them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:20-23)
This is a prayer Jesus prayed for His disciples and, by extension, all who believe in Him through their witness. It is a prayer for union with God, that we may be one with Jesus and each other, just as Jesus is one with the Father. If Jesus is in union with the Father, and we are in union with Jesus — well, you do the math.

We were created for union with God from the very beginning, when God created man in His image and according to His likeness. No other creature, not even the angels of heaven, are said to be created this way. This likeness gives us the capacity to enjoy union with God. Like joins to like.

Of course we know that Adam rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden and lost vital connection with God. In Jesus Christ, that connection is restored for all who believe. We are reconciled through Him to enjoy fellowship with the Father once again.

When mankind fell into the bondage of sin, Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The reason He could do this was because man was created in the image and likeness of God. He did not become an angel when satan and his angels rebelled against God; they were not created in the likeness of God, as man was.

Man is unique among all God’s creatures, and uniquely fitted for union with Him. Second Peter speaks about this union in terms of divine nature. 
His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
We are “partakers” of the divine nature. The Greek word is koinonia, which can also be translated as “fellowship,” “partners,” “companions,” and “communion.” It speaks of union. Here it is used of our participation in the divine nature.The early Church Fathers recognized this reality and spoke of it in ways that are quite breathtaking. Here are a few examples:

  • Justin Martyr, an early Christian apologist martyred at Rome:
Let the interpretation of the Psalm [81:1-7] be held just as you wish, yet thereby it is demonstrated that all men are deemed worthy of becoming “gods,” and of having power to become sons of the Highest. (ANF Vol. 1, Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 124)
  • Irenaeus (120-202), a disciple of Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of the apostle John:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself. (Against Heresies, Book 5, Preface)
  • Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215), early Christian theologian and head of the catechetical school in Alexandria:
And now the Word Himself clearly speaks to thee, shaming thy unbelief; yea, I say, the Word of God became man, that thou mayest learn from man how man may become God. Is it not then monstrous, my friends, that while God is ceaselessly exhorting us to virtue, we should spurn His kindness and reject salvation? (ANF Vol. 2, Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter 1)
But that man with whom the Word dwells does not alter himself, does not get himself up: he has the form which is of the Word; he is made like to God; he is beautiful; he does not ornament himself: his is beauty, the true beauty, for it is God; and that man becomes God, since God so wills. (ANF Vol. 2, The Instructor, Book 3, Chapter 1)
  • Athanasius (296-373), bishop of Alexandria, called a “Doctor of the Church” and “Father of Orthodoxy”:
For He was made man that we might be made God. (On the Incarnation, chapter 54)

Therefore He was not man, and then became God, but He was God, and then became man, and that to deify us. (Against the Arians, Discourse 1, Chapter 11)

For He has become Man, that He might deify us in Himself, and He has been born of a woman, and begotten of a Virgin, in order to transfer to Himself our erring generation, and that we may become henceforth a holy race, and “partakers of the Divine Nature,” as blessed Peter wrote. (NPNF Vol. 2, Personal Letter 60:4)
We were created in the image and likeness of God to enjoy divine union with Him.We enter into this union through faith in Jesus Christ, God who became man. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Joyful Expectation

Bring joy to Your servant’s life,
Since I set my hope on you, Lord.
(Psalm 86:4 HCSB)
Here is the secret of joy: Set your hope on the Lord. In the Bible, hope is not tentative but sure. There is no “maybe” about it. Rather, it is an anticipation, an expectation of what will be. David has set his hope on the Lord.

The KJV and other versions has, “I lift up my soul.” It is like an empty cup we lift up before the Lord with the expectation that He will fill it. As long as we keep it before Him, we will not be disappointed. It is a matter of believing the goodness and the promise of God. In another psalm, David declare, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).

Because his trust is in the Lord, he has a positive anticipation for good. This creates another expectation: There will be joy in his life.

Biblical hope is positive expectation, joyful anticipation. Set your hope on the Lord, trust in His goodness, and get ready for His joy to fill you up.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Spiritual Formation – A Bibliography

Here is a selected and annotated bibliography I recently completed for a course I am taking on Spiritual Formation. Thought it might be a helpful resource for your own spiritual development.


Chan, Simon. Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1998.
Explores systematic Christian theology in relation to spiritual growth and formation. With emphasis on the theology and life of prayer, this book focuses on spiritual practices for engaging God, the self, the Scriptures and the world. It also gives special attention to developing a “rule of life,” the discernment of spirits and the role of spiritual direction. This work is historically and theologically informed by a broad spectrum of Christian traditions.
Ford, Marcia. Traditions of the Ancients: Vintage Faith Practices for the 21st Century. Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2006.
This book gathers an assortment of Christian disciplines and practices from the wide-ranging traditions of the Church and adapts them for use today. It explores the value of many spiritual practices less known to Evangelicals, such as sacred reading, manual labor, pilgrimage, night watches, fixed-hour prayer, the prayer of examen and the Jesus prayer.
Foster, Richard. “A Life Formed in the Spirit.” Interview by Mark Galli. Christianity Today, September 17, 2008.
Richard Foster is one of the early proponents of the recent revival of the practice of “spiritual disciplines.” Beginning with his conversion to Christ, he discusses how his life has been formed spiritually. He also talks about how, as a young Quaker pastor, his own spiritual formation shaped his ministry. In particular, he notes how he began to take much more seriously the “soul growth” of his parishioners through the means of the spiritual disciplines he later wrote about in Celebration of Discipline.
Foster, Richard J. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of the Christian Faith. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998.
Foster discusses six different aspects to spiritual formation he finds embodied in Church tradition: contemplative, holiness, charismatic, social justice, evangelical and sacramental spiritualities. These are the different ways Christians have followed Christ. Historically informed, this book includes a helpful appendix of key figures and movements representative of these various streams.
Howard, Evan. “Three Temptations of Spiritual Formation.” Christianity Today, December 9, 2002.
Addresses the Mainline, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches on the necessary components of Christian spiritual formation: It must be Christian, i.e., Christ-centered and not just religious. It must be spiritual, i.e., dependent on the Holy Spirit and not just on the Scriptures. It must be formation, i.e., the manifestation of Christ-like character and not just experiences.
Keener, Craig S. Gift and Giver: The Holy Spirit for Today. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001.
A study of how the Holy Spirit ministers to believers. It includes a discussion of the Spirit’s role in salvation, what the baptism of the Spirit is and when it occurs, how to recognize the voice of the Spirit and how the Spirit empowers us for evangelism. It also describes the spiritual gifts, their purpose and how they function. The final chapter (apart from the conclusion) emphasizes the importance of exercising spiritual discernment.
Smith, James K. A. “Teaching a Calvinist to Dance.” Christianity Today, May 16, 2008.
Article about how Reformed and Pentecostal aspects of spirituality have blended together in the author’s life. The paradigm is about taking the sovereignty of God so seriously that the Spirit of God can show up in ways that may be surprising. Recognizes that the goodness of God embodies in us and that we are not just “brains-on-a-stick.”
Tickle, Phyllis. “Blowing Holes in Spiritual Formation.” Interview by Leadership Journal (n.d.).
Tickle discusses the incorporation of ancient spiritual disciplines into the life of modern churches. She finds this movement to be popular with the under-40 generation, as sees it as being post-Reformational as well as well as post-Enlightenment and post-denominational. She believes it is part of a new Reformation currently in progress.
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.
A book on relational spirituality, the “divine embrace” between God and man. The first part discusses how Christian spirituality needs to be rescued from Platonic dualism, medieval mysticism, intellectualism, experientialism, legalism, romanticism, New Age philosophy and Eastern religions. The second part focuses on God’s story, how He reached out in love, how man comes into His saving embrace, how His life in us produces love for others and how our life in Him results in obedience.
Willard, Dallas. “Spiritual Formation in Christ: A Perspective on What it is and How it Might be Done.” Journal of Psychology and Theology 28, no. 4 (January 1, 2000): 254.
Discusses the nature, purpose and means of spiritual formation, which requires psychological as well as a theological understanding of the spiritual life. Recognizes that spiritual disciplines are effective for Christian formation in the human spirit, but only because one is formed by the Holy Spirit. Emphasizes that “the tree is known by its fruit,” and the fruit of Christian formation is obedience to Christ.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Blessing-Based Living

The blessing of the LORD makes one rich,
And He adds no sorrow with it.
(Proverbs 10:22)
Listening to Kenneth Copeland preach this morning on the Believer's Voice of Victory, I was struck by the difference between blessing-based decisions and toil-based decisions. This gives me an important new way to evaluate my thoughts, choices and actions: Is this based on the blessing of the LORD, or on the toil of the world?

See, the world operates by toil, scratching and scraping just to get by. But God intends for His people to operate by His blessing. It makes life rich and brings no regrets.

Psalm 127, attributed to Solomon, puts it this way:
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.
(Psalms 127:2)
Solomon was talking about operating in the blessing instead of by toil. He did not ask God for wealth, but for wisdom — and ended up with riches as well.

The world has it backwards. They think that if you add riches to yourself, you will then be blessed. But God says it is His blessing that makes one rich. Not toil, but blessing.

Toil is different from work. When God created Adam, He gave him an assignment — to be fruitful, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion (Genesis 1:26-2). Adam was given a work to do, but it was not toil. It was a blessed work. It would be effective, an efficient and productive use of all his efforts. Toil did not enter the picture until Adam rebelled against God as disconnected from Him. God said,
Cursed is the ground for your sake [i.e., because of you];
In toil you shall eat of it
All the days of your life
Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.
(Genesis 3:17-19)
Operating under a curse, full of thorns and thistles, eating by the sweat of your face — that’s toil! It was never what God planned for us. Jesus came to deliver us from the curse, so that we might enjoy the blessing (Galatians 3:13-14).

Right now the world is all in a twitter, full of fear about the economy. Many Christians are, too. They are operating in a toil-based mentality, thinking that it all comes down to them and what they can do. But we have the promise of God, and it is the promise of blessing. It is not based on toil, or even on work, but on faith in what He has said. When we take God at His Word, receive His wisdom and believe His promise, our work will be effective and productive, not toil. Riches will then be added to us, with no regrets.

Let your thinking be changed by the promise of God. Examine your choices and actions to see whether you are making toil-based decisions, or decisions based on God’s blessing.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Therefore We Will Not Fear

In the LORD I put my trust;
How can you say to my soul,
“Flee as a bird to your mountain?
For look! The wicked bend their bow,
They make ready their arrow on the string,
That they may shoot secretly at the upright in heart.
If the foundations are destroyed,
What can the righteous do?”
The LORD is in His holy temple,
The LORD’s throne is in heaven.
(Psalm 11:14)

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah.
(Psalm 46:1-3)
Do not let the economy throw you into fear. God has not gone anywhere. He is still enthroned in heaven. He still rules over the earth. Indeed, as David said,
His eyes behold,
His eyelids test the sons of men.
The LORD tests the righteous.
(Psalm 11:4-5)
God sees everything that is going on. He is testing us, proving us. Not to see where our hearts are and in whom is our trust—but to reveal it.

The enemy of our souls is trying to get us worked up and overwrought. “Ah, no, look at what is happening,” he says. “The foundations are destroyed — what can the righteous do?”

The righteous can keep their cool and remain seated. See, God is on His throne in heaven. Jesus is seated at His right hand, “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every named that is named” (Ephesians 1:20-21).

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, the Dow and every other name you can think of — Jesus is seated far above them all, and so are we! God has already raised us up together with Jesus and seated us with Him in the heavenlies, at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 2:5-6).

Jesus is not rattled, and we have no reason to be, either. Why? David said it very well:
For the LORD is righteous,
He loves righteousness;
His countenance beholds the upright.
(Psalm 11:7)
We have His promises and He has already made every provision for us. He not only beholds us, He upholds us.

In Psalm 46, David sings of God, who is our refuge and strength. He is a “very present” help in the time of trouble—literally, abundantly available help.

Therefore, we will not fear.
  • Though the earth shakes, rattles and rolls, we will not fear. Our foundation, both for this life and next, is secure in God.
  • Though the mountains be carried out to sea, we will not fear. Jesus taught us to “have faith in God” and speak to the mountain (Mark 11:22-23).
  • Though the waters rush and roar, we will not fear. Jesus is in the boat and He will speak His calm to the wind and the waves, if we will trust Him and say, “Peace, be still.”

No matter what is going on in the world right now, make the choice and determine that you will not fear. Put your trust in God and let His love be perfected in you and cast out all fear. (1 John 4:18).

Friday, October 3, 2008

Partaking of the Divine Nature (Part 1)

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:2-4)
Peter encourages and exhorts believers with the prospect of sharing in the divine nature. James R. Payton Jr. probes the matter in a recent article in Christianity Today. He asks the question, “Is salvation solely about us and our need to be forgiven and born again, or is there a deeper, God-ward purpose?” From a study of early Church Fathers, he answers,
The leaders of the ancient church thought so, speaking regularly of salvation in a way that may sound strange to many evangelicals, but which Wesley alluded to in some of his hymns. In particular, they envisioned salvation as theosis, an ongoing process by which God’s people become increasingly “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), formed more and more in God’s likeness. As the 2nd-century theologian Irenaeus urged in Against Heresies, “Through his transcendent love, our Lord Jesus Christ became what we are, that he might make us to be what he is.” The great 4th-century defender of Jesus’ divinity, Athanasius, put it even more forcefully: “[God] became man, that man might become god.” [James R. Payton Jr. “Keeping the End in View: How the Strange yet Familiar Doctrine of Theosis can Invigorate the Christian Life.” Christianity Today, October 2008, 67.]
Clearly, there is a moral component to Peter’s words, having to do with God’s “virtue” or goodness and believers escaping “the corruption that is in the world through lust.” Believers are enjoined, accordingly, to add virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love to their faith (2 Peter 1:5-7). However, that does not exhaust our participation in the divine nature, for Peter also speaks, in verse 3, of divine power, and what has been given to us by it, as well as the divine glory by which we have been called.

Peter was no stranger to this divine power and glory, and it was more than a theoretical construct to him. He experienced it firsthand. Along with James and John, Peter saw the Lord Jesus transfigured before his eyes. “His [Jesus’] face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). Certainly, Jesus partook of the divine nature by reason of being the Second Person of the Trinity, but here He was in his humanity, His body revealing the glory of God in a tangible way. There is no inherent contradiction in the human body partaking of the divine glory, as indeed the Incarnation as well as the Transfiguration demonstrate.

Peter also witnessed the power of God at work through the human body of Jesus and the many miracles He performed. Indeed, Peter preached to Cornelius that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). Though Jesus was and is the Son of God, in His earthly ministry He was anointed by God with the Spirit and power, and it was because “God was with Him” that He went about doing good and healing. Here again, we see Jesus in His humanity partaking of the divine nature and power.

Before He ascended to heaven, Jesus promised the disciples, of whom Peter was one, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). The same Holy Spirit and power that was on Jesus to go about doing good and healing would also be upon them. Their witness came not only by word but also by power, as the balance of the book of Acts demonstrates. Again, there is no inherent contradiction in a human being partaking of and manifesting divine power. Peter experienced this divine power, for example, when he and John healed the lame man (Acts 3:1-10), and when he raised Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:36-42). There is also the unusual example of when people brought their sick out into the streets where Peter’s shadow might pass over them, and they were healed (Acts 5:14-16). This was not Peter’s doing, but the power and glory of God at work in Him, accomplishing it through him.

In his first letter, Peter recognized other aspects of the divine nature at work in God’s people. He blessed God, “who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you”(1 Peter 1:3-4). Believers share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to partake of divine immortality. As Paul said, “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53).

First Peter 1:23 reminds us that we have been “born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” This is a heavenly birth, brought about by God’s own word, and as Jesus taught Nicodemus, by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-8). Believers partake of a divine conception and birth.

[Part 2]

Partaking of the Divine Nature (Part 2)

[Part 1]

Believers also partake of divine ability. Peter’s discussion of charismata (grace gifts) is found in 1 Peter 4:10-11 and is very succinct:
As each one has received a gift [charisma], minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
Where Paul gives a more extensive list in his discussion of the gifts in Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:14, including gifts of utterance (e.g., prophecy, exhortation, tongues and interpretation of tongues) and gifts of action (e.g., showing mercy, helps, administrations, gifts of healings, working of miracles), Peter has two categories: speaking and ministering. These are not to be done in our own natural wisdom, ability and strength, but in that which God supplies.

Edwin A. Blum sees a connection between spiritual gifts and the immediate context of 1 Peter 1:4. Commenting on verse 3, he says,
God has called believers “by his own glory [doxa] and goodness [aretē]” — that is, God in salvation reveals his splendor (doxa) and his moral excellence (aretē), and these are means he uses to effect conversions. In bringing people to the knowledge of himself, God’s divine power supplies them with everything they need for life and godliness. Probably what is in view is the work of the Spirit of God in believers, providing them with gifts and enabling them to use these gifts. [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, 12 vols. 12:267-68.]
What does it mean to partake of the divine nature? James Starr asks,
Does 2 Peter mean deification? The answer to that is it depends on what is meant by deification. If the term means equality with God or elevation to divine status or absorption into God’s essence, the answer is no. If it means the participation in and enjoyment of specific divine attributes and qualities, in part now and fully at Christ’s return, then the answer is — most certainly — yes. [James Starr, “Does 2 Peter 1:4 Speak of Deification?” In Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions, ed. Michael J. Christensen and Jeffrey A. Wittung (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 90.]
Robert M. Bowman draws these conclusions:
The point is that the phrase “partakers of the divine nature” need not, on the assumption that “divine nature” refers to God’s essence, mean that Christians are to possess God’s essence in themselves ... Rather, God’s essence will dwell in them (through the Holy Spirit) and in so doing will transform their lives. [Robert M. Bowman, The Word-Faith Controversy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 192.]

Lastly, some comment on the meaning of “nature” (physeōs) is needed. The word is used quite rarely in the New Testament (eighteen times, counting adjectival and adverbial forms) and always with the simple meaning of what is intrinsic or essential or “natural” ... Peter, then, is speaking of God’s essence and is saying that Christians are to experience the benefits of having the essence of God dwelling in them. This is a reality that has already begun, but its full realization will come when we have fully “escaped the corruption in the world by lust,” that is, when we are made incorruptible and immortal. It is a marvelous truth that the actual essence of God dwells in the believer. [Ibid.]
Contrasting how the early Eastern Church differed from the Hellenistic viewpoint on divinization, James Payton notes this important distinction,
The leaders of the ancient church in the East seized on this familiar concept but filled it with new content. Whereas the usual notion entailed being absorbed into God like a drop in an ocean — losing consciousness and individuality forever — Eastern church leaders insisted that in deification we are made like God yet remain distinct from him. The way they put it is that we experience his “energies” but do not share his “essence.” This distinction is crucial, because it clarifies that for the Orthodox, becoming like god is not the same as becoming identical with God. We can never become the same as our Creator (the Uncreated), though we can take on crucial aspects of his character and being. [James R. Payton Jr. “Keeping the End in View: How the Strange yet Familiar Doctrine of Theosis Can Invigorate the Christian Life.” Christianity Today, October 2008, 68.]
Partaking of the divine nature is more than a matter of moral likeness to God. Believers in Jesus Christ are born of a divine word, with the anticipation of sharing in the divine immortality of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have the capacity to experience and manifest divine power and glory. We partake of the divine Spirit who has gifted us with divine abilities. Just as Paul taught both the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12-14), Peter likewise demonstrates an awareness of both. We should not think that our participation in the divine nature is limited to one or the other.

It is also important to recognize that partaking of the divine nature does not mean that we lose our identity and distinctiveness. We become like God, just as Adam was created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), but we do not become identical with God. That is, we do not become God Himself. The Creator/creature distinction always applies.

God is infinite; we are finite. Though we may partake of divine knowledge, wisdom and power through the gifts of the Spirit (e.g., word of knowledge, word of wisdom and working of miracles in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10), that does not make us all-knowing, all-wise and all-powerful.

If the divine nature is God in His essence, we may partake of it only in the sense that He indwells us, but not in the sense that we actually become Him. The distinction between the “energies” and the “essence” of God is helpful. We may actively share in His energies, the communicable attributes of God (e.g., the fruits and gifts of the Spirit), but we can never fully comprehend who He is in Himself. We are vessels and reflectors of His glory, but the essence of it is His alone.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Last Resort is the Only Hope

LORD, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I do not get involved with things
too great or too difficult for me.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself
like a little weaned child with its mother;
I am like a little child.
(Psalm 131:1-2, HCSB)
David comes before God like a little child. He is not trying to figure out everything — or anything. He has weaned himself away from all that. He is coming simply to be with God, to sit calmly and quietly with Him. He has come to the place in his life where that is more than enough for him.

That is how we each must come before God, like little children. Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). It is a position of utter dependence. Just as a little child is helpless apart from his parents, we must realize that we are completely helpless apart from God alone.

The pervading delusion is that we have any viable option beside God. That was the lie the serpent sold Adam and Eve. God had already created them in His own image, and to be like Him (Genesis 1:26-27). But the devil conjured up an “alternative” before their eyes: If they would take the forbidden fruit for themselves, they would be gods in their own right. So they “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).

They thought they had options, but came to realize, to their great sorrow, that what they had chosen led them only to emptiness and despair.

After years of wantonness and waste, and a life of exercising his “options,” St. Augustine came to this profound conclusion, recorded in his Confessions: “God, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in You.” He had come now to the last resort and discovered, joyfully, that it was his only hope, and more than enough.

David, king of Israel, calmed and quieted his heart from all other matters apart from God. His heart and his eyes are no longer full of himself; his hand does not reach for things that did no belong to him. He is satisfied in God alone, and from that place of quietness and contentment, he gives this wise counsel to his people:
Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
both now and forever.
(Psalm 131:3)
The joyful discovery in life is that your last resort is the only hope you will ever need. Put your hope in the LORD, both now and forever.