If You Didn’t Do This on Sunday

Psalm 104:1

Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty (ESV).

It’s Tuesday. It’s a perfect time to ask about your worship experience this previous Sunday in your local church. How was it? I am not asking about the performance of your worship leaders and musicians, your pastor or other speaker, or whether you enjoyed yourself. This is a question about your worship of the true and living God. Did you meet with God in his living temple, the people of God (2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:4-5)? Did you humble yourself before him, as you sang his praises? Did you sing or only listen to others sing? Did you bow in worship as God’s word was read and proclaimed? Or did you merely act like you were listening, while your mind was somewhere else? Did you worship?

One of the purposes of gathering with our brothers and sisters in Christ is to worship. Perhaps last Sunday you all met to serve or to go fishing for people (Mark 1:17). Those are also purposes of a church, and we need to invest time together in them. However, usually when we gather, we ought to worship, and this can be done wherever we meet. But the questions remains. Did you worship last Sunday in your gathering?

A thoughtful look at our text above displays what ought to be happening.

  • We are to bless the Lord. Worship is about him and for him (cf. Romans 11:36). It’s not about you or me. It’s about the Lord. We gather to lift him up in our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions. It is a time of personal interaction, the people of God meeting with him to express his overwhelming significance and goodness.
  • It involves the core of our beings. Bless the Lord, O my soul! We should worship God from the inner person of our hearts. A proper heart engagement will show up in the face and the words. I have seen people very excited and involved at family gatherings, parties, and sporting events. They participate from their souls. It clearly is of importance to them. Why does the typical worshiper look detached or bored or even comatose? We must bring our souls to worship. Listen carefully. In worship, we are in the presence of the Almighty God through Christ by the Spirit. If that doesn’t stir you, nothing will.
  • Worship is a personal action. O Lord my God. Sharon and I have a little granddaughter, only seven weeks old. When we hold her and talk with her and kiss her, it is not the same as gazing at a reference book. We do not seek mere information, but personal contact with her. We love to see her smile. We should want to make the Lord smile by pleasing him.
  • Worship exalts the Lord. You are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty. We say this, because we have a sense of his reality. We gain this as by faith we listen to God’s revelation of himself in his word, and the Spirit opens his greatness to our hearts. For example, if the word is telling about Hagar’s reception of mercy when she was sent away by Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 21), you respond with joy in your heart that the Lord cares and watches over the weak, even when others don’t care. If it speaks of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, you rejoice like his disciples did on that day. You praise the Lord.

If you didn’t worship on Sunday, you can on Tuesday… and every other day of the week. But please, stir up your soul to worship when you gather with the Lord’s people this coming Sunday. Do not sit there like a cold lump of clay. Your Lord deserves much better from you. He wants your heart. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37 ESV).

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Fourteen)


Romans 8:9-10

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this one is not his. But if Christ is in you, on the one hand the body is dead because of sin, but on the other, the Spirit is life because of righteousness (my translation)

When we become followers of Jesus Christ through faith in him, we are new people, because we are “in Christ”. On the spiritual level, everything is different because of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The “Spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit, and not the human spirit, as the NIV and NASV mistakenly translate. Here the ESV, HCSB, NKJV, KJV and TEV are better. Why should we translate the Greek word pneuma as the “Spirit” in this text?

  • In the verses immediately before and after, every other use refers to the Holy Spirit. Those who translate it as meaning “human spirit” must present compelling evidence for a change.
  • Translating as the Holy Spirit at the end of verse ten agrees with the thought expressed in verse eleven, which clearly refers to the Holy Spirit.
  • “The ruling thought of the verse is that although believers die and this fact is conspicuously exhibited in the dissolution of the body, yet, since Christ dwells in believers, life-giving forces are brought to bear upon death and this life is placed in sharp contrast with the disintegrating power which is exemplified in the return to dust on the part of the body. Reference to the Holy Spirit as life is signally congruous with this thought” (Murray, NIC Commentary on Romans, p. 290).

We are no longer “in the flesh”. What does this mean? “The contrast between being ‘in the flesh’ and ‘in the Spirit’ is a contrast between belonging to the old age of sin and death and belonging to the new age of righteousness and life. So characteristic of these respective ‘ages’ or ‘realms’ are flesh and Spirit that the person belonging to one or the other can be said to be ‘in’ them. In this sense, then, no Christian can be ‘in the flesh’; and all Christians are, by definition, ‘in the Spirit’” (Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 489). Listen to Romans 7:5-6. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (ESV).

“It means that the Christian is in a new realm. He was living before in the realm of ‘the flesh’, he is living now in the realm of ‘the Spirit’. The Spirit is controlling him and leading him; he is ‘walking in the Spirit’, he is ‘walking after the Spirit’. This is the great and profound change that takes place at conversion. It is not just that a man changes his beliefs and no more. No, he was in the realm of the flesh, and he is now in the realm of the Spirit” (Lloyd-Jones, Exposition of Romans 8:5-17, p. 58).

Can a Christian be affected or influenced by the flesh? Yes, we can, if we walk in conformity with our old position in the flesh and not according to our new position in the Spirit. Listen to Galatians 5:16. Now I say, walk in the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the lusts of the flesh. So then, the Christian is faced everyday with choices. Choices constantly come about whether or not we will live by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit follow him. The alternative is to live like we are still in the flesh. The battle is for your mind (Romans 13:14; Philippians 2:5; Colossians 3:1-2; etc.). As Jim Boice used to say, “We want to teach people to think and to act Biblically.”

So then, let’s evaluate ourselves and our self-view as we live the new life?

  • How do we look at ourselves when the devil comes to attack us in order to depress us?
  • When you are weary and tired, physically and spiritually, what is your attitude?
  • When you are persecuted and think that everyone is against you, what happens inside you?
  • When you are tempted to sin and return to the ways of the flesh, what do you tell yourself?

The answer in each case is to see yourself in Christ and so blessed with great spiritual blessings in him.

The Spirit is the source of life. “Paul is teaching that the believer, although still bound to an earthly, mortal body, has residing within him or her the Spirit, the power of new spiritual life, which conveys both that ‘life,’ in the sense of deliverance from condemnation enjoyed now and the future resurrection life that will bring transformation to the body itself” (Moo, p. 492). The apostle addresses an important point here. We might doubt, supposing that because we see Christians still subject to death, that we might not really be partakers of new life. But Paul directs us to the Holy Spirit as the life we have. New life is not yet in our bodies, but in the Spirit, because of our union with the risen Christ!

How can guilty sinners have new life? This life is ours because of righteousness, which means in the teaching of Romans, because of Christ’s justifying grace (5:21)! The question is, “Are you united to Christ through faith by the Spirit of the living God?

Grace and peace, David

Thinking about God and His Friendship with His People

Psalm 25:8-15

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way (Psalm 25:8 ESV)

Previously, we considered two prayers that open this encouraging psalm. It is a meditation on the covenant friendship between God and his people. In the first part of the psalm we observed David’s confession of his struggles about his hope, his need to learn God’s ways, and even his relationship with God. Now after two prayers in which he confessed his struggles, he stopped to think about God and the people who are friends of God.

In the opening chapter of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin wrote the following, which will assist our own meditation of the subject of this psalm. “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves… As long as we do not look beyond the earth, being quite content with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, we flatter ourselves most sweetly, and fancy ourselves all but demigods. Suppose we but once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and to ponder his nature, and how completely perfect are his righteousness, wisdom, and power—the straightedge to which we must be shaped. Then, what masquerading earlier as righteousness was pleasing in us will soon grow filthy in its consummate wickedness. What wonderfully impressed us under the name of wisdom will stink in its very foolishness. What wore the face of power will prove itself the most miserable weakness. That is, what in us seems perfection itself corresponds ill to the purity of God.” [1.1.1-2] This is the great problem of our day: “We flatter ourselves most sweetly.” Although such flattery may make us feel good for a while, in the end it is destructive, warping our opinions and leading us away from the God who is able to meet our true needs. David has turned from flattery; now he thinks about the God who is there and speaks, the God who should be our truest friend.

David directed fellow worshipers to think about the character of God. The Lord is good and upright. When we think of God being upright, we mean his moral perfection. His character is perfect (Deuteronomy 32:4), his ways are perfect (Hosea 14:9; his works are perfect (Psalm 111:8), and his word is perfect (Psalm 119:137). By God’s goodness we mean his moral perfection in benevolent and generous action.

God is generously good; he wants his creation to share the joy of his glory. God shows his goodness in two ways. The first is called “common grace” (Psalm 145). God created everything “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Though God cursed creation because of human sin (Genesis 3:14-19), the curse is within the larger context of showing greater glory in Christ restoring all things (Romans 8:18-30). So even now in common grace he preserves life and provides the blessings of life (Acts 14:17). The second way God shows his goodness is called “special grace” (Titus 2:11), which is all he does for the salvation of those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Followers of Christ share in the glory of redeeming grace.

At this point we must avoid a trap. The trap is having a ‘formal theology’ that is contrary to our ‘functional theology’. What do I mean? On one level, we Christians can talk with each other and say, “We believe that God is good. Amen.” But how do we live our lives? Do we think that God is holding out on us? Do we view God as somehow demanding that we obey him without joy? Do we think that he puts the cookie jar in front of us, but never lets us have any cookies? “One of the deepest deceptions is the lie that there is something good out there and it is better than what God gives” (Welch, Addictions, p. 192). Do we think that everyone else is having fun, and that God really wants us to be miserable? Don’t listen to Satan’s lie that God is not good, and that sin is really good. But this is where our struggle lies!

Here David tells us what God does because he is good and upright. Since he is good, he instructs sinners in his ways. Since we are sinners, he knows that we need to know his ways. The compassion of his goodness reaches out to us, as a caring adult reaches out to help a lost child.

The devil makes unbelievers blind to lead them more easily to hell, but God teaches us his truth to guide us to heaven. He did this especially in sending Christ, who is our prophet, priest, and king. Before Jesus died for sinners, he preached to sinners for three years. Yes, more than that, Jesus pleaded with people to have a change of mind and believe the good news about himself (Mark 1:15). More than that, he promised a kind welcome to all who come to him (Matthew 11:28). More than that, he guaranteed that all who come to God through him will never be driven away (John 6:37). And today, his Holy Spirit welcomes all to come (Revelation 22:17). Right now is an excellent time to believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved!

David found assurance that his prayer to be taught (25:4-5) would be answered because of the character of God. If we want to leave the paths of sin, we should be encouraged that the Lord wants to teach us exactly how to do that, not only by information, but by teaching us about Jesus (Ephesians 4:20-21) from the inside out.

Grace and peace, David

What God Does in Our Lives

Romans 8:28-29

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (NIV).

One day by grace, we heard Christ call us to follow him. Since that time, we have been on a spiritual journey in which God develops his purpose in us. He acts in us according to his will and good pleasure. Perhaps we don’t think often enough that he is active inside us by the Spirit and the word. He forms new thoughts, ideas, and attitudes; for example, the calmness of depending on him, as we walk through circumstances in which we can do little else. When you’re on the operating table right before emergency surgery, he teaches this quickly.

God is active in our lives, but what is he actively working for? Our text quoted above tells us that God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. We need to listen carefully at this point, because we all want to define what the good is. However, let’s walk away from our own desires (a.k.a. self-denial) and embrace what the Lord desires for his people. The Spirit tells us two aspects of his purpose.

First, God acts in all things that we will be conformed to the image of his Son. God wants Christ to be formed in us (Galatians 4:19). The Spirit forms us by the gospel and making the presence of Christ real to us, so that we have “Christ-structured” lives. For example, as you read the Gospels, you see Christ’s patience with people, both his disciples and his opponents. People failed to grasp what he said, and so he had to repeat, repeat, and repeat. The Spirit wants that same kind of character in us; therefore, he directs us in situations which require great patience from us. Will we fail? Yes, many times, and the Lord knows that we will fail. But the goal is Christ-likeness, not what we call perfect behavior. God does not seek a group of perfect little Pharisees, but people being formed into Christ-likeness.

Second, God acts in all things that we will be part of many brothers and sisters of whom Christ is the firstborn. In other words, God’s purpose is for each follower of Jesus to be part of his spiritual family. The goal for an individual follower of Christ cannot be detached from the whole family of believers. You see, holiness is not an individual matter; it is a family matter. Consecration to God is what happens when we walk in love together toward God. In Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan paints a scene where Christian vaingloriously runs ahead of Faithful, and then in his pride falls. Christian cannot get up to continue the journey until Faithful comes and helps him to stand. In the same way, God has ordered that our destiny involves a spiritual journey with our brothers and sisters in Christ. So then, we must become Christ-like together.

Have you been attempting your spiritual journey toward glory by your own definition of good and in isolation from close fellowship with others? If so, please let this text redefine your journey. Submit to God’s purpose and seek partnership with other followers of Christ.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part One)

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (Psalm 19:1 NIV).

Psalm 19 is a great hymn for public worship composed by David. Its subject is God’s revelation in nature and in the Scriptures. This psalm calls us to consider the excellent nature of God’s disclosure of himself to all people everywhere in nature. Even though it is of such a high quality, it does not exhaust all that the Creator says to those made in his image. God has also given verbal communication to people in his word, the Bible. Only by this higher revelation may we learn about God’s will and his grace. Then having acknowledged God’s revelation, we must evaluate ourselves based on what God has said to us.

True worship is always the worship of God alone. We do not worship the Bible or the creation, but the God who revealed himself in both creation and the Scriptures. So then, this psalm calls us to bow before the God who is able to communicate clearly, consistently, and constantly with mankind. In a world that continually suppresses the knowledge of God, the people of God ought to rejoice that we know the living God, who can speak! We do not walk in darkness, but we have a steady source of light. Be glad, believer in Christ, and sing!

The apostle Paul also discusses the concept of revelation in Romans 1:18-23 and 10:11-21. There we find that general revelation (God’s witness to himself through what has been created) is sufficient to cause all people everywhere to be without excuse, but it is only the Scriptures that can give the knowledge that makes us wise unto salvation (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15).

Here is a brief outline of Psalm Nineteen:

  • General revelation (19:1-6)
  • Special revelation (19:7-11)
  • Response to God’s revelation (19:12-14)

Verse 1

David uses one general example from creation of how God has spoken to mankind. “Look up and around you to the heavens and to the sky. Both tell you the greatness of the living God.” If we would look at ourselves or at all creation on a microscopic level, we would also see God’s majesty. But David tells us to look at the immensity of the heavens and the skies that surround our living space. Look at them and think about the God who is immense enough to make what to our senses seems to stretch out forever.

Notice that God designed the heavens and the skies to communicate. They declare and proclaim. This is not communication by words but by pictures. From our earliest days, our senses are confronted with these living color pictures that say to us, “Stop, look, think. Who made us and who made you?” As the Hebrew text makes plain, this communication always occurs. It intrudes upon us, whether we will have it or not. God speaks through it in a way that it is always in our face.

The person of faith has nothing to fear from true science, for its only materials for thought and investigation have been formed by an all-wise Creator. The “opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20) are a problem, but never true science.

What do the heavens and the skies speak of? They tell us about the glory of God and the work of his hands. “The God who made us is majestic and deserving of honor. Be impressed by the weight of his magnificence.” In our time, few things seem to impress us. Our attitude is “So what? Let me get back to having a good time.” The creation calls out, “No, no, no! Leave your preoccupation with yourself and meditate on the glory of God.” So then in this psalm David invites us to add our praise of the God who speaks to that of creation crying out his glory.

To think about the glory of God means that we must consider his ability to act, to create, to do. Creation says that the hand of God is its maker (Psalm 8:6; 95:5; cf. 1 Chronicles 29:12; Isaiah 59:1). Here we have God speaking through what he has made to tell us that he is able to make all things. And this ought to furnish ample material for praise in public worship. Is it worthwhile to worship? Oh yes, for we serve the One True God who is mighty!

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Thirteen)

Romans 8:9-10

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this one is not his. But if Christ is in you, on the one hand the body is dead because of sin, but on the other, the Spirit is life because of righteousness (my translation)

In this series about the Holy Spirit, we are looking at the gift of the Holy Spirit’s saving work in applying the salvation purchased by the Lord Jesus Christ. Why do we need this gift? We need it because humans are dead in sin. But the Spirit is able to meet this need by regenerating grace, which involves a washing and renewal (Titus 3:5), and which conveys an image or likeness unto God (Colossians 3:10). When the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to cause us to be born again, four things happen:

  • He gives a new heart (inner person) and life
  • He gives the gifts of repentance and faith
  • He breaks the power of sin
  • He opens our hearts to Christ and his glory

The old person of the heart that was dead in sin is born again, so that we are now new in the Lord Jesus Christ. All this happens as the Holy Spirit brings us into union with Christ. “In Christ” is the key idea of salvation. All aspects of salvation, whether regeneration and conversion, or justification, or adoption, or sanctification, or glorification, happen because of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ.

In this article and the next, we will look more closely at this union with Christ that the Spirit of God produces. How does it affect us? Why do we who belong to Christ need to know this truth? To grasp what the Spirit does, we need to understand our present situation. Think carefully. As soon as the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ, we Christians enter into a new experience. There is the tension between life and death.

  • On the physical level, nothing immediately changes. The curse of Adam’s sin remains on our physical bodies (Romans 5:12). The body is dead because of sin (Romans 8:10). This explains why Christians still die physically. Our spirits are reborn, but the body stays in the realm of death.
  • Although saved by grace, we still experience the evil of our enemy, death. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor 15:26 ESV; cf. 2 Cor 4:7-12, 16; 1 Th 4:13).
  • This explains the reason for our “groaning” in this life. 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 firstfruits 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 8:22-25 ESV).

Christians should boldly face all of reality, including death. We can share in the sorrows of our unsaved family and friends. We know the truth of the separation that death causes.

Though not spoken of in this verse, the sinful, physical body continues to be the playground of sin. A large part of our struggle with sin concerns sin’s use of the body (Romans 6:6, 12-13, 19; 12:1). Our union with Christ demands that we take this struggle seriously (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

But do not think that the sinful body is our only problem. The regenerate human spirit is also capable of sin (2 Corinthians 7:1; cf. Philippians 2:1-4; Colossians 3:5; etc.). Though we are new in Christ, we are not yet perfect in Christ. There is a very significant difference between (1) being a new person in Christ and having the reign of sin broken (Romans 6:14), and (2) what is still to come when we are perfect in Christ, free forever from the possibility of sin in glory. For this reason, we look forward in hope to the redemption of the body (Romans 8:23, quoted above).

So then, we must face the reality of our present condition. We are new in Christ and united to him by grace through faith. However, we still wait (patiently) for the fulfillment of all we will be in him. New life is tremendous, but in this present age, we still struggle. We are new creation people in an old creation world. Next, we will look at specifics about the way the Spirit of Christ helps us to live for God’s glory in this time.

Grace and peace, David

Do Everything in Love

1 Corinthians 16:14

Let all that you do be done in love (ESV).

God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). He desires that we are like him. He wants our inner beings to be love, and our conduct to demonstrate his kind of sacrificial love (Ephesians 5:1-2). He desires the full compass of who we are and what we do to be love. But….

Yeah, we all really struggle here. As followers of Christ, we want to imitate God’s love, and I think we make serious attempts for comprehensive loving behavior. But it’s a fight to love in everything. I know it sounds strange to put the words “love” and “fight” together. (If you thought of marriage during that last sentence, be thankful that your spouse can’t completely read your mind!) Seriously, we don’t want to admit that it can be difficult to do everything in love, to do the wise actions that demonstrate God’s kind of sacrificial love to our family and friends. On the other hand, we will admit that it’s very difficult to love sacrificially our neighbors, coworkers, and enemies. You see, we suppose that we basically are loving people, and if circumstances don’t mess with us, we will do everything in love.

We ought to do everything in love, but in our text, the Holy Spirit through the apostle decided to instruct us about this. Why do we allow a cross word, an angry look, a small disappointment, or a subtle exclusion of us set us off into actions that are anything but loving?

The answer is not in the circumstances that upset us. It is inside us. Godly behavior is not like the checklist that we all are supposed to do before driving cars. Do you remember that checklist from driver’s education? Before we began to drive, the instructor made us check so many things about the car, the passengers, and the surroundings. We haven’t yet taken our granddaughter anywhere in our car, but there will be new items on that mental checklist! But godly love is not conformity to a checklist. It rises from something inside you.

The something is the love of God. God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:5b). Radical change has happened to those who follow Christ. The Spirit has come on us to fill our inner persons with God’s love. This love reached us at the time we were “weak”, “ungodly”, “sinners”, and “enemies” (Romans 5:6, 8, 10). It was love that reconciled us to God. It gives us a new position in Christ before God. It starts to transform our condition in the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

The inner person or heart is the place from which we start to do everything in love. We have a sweet assurance that God loves us. New thoughts develop in the heart. “Since God loved me when I was his enemy, I can reach out with his kind of love to my enemies. Since God loved me when I was a sinner, I can forgive those who have stepped out of line in their treatment of me. Since God loved me when I was ungodly, I can bear with those who are unlike me. Since God loved me when I was weak, I can help those who are too weak to interact with me as they should.” Thoughts like these begin to develop new attitudes. We see people, not as those to be criticized or condemned or cast off, but as those who ought to receive the benefits of sacrificial love – God’s love through us.

This change comes from within as we lay hold of the truth that we did not deserve God’s love. It came from his grace and mercy. It came through great cost, the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. God’s love is cross-shaped, and it remakes our thoughts and attitudes in this same cross-shaped pattern. We then begin to do everything in love, not because love is an item on our checklist, but because it is the pulse of our hearts. God’s overflowing love causes us to overflow with love for others. Doing everything in love comes from a heart filled with God’s love.

Grace and peace, David

The Source of Love (Part 2)

1 John 4:19-21

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister (NIV).

God’s love produces love in us. The experience of God’s character transforms our spiritual condition. Consider this. One of John’s great word pictures of God is that God is light. When light enters a room, it overcomes the darkness. In this picture of God being light, God is holy and his holiness produces holiness in his people (1 John 1:5-7).

  • In the same way, God is love and his love produces love in his people. As his light overcomes darkness, so his love overcomes our hatred.
  • John exposes three black lies (1:6; 2:4; 2:22-23) in this letter. All three lies falsely claim that a person can know God and yet not be transformed by fellowship with God. Such false claims deny the power of God’s character (cf. 2 Tm 3:1-5).
  • But God is the God of glory (brightly shining excellent worthiness), and when we encounter him by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, his powerful glory starts an ongoing transformation. God’s holiness, truth and love bring about change. Think of a light on a dimmer switch. Before you push it to turn on the light, there is darkness. And as you turn up the switch, the light becomes brighter. As our fellowship with God increases, our lives shine brighter with his holiness, truth and love.

In what ways is the intensity of God’s glory changing you? For example, God is faithful. Is faithfulness developing in you? God is patient and kind. Are you patient and kind?

God’s love creates love for God’s family. The parts of our lives are not disconnected. Contemporary people wrongly assume that a person can be one sort of a person in one role and another sort of person in another role. For example, “he or she is a good political leader, even though he or she is sexually immoral.” While that it might be true of work that is mere technique, it is not true of anything that involves morals. A jealous person might be able to shovel the snow out of your driveway, but that does not mean that they shovel out of kindness, or that they will necessarily do a “good job” shoveling snow. Unless a person has a change of mind about sin, it eventually affects performance.

In the same way, we cannot disconnect our relationship with God from our relationship with God’s people. For example, some say, “I’ll trust God, but I’ll never trust another Christian!” But according to this text, such an attitude is not possible. If you cannot love your brother, whom you can see, you also cannot love God, whom you cannot see. Why? “If the first commandment is that I should love the Lord my God with all my heart and mind and soul and strength, then it must follow of necessity that I am greatly concerned about doing what God asks me to do. And what does God ask me to do? The first thing He asks is that I should love my brother” (Lloyd-Jones, The Love of God, pp. 197-198). My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you (Jn 15:12 NIV).

God’s commands agree with the principle of relationship. The Lord has commanded us to love God and to love our neighbors. The two greatest commands are so closely joined that loving God requires that we love one another. John draws this statement from the teaching of Jesus (John 13:34-35). Following Christ is demonstrated to the world by our love for one another. And this kind of love flows from grace, and not out of worthiness of the object loved. God loved us without a cause in us, and so we must love one another in the same way.

This is where true Christianity gets tested. We do not love each other because we feel, “What fine people they are! They like me and I like them!” No, that is far from what the Lord is saying. We love, because we have been deeply affected by the source of love, God, and the power of his love, having transformed us, reaches out to love others. Is this true of you?

Grace and peace, David

The Source of Love (Part One)

1 John 4:19-21

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister (NIV).

True Christianity is not involvement in religious activity or keeping a list of rules and rituals. Instead, it is a relationship with the living God. The apostle John likes to use two terms to set forth this relationship. The first is fellowship, which speaks of sharing life with God (1:3, 6-7). The other is know, meaning more than the knowledge of facts or the knowledge of skill, but the knowledge of a person (2:3-4). We know God personally.

In his first letter John is intent on declaring the transformation that occurs when a person has a real relationship with the living God. He says that three changes occur when a person knows God and has fellowship with God.

  • He or she confesses the truth about God (2:22-23; 4:6)
  • He or she obeys God’s commands (2:3-6)
  • He or she loves God and the people in God’s family (3:14; 4:7-8)

In a couple articles this week, we will consider the transforming character that comes from a real relationship with the living God.

God’s love is the source of our love. Humans do not naturally love. Rebellion against God, who is love, has twisted our nature. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another (Titus 3:3 NIV; cf. Romans 3:12-17). Since this is true, there is no starting point in any human from which he or she can develop a relationship with God. We do not “stretch out our finger” to receive God’s life giving touch. By nature, we are opposed to the God of love.

“We must once and forever get rid of the idea that God loved us by way of response either to something that is in us or to something we have done” (Lloyd-Jones, The Love of God, p. 194. God encounters us as enemies, who are spiritually unresponsive (dead in sin). “The love of God is self-generated, self-moved, self-created; and it is the very first postulate of the Christian gospel to realize that” (Ibid).

Therefore, God must take the initiative with any person for there to be a relationship between him and any person. Here are some actions that God took that we might know his love and then love others.

  • This initiative began before the beginning of time. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9 NIV). God knew what sin would do, so he planned a solution before the problem occurred.
  • The Father sent the Son to rescue us from our sins. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10 NIV).
  • The Son came to carry out the mission of salvation. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10 NIV).
  • The Spirit of God testifies to the truth about the Son of God, so that we can know God’s love for us in Christ. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth (1 John 2:20 NIV; cf. 5:6-10).

On this Valentine’s Day, think on the great story of God reaching out to you in his amazing love? Has the Triune God established a relationship with you? Respond in love to him.

Grace and peace, David

Prayer Two of a Struggler

Psalm 25:4-7

People want to know and to be known. These are powerful cravings. Witness the desires for information about what is happening from a multitude of websites and to tell others about ourselves in social media. Yet when we look at life from God’s perspective, we can see our own inadequacies. And this stirs up anxiety in us. David expressed his feelings about seeing himself as God saw him, but he nevertheless drew near to God.

David struggled with walking in God’s ways. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long (25:4-5 ESV). David knew his weaknesses. He had an accurate self-image. He knew he had blind spots and an enemy in his own inner person (remaining sin). Still, David had a learner’s attitude. Even godly men need to learn (2 Corinthians 5:9). Years ago, we visited a church where a friend was pastor. He was an accomplished teacher of God’s word. He sought to stir his congregation to attend Sunday School with these words. “I still need to learn; I’ll be in Sunday School.”

David knew what he needed to learn: what pleases God. He was not interested in a mere outward conformity, but in really learning a way of life that is consistent with God. For this reason, he opened himself to the teacher, his covenant Lord. He wanted practical instruction. We want you to be able to use this article on Mondays, Thursdays and all other days.

David knew the entrance requirements for God’s school of grace. He knew God’s teaching flowed out from the fact that God was his salvation. In God’s school, everything starts with knowing the Lord as Savior. From the full light of the New Testament Scriptures, we know that this is the gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16-17). A profitable next step is to focus on God choosing you, the Savior dying for you, and the Spirit helping you. David knew that the application of the teaching related to an active hope in the Lord (cf. Colossians 1:5-6; Titus 2:11-15). We cannot make progress in godliness apart from living in hope in Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:1-4).

David struggled with his friendship with God. Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord! (25:6-7 ESV). He wondered if God’s friendship could be depended upon in two crucial areas. But instead of fretting about these matters, he approached God as his friend and talked to him about them.

David wanted God to remember his great mercy and love. Observe his God-focus. “Lord, consider yourself!” Remember your great mercy and love. This is how to pray in faith. Bring God into your story, because you are part of his story. He strengthened this with an appeal to God’s long story of glory.

He did not want God to remember his sins. David confessed his sin clearly. He did not hide or evade. He put everything on the table. He confessed the sins of his youth. The godly man shudders about what the world winks at. He spoke about rebelling against the Lord. It was not little, but major sin. See his example: Use biblical concepts about what sin is to assist in making your confession genuine. But after his confession, he asked his covenant Lord to remember him according to love, God’s love. His plea was not a mistaken reliance on his covenant loyalty, as some wrongly talk in our time. Instead, his plea depended on God’s commitment to be faithful to his covenant promises. Since David was a sinner, how could he do this? He lived in hope that one day God would provide a better sacrifice for sin. He depended on God’s promise of the Savior. And one day on Golgotha, God showed that his promise was completely trustworthy as God himself paid the penalty in full for our sins.

You and I are all sinners; yes, all of us are! Yet I have good news today! The living God welcomes you to forgiveness and righteousness in his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. If you are feeling guilty because of your rebellion against God, God has provided the way to be cleansed from guilt through Christ’s perfect, once-for-all sacrifice.

Grace and peace, David