A Holy Relationship

Leviticus 19:2

Speak to the entire Israelite community and tell them: Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy (CSB).

In fulfillment of his covenant promises to Abraham (read Genesis 15), the Lord God had brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to Mt. Sinai. There he formed them into a nation that was to be holy (Exodus 19:4-6) or set apart to the Lord. Everything about their way of life from that great event onward was to be marked by consecration to the Lord. They were not to live like the other nations. Peter succinctly described the way of life of the nations in 1 Peter 4:3. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry (NIV).  Pagans here is more accurately translated as the nations. A pagan way of life is simply the way of life of the people of the world. God ordered a new way of life for the people of Israel, and he defined this by particular commands. This required a revolution in their thinking and how they lived. Everyone else lived according to their sinful self and its pleasure seeking. But at Sinai God instructed them to live according to his pleasures and character. They were chosen to reflect the glory of God.

To say this was not easy is a massive understatement. It was impossible—apart from the grace of God by the Holy Spirit.

If you and I have followed the Messiah for several years or were brought up in a Christian home, it is to forget how people that are not set apart to the Lord live. When God instructed Israel to be a consecrated people, it was a radically new way of life. For this reason, the Lord needed to instruct them in detail. In Leviticus 18, the instruction was primarily about sexual relationships. In Leviticus 19, the Lord instructed them about other matters. In some kinds of systematic theology, it is popular to divide God’s law into moral, ceremonial, and civil categories. Leviticus 19 shows that it a hopeless task. All are simply the instruction of the law covenant to the people who had to live under it.

Instead of doing that, let’s observe three things that are essential for the way of life of the Lord’s people.

  • We are to be holy or set apart, because the Lord our God is holy or set apart. What is he set apart to? He has consecrated himself to his glory, the fame of his name, the righteousness of his character. By grace, we are to be like the Lord.
  • God urges us to live his way, because he is the Lord. He himself is the starting point for how we evaluate what to live. For Israel under the law covenant, this involved behavior that was basically an avoidance (“do not”) of what the nations did. Some of these matters related only to their life as a nation, producing a distinctive appearance to their persons and their worship, economy, and so forth. Every Saturday and festival day, everyone could tell the difference. But all was to be done because he is the Lord.
  • The Lord requires us to live in love. Here is the Second Greatest Command (Leviticus 19:18). An examination of each of these commands will show that they are either a demonstration of love to God, love for people, or both.

In the same way in the new covenant, our way of life starts from the reality of what God is. In Colossians 1:15-20, the apostle set for the glory of Christ. In the remainder of the letter, he applied that to how Christ’s people ought to live. Let’s think more often about how the identity of the Lord should transform our lives.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Eighteen (Part Four)

Psalm 18:7-19

The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry (18:7 NIV).

In this psalm, David taught his people to sing with him about God’s deliverance of him, so that they might have confidence that God would bring full deliverance one day through the Lord’s Anointed, the Messiah. He previously declared the desperate situation he was in. Next, he pointed out in marvelous poetic pictures God acting to rescue him.

We gain our identity from big events in our lives. In birth, we enter this world and a family. That family gives us our name and forms our basic ideas, expectations, habits, and morals. It can take our God-given personality and either nurture it or twist it. When a man and a woman join in marriage, they give what they are to each other, and they form a new family identity, which in turn will nurture the new partners or twist them.

God gives us a new identity when he saves us and makes us part of our people. Our new identity comes from the event of redemption. God intends it to form us increasingly into his image, as we walk with each other in newness of life. Sadly, what we learn and experience with others in a local fellowship of believers can distort us from what our likeness to God ought to be. If you’re with people that are greedy or angry or judgmental or shallow, you will be influenced by their attitudes and behavior. In this new covenant age, the redemptive event is what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross and his resurrection. We ought to be gospel formed people. Our identity then influences how we think and act: You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20 CSB). Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1 NIV). The truth of the gospel sets the direction of our way of life.

In the old covenant, the event of redemption was the exodus from Egypt, including the crossing of the Red Sea and the receiving of the law covenant at Sinai. Much of what we hear about the old covenant people Israel in the Prophets and the Writings flows from the exodus. It gave them their identity. They were a physically redeemed people. Why did I go into this matter? It matters because David wrote about his deliverance from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul (see the heading of this psalm) through the “lenses” of the exodus. He used the language of the crossing of the sea and the giving of the law to talk about how the Lord rescued him.

We can speak of poetic language and metaphors, but this is more than that. It is personal and redemptive. David understood that the God of the exodus and Sinai was the Lord who delivered him. It was the God who redeemed his people from their enemy Egypt who delivered David from his enemies.

In our next post on this psalm, we want to look at the imagery that David used from the exodus and Sinai. But at this point, let us examine ourselves. Do we consciously think of ourselves as redeemed people? Does the truth of the gospel events permeate our world and life view? Do we act as people set free by Christ? We have a lot to glory in. Let us move forward with the joy of redeemed people. But the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 35:9b-10 ESV).

Grace and peace, David

Consistency

Colossians 1:29

To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me (NIV).

My wife and I each have a car, which we need to get to the places God has called us to go. This is hardly an amazing fact, but the cars have different keys. My key will not start hers and vice versa. I carry both sets of keys on one ring, and this provides a time for contemplation, since when I’m in my car, I have a push button start. Her car requires the insertion of the key into the ignition switch. Since I drive my car more often, it is easy to reach for the button rather than inserting the key when I’m in her car. Habit is a good gift from God, but it doesn’t replace thinking.

We live in a world in which we are taught from infancy to do things for ourselves and to be self-reliant. This also is good, because Sharon and I expected our children to tie their own shoes, as soon as possible. But self-reliance can easily become twisted by sin to become reliance on ourselves, instead of trust in God. There is a “fine line” where this happens. You cannot draw it on a map or describe it in a book. We might talk about this a long time in a small group and not reach a definite conclusion. Life is not lived by acting in conformity with manuals for behavior. But that is not the topic of this post. Instead, it concerns more simply serving the Lord consistent with his glorious person.

It is far too easy to carry the “keys” of worldly self-reliance into service for the Lord. Programs, the performance of “worship teams”, form of “church government”, rituals, buildings, training for ministry leaders, and so on occupy center stage in the conversations and planning meetings of local churches. “If we would do what that successful church does, then we would enjoy the same success” is a widespread attitude, regardless of how it is nuanced. I am not arguing for untrained leaders, dirty and uncomfortable buildings, and woeful music. However, I am addressing an attitude that is far too pervasive and dominant.

Our Lord invested time in training the apostles for the work he called them to do. He gave instructions on how to do it. But part of his instruction concerned the need to rely on him for spiritual power. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5 NIV). We all need to return to “Christ-reliance”. We all need to… excuse me while I use a ‘four-letter-word’… We need to pray.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul provides examples of prayer to that church. He began that short letter with along section on thanksgiving and prayer (1:3-14). He asked for prayer (4:2-4). He pointed out how the founder of their church wrestled in prayer for them (4:12). What does prayer have to do with all this?

Prayer is a believer’s conversation with his or her God. We come as his adult children, friends, and coworkers. We acknowledge to accomplish spiritual good that we require his almighty power. We want to serve the Lord with all the energy Christ so powerfully works. There is simply no other way that we can accomplish anything of spiritual and eternal value. It brings great joy to see the Lord at work in the lives of many people. When a person begins to live according to Christ (cf. Col 2:8 ESV), it is an artwork of spiritual beauty. Godly ideas, attitudes, words, and actions flow out from him or her, as the Spirit forms Christ in them. This is what we long for, but it is beyond our ability. Only the power of God can produce godliness.

We must pray.

Grace and peace, David

Building a Supernatural Focus

Recently, in our local assembly, we heard a message from 2 Kings 6 about the presence of God with his people. The idea was to live with an awareness of the supernatural during this year. God is with us, and we ought to act consistent with that reality. A couple days later, I was asked to lead our small group study. Usually, there are questions connected with the Sunday message. But since there were none, I developed what followers. Look at each of the points below as “feeder streams” into the large stream of our comprehension of the presence of Almighty God with us.

Since we have faith in the true and living God, the people of God ought to look at life from the perspective of living in the presence of the Almighty, Sovereign Lord. Christ with us by the Spirit is one of the core realities of being a member of the new covenant people. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). God is with us (Hebrews 13:5)!

How can we build a supernatural outlook more consistently into our way of life?

  • Set our minds on heavenly matters. This is the idea of Paul’s “heavenly thesis statement”. Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4 NIV). Add to this the spiritual investment advice that Jesus gave us (Matthew 6:19-21).
  • Invest time in prayer with our Father in heaven. Unlike the worldly-minded person that “spends time”, children of the heavenly Father ought to invest time. We should be in a continual conversation with our God. Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (Colossians 4:2)
  • Live in the awareness that true Christianity is supernatural. It only happens as God is at work in us. Every part of the walk of faith requires God’s all-powerful activity in us. God made us alive when we were totally helpless, spiritually dead.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV). To experience God’s love in Christ requires the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19 ESV). Since we encounter spiritual opposition, we must rely on the Lord’s amazing power. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Ephesians 6:10 NASB)
  • Develop a walk in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (Colossians 2:6-7 ESV; cf. Galatians 5:15-26; John 15:5). Our way of life is joined to an ongoing experience of Jesus Christ as Lord. He is the one who rules over everything for our benefit. We live in his kingdom (Colossians 1:13). As we connect with him, his presence and power change us. If we lose connection, we lose the ability to grow and flourish.
  • Read the Bible as it is, a book through which God acts powerfully. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers (1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV). When we read the Bible, we must remember that it is the very word of God, the voice of the Lord God speaking to us. This word is used by the Spirit to change and to transform us (Romans 1:16; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23).
  • Remember that we live in relationship with God, who is supernatural. Our fellowship or sharing of life is a vital connection with the living God. What we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may also have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3 CSB; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 13:14).
  • Expect God to work in our lives and in our local assemblies. Listen to the apostle Paul describe his way of ministry. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me (Colossians 1:29 NIV). It all happened as Christ worked in and through him. This is the way ahead for our churches (Acts 2:47; 4:31; 9:31; Romans 15:13; 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 5:5-7). We don’t need more or better programs, buildings, and church staff. We do need the presence and power of the Lord Christ acting in us.

So then, let’s take each of these and build them into our daily outlook and way of life. Taken together, they will help us build a supernatural focus this year.

Grace and peace, David

Rejected

Isaiah 53:3

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem (NIV).

Most people can understand the bitter pain of rejection. It is often experienced in childhood on various levels. We might have felt rejection in being the last person picked for kickball or because we wore glasses at a young age. Teen years might have brought the rejection of being “shot down” or never asked regarding dates, being excluded from the “in” social groups. Young adulthood might have brought rejections by colleges and employers, or even the rejection of a broken engagement. Adults experience a multitude of rejections, until finally, older adults sit alone in nursing homes, rejected by most everyone. If you feel rejected, you may weep.

Our verse, however, points us not to what bitterness we might feel from rejection, but to one who came into this world to be rejected, in order that his people might be accepted. The bitter cup of rejection he accepted for our benefit. Take a few minutes to ponder the depths of rejection that Jesus the Messiah felt to bring us salvation and joy. The baby in the manger became the despised man and held in low esteem on the cross. If you sense somewhat of the rejection he received, you may weep.

I wish that his rejection had ended, and that all people everywhere might accept him, bowing before the Lord Christ in repentance and faith. But most of the world prefers to reject him continually, despising both him and his offer of saving grace. Father in heaven, pour out your Holy Spirit, that people might see the glory of your dearly loved Son and turn to him!

While we pray that fervently, we must face the ways that we his people still reject him. This is ugly, but we must understand this ugliness, in order to turn from it.

  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in the theological systems people build. Our knowledge of God and the story of his glory ought to be built on and formed by the Lord and his work. Yet too often, the church’s viewpoints have been crafted around things like covenants, dispensations, rituals and rules, and church structures. I am glad for a few recent books about seeing Christ in the whole Bible, but most fall woefully short in presenting the Bible in line with the Lord of glory.
  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in the way we worship. Someone will object, “But we sing about Jesus in our songs and say, ‘in Jesus name’ when we close our prayers.” Yes, I know that, and I also know that most cannot explain what ‘in Jesus name’ means. Worse still, Christ is our high priest and mediator (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:1; 9:11; etc.), but we do not consciously worship the living God through him. When was the last time that your church was called to worship God through Jesus Christ our mediator? Jesus is the latest forgotten member of the Trinity.
  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in our goals and purposes, both individually and corporately. I’m not talking about church mission statements, which are crafted by people who know they ought to say such things like, “Our mission is to make followers of Jesus Christ.” I’m speaking of the attitude of the local congregation. Too often, a church caters to the whims of church shoppers that want their perceived needs satisfied. We ought to say and to mean, “We gather to make you think like Christ, have his attitudes, and make choices that express his glory and goodness.” Philippians 2:1-11 might be preached and admired, but it is rarely performed.
  • The Lord Jesus is rejected in our love. Listen to what Jesus himself said to the church at Ephesus long ago. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first (Revelation 2:4 NIV). It is one thing to sing, “O come, let us adore him.” It is another to adore him with the choices you make. Will we choose to love Jesus today in our hearts and way of life? He desires our love, and he wants us to share his love with others. Let us return to him today.

Grace and peace, David

Holy Desires (Part Nine)

2 Corinthians 5:18-21

Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: “Be reconciled to God.” He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  Working together with him, we also appeal to you, “Don’t receive the grace of God in vain.” For he says: At an acceptable time I listened to you, and in the day of salvation I helped you. See, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation! (CSB)

Usually when we think and talk about desires, we confine the topic to human desires. We fail to take into consideration God’s desires. This contributes to an impersonal view about God, but God is very personal. He wants our hearts to get in line with what he knows and loves as good, holy, merciful, and kind. God desires that sinners hear his message of reconciliation.

God makes known his desire through his holy word, the Bible. Two ways we see his desire in this passage:

  • The quotation from Isaiah 49:8 – God does minister help to those in need; God is committed to help those who declare the good news, whether Christ, or the apostle Paul, or the Corinthians, or you and me.
  • The testimony of the apostle – “Be reconciled to God” (5:20)

God makes his desire known through the ministry. He has given the ministry (5:18) and message (5:19) of reconciliation to us. Since God is still the sovereign Lord and humans still rebel against God, the great and necessary task in every generation is to serve God and people by proclaiming the good news of reconciliation. As has been said, there are two things you can do on earth that you can’t do in heaven: sin and tell others the good news of Jesus Christ. Can you guess which one God wants you to do?

We serve as ambassadors from the Great King to sinners. We have been commissioned to communicate God’s way of peace to other people and to appeal to them to be reconciled to God. When a pro basketball team is trying to sign a key free agent, it will enlist its already signed players to appeal to the free agent to sign with the team. We are on God’s team and we ought to urge others to join us. We have a high calling to declare God’s message precisely and clearly, and to do it in a way that makes known God’s desire for reconciliation. Are you doing your part on his team? Let’s not brush this question aside! Let’s face our responsibility and fulfill it.

God desires that we share his desire. We are to communicate his encouragements to people to be reconciled to God. We beg you (5:20). “We cannot fail to detect the strong note of urgency and compassion in the Apostle’s language” (Hughes). When you beg someone to do something, you really want him or her to do it, don’t you? Today is the pleasant or welcome time (6:2) for anyone to return to God in repentance and faith.

We are to communicate the Lord’s urge for people to be reconciled to God. We appeal or urge people (5:20; 6:1). God’s message is to become our message. We must look at people and opportunities to talk with people with God’s eyes.

Now… now…. We live during the time when people may be saved. At the second coming of Christ, the year of God’s favor toward sinners ends and judgment comes. Seize the opportunity that God has given to you to tell others the good news.

Grace and peace, David

Holy Desires (Part Eight)

2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us (CSB).

Every day our hearts are drawn between many competing desires. Some of these are easy, totally up to our preference, and it really doesn’t matter what choice we make. But others concern the eternal destiny of other people, and God wants us to have a holy desire when we are faced with matters of this magnitude. The question before us is: “Do I share God’s holy desire about other people?” Let’s focus our attention on his desire and then evaluate ourselves about whether or not we share God’s holy desire. God desires that sinful people be reconciled to him. By nature, we are separated from God because of sin. Our first parents rebelled against God and we persist in rebelling against the Lord. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear (Isaiah 59:2 ESV).

Consequently, a state of war exists between God and sinners. We were God’s enemies (Romans 5:10a NIV). God must uphold what is holy and good (loving God and loving others), and sinful people oppose God’s desire for what is holy and good (Romans 3:9-20). People by nature are separated or alienated from the living God. Suppose a husband gives his wife a necklace with a one-carat diamond hanging from it. Now suppose that another woman coveted that necklace and began to reject the woman with the necklace because of her jealousy. That coveting and jealousy would be evil and would cause evil. Now suppose that you find yourself thinking, “Why did God allow billionaires to have so much money? Why didn’t he give it to me?” Now that would also be evil. Rebellion against God and his precepts fills our world. The Holy God must act against rebels who would ruin what God has made.

God has made a way of reconciliation, the way to restore the relationship between him and people who are alienated from him. The basis of God’s plan is the saving work of Christ. God meets and matches human rebellion by his love to us in Jesus Christ. For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10 NIV)

  • Since we couldn’t do anything to remove the alienation and since we didn’t want to anyway, God provided the way for God and sinners to get back together. In order to bring two parties together, one must have a way to negotiate a settlement. Those who follow professional sports see this happen all the time. The management of the team and the athlete must bring offers and counteroffers to the table.
  • At the cross God counteracted the penalty that rebellious people had earned (Romans 3:24-26; 6:23). In the crucifixion of Christ, God demonstrates his justice and is able to declare us right with him because justice has been upheld.

The result is that God doesn’t have to count people’s sins against them, because Christ paid the penalty for sinners. Are you reconciled to God through the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you desire to see others reconciled to God?

Grace and peace, David

Holy Desires (Part Seven)

2 Timothy 2:22

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (NIV).

The Lord directs us to grow up our desires among the fellowship of his followers. Notice the words along with those. We must eliminate the “lone ranger” approach to growth in grace. When Christ saved us, the Spirit put us into the Father’s family and Christ’s spiritual body. God wants us to walk the walk of faith with other followers of Jesus. Consider the many “one another” commands and exhortations in the New Testament Scriptures. (See a previous post on that subject.) Certainly, we need to walk with God personally, but that walk must include our spiritual partnership with other believers. Fellowship with other believers will helps us mature, because of what believers are by God’s powerful grace.

Observe how believers are described here. We are focused on the Lord; we are those who call upon the Lord. We are people known for prayer. A Christian prays. Two aspects of prayer to consider:

  • We worship God; we recognize his worthiness. God uses our words of praise and of confession of the benefits of walking in his ways and teaching about God’s significance to stir each other to live in conformity with his reality. There is something encouraging and convicting about hearing another Christian say in a small group, “The other day I experienced this in my walk with God.” We spur each other on when we share how the living God is presently at work among us.
  • We seek help from God; we make bold requests to our Father in heaven (cf. Luke 18:7). God uses the heart cries of others to draw our hearts together to him. In this day when local church prayer meetings have disappeared, we ought to join together in prayer in every small group meeting.

Believers are a pure people; we call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Our hearts were purified by faith in Christ and his saving work. See how the following verses make that plain.

  • He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith (Acts 15:9 NIV)
  • Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2:14 NIV)
  • How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14 NIV)

We strive to maintain purity, because moral filthiness is disgusting to us, who form the pure bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:27). This begins with a continuing reliance on Christ and his finished work. If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:7-9 CSB). The reality of Christ and his work in the gospel provide practical motivation to keep a pure heart. Consider Paul’s example: I have the same hope in God that these men have, that he will raise both the righteous and the unrighteous. Because of this, I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people (Acts 24:16 NLT). Are we maintaining pure hearts together?

Grace and peace, David

Discover What Unites Us

Philippians 2:1-2a

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete… (NIV).

Philippians is a very rich letter to a local church that had been longtime partners with the apostle Paul in his ministry. If the apostle needed help, they did all they could to provide it quickly. We might almost want to think of them as the ideal gathering of believers, except for the stern reality that ideal churches do not exist in this world. A close reading of the book reveals that they needed transformation in various areas. One of them was their unity.

Paul spoke to their need, first, in sort of in a “back door” manner. He did not bluntly tell them to be like-minded, to share the same love, to be one in spirit, of one mind, and to get rid of selfish ambition, which was the root of their disunity. Instead, he first asked them to make his joy complete. They needed to think of someone else’s joy first. Then, he presented some areas in which they needed change. We all can learn from his tactfulness. He built a better way of life through better relationships.

Christians have been too task-oriented, trying to achieve perfection in themselves and others by beating people with a code of conduct or steps to change. While repeating the cliché, “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship,” to the unsaved, we quickly forget this as we pursue perfection to have a better life.

How did Paul motivate his friends to make his joy complete? He wrote about what they possessed through their relationship with God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. He emphasized spiritual relationships.

  • He reminded them of their encouragement from being united with Christ. Observe that they knew about their union with Christ. It was the relational core of their Christian experience. We ought to wake up thinking about the truth of being united to Jesus the Messiah. This is intended to affect how we think of ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we confront the events of our lives. I have just received word of the “homegoing” of a dear sister in Christ. Praise God for the eternal encouragement that we have because of the gospel.
  • He pointed to the comfort from his love that all in Christ share. We are people that are loved by the Lord; in fact, we are his dearly loved children. Wherever we go and whatever we encounter, we live as his sons and daughters.
  • He recalled their common sharing in the Spirit. We have fellowship with the Spirit of God. He leads us in ways of godliness. He strengthens us in the inner person of the heart. He intercedes for us, because our prayers seldom make sense. He helps us endure, making God’s peace real in our souls.
  • He recollected the tenderness and compassion they had experienced. Paul wrote in part to prepare them for the suffering for Christ that was coming to them. They were in the Lord’s plan together, and they needed to be ready to help one another when the journey to glory would become harder. It makes no sense for Christians to quarrel with one another, when there is a real enemy who delights in our suffering.

Let us remind ourselves of what we share in Christ. The believer that you suppose is a problem is someone who can build you up, or rather, someone whom you ought to bless, strengthen, and comfort. It’s a matter of spiritual relationship in the Lord.

Grace and peace, David

Holy Desires (Part Six)

2 Timothy 2:22

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (NIV).

At an event, I once had dinner with Bobby Knight, the well-known former Indiana Basketball coach. He was the speaker that night and shared numerous stories about coaching. His theme went something like, “To win, you must eliminate what causes you to lose.” It was the typical motivational speech that coaches and athletes love to bring at events.

I mention this because, sadly, this is the impression many Christian teachers give when speaking about the believer’s way of life. It seems they’re saying, “To be sanctified, you must keep the moral law,” meaning in their view, the Ten Commandments. As we said in the last article on Holy Desires, this promotes a wrong view of sin. It also gives the idea that “holiness” is basically about not doing things.

However, a godly way of life is much more than forsaking prohibited behaviors. It requires faith, hope, and love for God and people, as well as the practice of positive Christ-like living. So then, we see in this verse that the Lord wants us to replace youthful desires with holy desires.

In Colossians three, we can learn the larger view of the New Testament pattern for the Christian way of life into which 2 Timothy 2:22 fits.

  • Since we are new in Christ, have Christ-focused, heavenly attitudes and aspirations (Colossians 3:1-4). Everything begins with our union with Jesus Christ and seeing our identity in him.
  • Since we are new in Christ, put off the ways of your former sinful way of life. Occasionally this is stated forcefully: “put to death” (Colossians 3:5-11). Yes, it is necessary to get rid of ruinous behavior.
  • Since we are new in Christ, put on ways of life that are consistent with our new life in Jesus Christ: “clothe yourselves with…” (Colossians 3:12-17). This is what is too often neglected. We must replace destructive attitudes, words, and actions with godly ones.

To say this graphically, God expects his people to wear “new clothes”. Don’t walk around spiritually naked! Dress like the children of God ought to dress. A suggestion is to memorize (or try to memorize) this “dress for success passage” (Colossians 3:12-17).

The four godly qualities set forth in our text counteract and are intended to replace youthful desires in God’s people.

  • Righteousness – conform to God’s instruction with a desire to see righteous behavior established (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:11)
  • Faith – trust in God or faithfulness to God – in either case we will reject human self-sufficiency and continually confess our need of the Lord. Faith is necessary for every step in the Christian walk.
  • Love – replaces selfishness with the desire to seek the honor of God and the good of other people. This turn from oneself to God and others must occur. We are nothing without love.
  • Peace – the striving for harmonious relationships among people, which God intends as one of our chief activities (Matthew 5:9; Ephesians 4:3; James 3:17-18)

So then, the Holy Spirit presents the overview of a truly Christian way of life, and specific matters to change, eliminating the old and developing the new. In our text, Paul directed his friend Timothy to replace the evil desires of youth with four specific ways of godliness. Which one ought to be a priority in your life?

Grace and peace, David