Thinking about God and His Friendship with His People (Part Three)

Psalm 25:12-15

Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. His soul shall abide in well-being,  and his offspring shall inherit the land.  The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net (ESV).

How did David find forgiveness for his confessed great sins? How did he light the way for others in the same kind of difficulties? David traced forgiveness back to its real source. He does not say “for my sake” nor “for the sake of what I have earned or deserved”. Instead, he looks to God’s name—his true character. He believed what God said about himself—that he forgives sinners. He believed that God would forgive even great sin, in order to show the greatness of his glory. “To forgive a great sinner like me will bring you great glory, Lord; therefore, for your name’s sake forgive me.”

Learn well how this verse is contrary to a legalistic attitude. A mentality of salvation by works looks at the man or woman and their indebtedness and actions to find mercy, but salvation by grace through faith looks higher to the goodness of God. Instead of being staggered by how much he or she owes, faith looks to the precious blood of Christ and pleads more vigorously for forgiveness for the sake of God’s name.

The more we see how serious and hideous our sins are, the closer we are to forgiveness. We wrote in our previous post on this psalm about calling our sins by biblical names, like rebellion, trespass, and missing the mark. Now, we need to see that all of our sins are great, because they are against the great God. In every sin we despise God’s greatness, mock his wisdom, twist his love, and make something else our god (cf. Col 3:5).

So, where is our hope when we admit that we are great sinners? When God interacts with those who repent and believe, all he does is in conformity with his love and faithfulness (25:10). He shows the mercy of his purposes and the truthfulness of his promises.

The Lord confides in his people. The Hebrew is well-translated by the NIV here (cf. Proverbs 3:32). It means “confidential speech”. It is the speech of one friend to another (Psalm 55:13-14). This has been God’s way with believing people from long ago. He wanted to tell Abraham what he was going to do with Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:17). God chose not to act until he told his servants the prophets what he was going to do (Amos 3:7). So over the course of thousands of years, as God prepared to send his Son when his time had fully come, God gave increasing revelation to his people about the Messiah. And so that his people did not miss the Messiah, he sent John the Baptist to point him out clearly (John 1:29-31).

It is in Christ that God confides in us most closely. The Messiah is our covenant. The Lord said to his Servant, the Messiah: “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness (Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV, my emphasis). Christ our covenant calls us his friends, assuring us of a hearty welcome into his company (John 15:15). And since we are in Christ, we have the source of all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). God’s invitation is now to lay hold of his deep friendship by faith (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Our tragic problem as sons and daughters of God is that we settle for far too little. God has provided the way to know him in Christ, and has promised a warm welcome in him, yet we stand at a distance, imagining that God doesn’t really like us that much! We go on a wild goose chase for intimate friendship, when God invites us to draw near to him and promises that he will draw near to us (James 4:8). Dear friends, the way to friendship with God is wide-open and near. We need only approach the Father by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

Redeeming Love

IMG_3670Ruth 4:5-12

Last time, we read how Boaz followed through on his promise to redeem Ruth, if possible. However, he knew there was an obstacle in his path; another kinsman was a closer relative of Naomi and had the first right to redeem. At first “Mr. So and So” agreed. He saw a perfect opportunity to add property to his estate. However, people were also part of the deal, and he was unaware of this.

So then, Boaz clarified the cost of the deal (4:5). Having shown what his relative was able and willing to do, Boaz proceeded to show what he is not willing to do. Boaz told him that the cost to redeem was greater than he thought. The people of Christ’s time had wrong ideas about the work of the Messiah. They thought that all that was involved was freeing Israel from political oppressors. “Defeat the Romans and we’re free! We believe you can do that Jesus! You can be our king” (see John 6:15). But when Jesus explained them what God’s plan for the Messiah really was, they weren’t interested. They did not want to turn from their sins and to trust in him for eternal life (see John 6:35-66). The cost to have the Messiah was greater than they thought.

Boaz told “Mr. So and So” that he must also marry Ruth to maintain the name of her dead husband (and through him, Elimelech’s name also). In that culture, the first son born to Ruth would inherit all the property that had belonged to Elimelech, and thus his name would not vanish from Israel. (Recall that the people and the land where important concepts in old covenant Israel.) This disclosure revealed the full cost of this redemption. If he redeemed the land, he would not simply gain title to it at the year of Jubilee, because Elimelech would have an heir, and it would go to Ruth’s son. Put simply, the man would be out the price of redemption with nothing to show for it, and his own family would lose the money that he had spent to redeem and to care for Naomi and Ruth. Their inheritance would not increase.

Faced with these conditions, “Mr. So and So” refused to be the kinsman redeemer. It is important for us to realize that he was under no legal obligation to redeem. It was a voluntary act. As far as the law was concerned, he was okay. But as far as love, kindness, loyalty and compassion were concerned, he failed miserably. As far as we know, he had not helped Naomi and Ruth; now, he flatly refused to help. His money meant more than kindness. This is where the story can get uncomfortable! Do we too easily look for excuses not to help others in need? They might need the kindness we can show, but do we look for a way out, for a way to justify our inaction? “It might cost me too much! I might endanger my retirement fund!” Yes, you might. But where are you seeking to build up treasure? “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)

For this reason, he handed over his rights to redeem to Boaz. Guess what? He got to keep his money! But there is something else. He vanished from the pages of Biblical history, but God had something better in store for Boaz, though neither man knew it at the time.

In chapter one, we saw the contrast between Ruth and Orpah. Neither one had to return with Naomi to Bethlehem. Both were legally free from any obligation to help her. Orpah took the easy way and stayed in Moab. Ruth made the hard choice of faith and trusted that God would help her as she helped Naomi. And as the story has unfolded, we have seen God’s blessing on Ruth, since she trusted in him. In this chapter, we see two men, Boaz and his unnamed relative, who have a choice to make. “Mr. So and So” made the easy, worldly wise choice, and like Orpah, he walked away from the story of God’s glory and is lost in history. Boaz made the hard, costly choice to redeem and is remembered wherever the Bible is read. What choice are you making? Are you making the easy choice to enjoy life now? Or are you making the hard choice to lay up treasure in heaven?

But we should see more. In the hard choice of Boaz, we should see the One who is greater than Boaz, the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not have to redeem us. He could justly have let us perish forever in hell. But love and kindness stirred him to make the hardest, costliest choice. He chose to take our sins upon him and die on the cross as our substitute, in order to pay the full penalty for us. He did that for us so that we might be free from sin and live forever with him in glory. Are you trusting in Christ our Redeemer? Are you praising him for dying to set you free? Are you rejoicing in his redeeming love? Today, right where you read these words, turn from your rejection of God, your refusal to love God and others, and your rebellion against his ways and trust in the Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. If you call on him, he will save you. If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

Grace and peace, David

Hope in a Redeemer

IMG_1063Ruth 3:1-2

Redemption is costly. We should not be surprised, since everything in life comes at some kind of price, whether of money, work, investing time in relationships, helping to carry someone else’s burdens, etc. Many champion “unconditional love”, but they fail to see that someone pays the price, someone suffers loss of some kind to help or to forgive or to set free. It is better to talk about “sacrificial love”, because that is God’s kind of love. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16 NIV). I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20 NIV).

Let’s think of the meaning of redemption: To redeem is to set free by the payment of a price. The redeemer must give something to secure the release of someone. As we have said, Ruth and Naomi were in a precarious financial position, since they were widows. Ruth’s hard work of gleaning had eased their crisis temporarily, but how could they be securely free? They needed a redeemer. To gain freedom, a price must be paid. God built this idea into the old covenant law. Consider two examples:

  • Since God delivered Israel through the means of the plague on Egypt’s firstborn, God required Israel to redeem all its firstborn males, whether sons or animals (Exodus 13:1-2, 11-16; cf. Numbers 3:40-51).
  • God required his people to protect human life. This included keeping dangerous animals, like bulls, from harming people. If a person’s bull gored a man or a woman to death (what we might call involuntary manslaughter), the bull had to be destroyed, but the owner could redeem his life by paying whatever was demanded (Exodus 21:28-32).

Boaz would have to pay to redeem Ruth and Naomi, when he functioned as their kinsman redeemer.

God redeemed his people by the payment of a ransom price. In the shadows of the old covenant, God gave Egypt and other nearby nations in exchange for Israel’s freedom (Isaiah 43:3-4). In the reality of the new covenant, God gave the precious blood of Christ to redeem us from an empty way of life (1 Peter 1:18-21). For this reason, don’t live for evil human desires; live for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-5).

Redemption provides hope for the future. At this point of the story of Ruth, we have reached the turning point. When Naomi saw how much Ruth had gleaned and learned in whose field she had gleaned, she regained hope (cf. 2:20). She returned to worship, because she thought about redemption and began to act according to it! This also set Naomi to thinking about remarriage for her daughter-in-law. Picture her making scones one day. (By the way, Sharon makes great scones!) Picture Naomi musing about her new career as a matchmaker. “Let’s see… Ruth is an eligible young woman, and Boaz is one of our kinsman redeemers. Now if I can get the two of them together in a more promising romantic situation than when Ruth is sweaty and dirty from gleaning, Mr. Boaz might notice Ruth. If we do this right, he might want to do more than give her some roasted grain. Hmm, what can I do to help this along?”

In a far greater way, God planned to give us hope and a future in Christ. We were hopelessly in debt because of sin (Romans 6:23), separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship in God’s nation and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). We were destined for wrath (John 3:36). But God decided to send his Son as a kinsman-redeemer. To make him eligible as our kinsman, he put him in the human family (Hebrews 2:10-11), in order to redeem us through Christ’s blood, so that we might have our sins forgiven (Ephesians 1:7), and receive the free gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23). This is the story of God’s glory; it is good news for us.

My friend, have you trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your Redeemer? The Lord Jesus paid the very costly price necessary to set free all who believe in him from sin, guilt, condemnation, and wrath. Freedom from all these is offered to you through faith in Christ. Today is an excellent day to receive the free gift of eternal life.

Grace and peace, David

Draw Near in Faith

DSCN0203Hebrews 10:22

God invites us to draw near in full assurance of faith. We see here the total necessity of approaching God by faith. God is only pleased when we come in faith in what he has done for us in Christ. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). The Lord wants us to rely totally on him. Faith “holds on to truth and reasons from what it knows to be fact” (Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, p. 144). So then, as the old hymn “Jesus Paid It All” expressed God’s invitation to us, “Child of weakness, watch and pray; find in me your all in all.” Faith relies on God as our all in all.

God has been pleased to bless us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3ff), but he only allows us to enjoy these blessings as we live by faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:20). One of the greatest blessings is that we have a place in the Father’s family through the grace of adoption (adult sonship). We are sons through faith in Christ, and so if we are to enjoy our position as sons, we must do so by that same faith. I call this the Colossians 2:6 principle: So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him (NIV). God allows no reason for self-confidence, even for the believer. Without Christ we can do nothing! Remember John 15:5. But as we believe in Christ, an inexpressible and glorious joy is ours! Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory… (1 Peter 1:8 ESV).

We see the degree of confidence in Christ that we ought to show; namely, full assurance of faith. This kind of assurance flows out from a believing knowledge of Jesus, our great high priest. “Though Jesus Christ is so highly exalted in glory, yet he is not forgetful of us on earth. Some, when raised to places of honor, forget their friends; as the chief butler, when restored to his place at court, forgot poor Joseph in prison; but it is not so with Christ; though exalted to such glory in heaven, he is not unmindful of his saints on earth” (Watson, A Body of Divinity, p. 207). Jesus deeply cares for you, regardless of your struggles with guilt feelings. Faith confidently lays hold of the greatness of Jesus, the great high priest, and his one-time, finished sacrifice for sin. The mark of true spirituality is not doubt, but the freedom and joy of full assurance.

Is this full assurance yours? You must first believe in Christ and then live by faith on him. As you follow him, the Holy Spirit will bring about bold assurance. The walk of faith experiences the unchangeable character and grace of the Lord Jesus and develops fresh dependence on him while the Spirit testifies to his greatness. Well did Isaac Watts write the following words: “Jesus, my great High Priest, offered His blood and died; my guilty conscience seeks no sacrifice beside. His powerful blood did once atone and now it pleads before the throne.” Amen! Praise the Lord!

Hearing this is one matter; doing this is another. We must actually draw near to God with the confidence that our consciences are cleansed through the finished work of Christ. Right now, boldly approach God the Father through his dearly loved Son. Enjoy the welcome he offers to you!

Grace and peace, David

The Shield of Faith (Part One)

IMG_0457Ephesians 6:16

The fourth stanza of the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” opens with the words, “When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie, my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply” (Trinity Hymnal, revised edition, #94). Is this not the common experience of every follower of Christ? We have trials, and we receive grace. Has the following ever happened to you? You have just woken up in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Then suddenly, evil thoughts have come to you, perhaps even blasphemous or filthy thoughts. You were not thinking about such things. You just woke up, but there they are—horrible thoughts floating around in your mind! And then you might think, “How can I possibly be a Christian and think such things?” My brother or sister in Christ, if that has ever happened to you, do not think it something strange or unusual. A flaming arrow of the evil one has hit you. But what should we do? How can you and I counter that kind of attack? How can we live in the face of such pitiless assaults? The Holy Spirit through the apostle presents us with his way of spiritual warfare. Let us think on God’s word together.

Faith is crucial in spiritual warfare. An ancient soldier without his shield was in deadly danger. The word used for shield in this verse is not the one for the little shield that was also carried by the soldier, but for the large shield that the soldier could hide behind. When carried by many soldiers together, they could form a wall. The shield was often put together in such a way as to make it resistant to attacks by flaming arrows, which were used to wreak havoc and destruction on enemy forces, like later generations would use an artillery barrage or missile attacks.

Faith is the believer’s shield. Faith has three elements: knowledge of the good news (gospel), assent to the good news, and trust or dependence on the good news. The good news points us to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the object of real saving faith. We do not have faith in faith, but faith in the Lord Jesus (John 3:16). Like the other parts of the armor of God, genuine faith in Christ is a gift of God (Acts 13:48; 16:14; 18:27; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29; 1 Timothy 1:14). Faith leads us away from self-reliance or dependence on money, things, and other people to trust in Christ alone.

Faith has a crucial place in the believer’s life. At the time of salvation, the Holy Spirit presents the ability and sufficiency of Jesus Christ as Savior and God’s promises of eternal life to all who will believe. By the gift of faith, we trust in Jesus the Lord, and entering into union with Christ, we are saved. From that moment on as we trust in the Lord, the Spirit of God strengthens our faith, enabling us to make use of Christ’s fullness as our prophet, priest and king and to participate in every grace and blessing in Christ.  We are able to draw strength for him. At the same time the Holy Spirit produces his fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) in us to develop resistance to the fiery darts. As faith unites us to the Savior, so faith receives from the Lord all that we need for our daily walk. We must actively depend on Christ to receive what we need to live for God’s glory and to enjoy the Lord. We must rely on him when we face the attacks of the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12).

Grace and peace, David