Bragging or Praying? (Part Two)

Luke 18:9-14

The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself:God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get” (18:11-12 CSB).

A person that lacks true humility is not truly right with God. Yes, he or she might be very religious, but that is different from being right with God (18:9, 14). Consider God’s desire. For the High and Exalted One, who lives forever, whose name is holy, says this: “I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed (Isaiah 57:15 CSB). Contrast this with 1 Peter 5:5: Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (ESV, my emphasis).

People should evaluate themselves properly. We need to ask, “How does God view me? What is my true position before him?” To help, let’s look at the Pharisee’s mistake. He compared himself with sinners worse than he assumed he was. He did not compare himself with Samuel or Daniel or Noah. Worse, he did not compare himself with God, like Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-5) and Peter (Luke 5:8) did. He failed to consider that God is completely holy and righteous. The core issue is that the saved person has had a change of mind about themselves in relation to God. He is holy (set apart for his glory), while we are not (we’re glory thieves, trying to make ourselves look good or great).

When you have an eye exam and need to have prescription glasses, the eye doctor will try out various lenses to find out which combination helps you to see most clearly. To see ourselves properly, we need to see ourselves through three Biblical lenses: the lens of creation, the lens of the fall, and, in addition, the Christian must add the lens of redemption. The unsaved person has a distorted view of reality because they don’t want to see themselves as created by God and ruined by sin. They distort or refuse to wear the first two lenses. For this reason, when we witness, we must explain a text like Romans 3:23 (for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God) and not just quote it. Make sure a person understands and kindly press it home to their conscience. What about you? Have you ever compared yourself with God?

The folly of self-trust happens when a person does not realize his or her true, desperate condition before God. One of the key happenings in a genuine revival is the humbling of people before God. “Lord, you are true and righteous; we are false and sinful!” In our day, we have Christians who run around and call themselves “Reformed” and toss around the Ten Commandments as “the moral law” and “the believer’s rule of life” as if they were some kind of test of true holiness. The Pharisee in this parable would have agreed with all that and it did him no good. And where is the burning concern and zeal for the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23-24)?

Think also of the inability of works to obtain salvation and God’s approval. The Pharisee’s reliance on works failed him. He was not right with God though he was outwardly pure (18:11). Though he did “extra works”, like fasting far beyond what God had commanded in the law (18:12). He did not understand that works fail because they cannot save. For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith” (Galatians 3:10-11 NIV; cf.  Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:14-16). Are you right with God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? Or are you under God’s curse?

Grace and peace, David

John and His Message (Part Four)

Luke 3:15-20

And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them (3:19 NIV).

John the Baptist preached Christ. It is easy to overlook this, because much discussion on John focuses on him as a sensationalist preacher, his message of repentance to prepare for Messiah’s coming, or on the ceremony of baptism. However, we should see John’s place in the true story of God’s glory in Christ. As the herald of Christ’s first coming, he preached Jesus the Messiah. A few points should make this clear.

As John preached, the people were stirred to think about the Messiah (3:15). John told them the good news so much that they began to speculate about if he was the Anointed One. The Messiah, as we plan to see in more detail in a later post, would be a preacher of good news to the poor (Isaiah 61:1). When God would come to deliver his people (Isaiah 35:4): Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert (Isaiah 35:6 NIV). So then, as John preached that the Lord was coming in the wilderness, it would have been easy to speculate about who John was (cf. John 1:19-27).

John declared the superiority of the Christ (3:16). He did this in two ways. First, by saying that in comparison to Christ, he was only the lowliest of slaves. Christ was superior to him in his person. He said he was not worthy to stoop down and untie the Messiah’s sandals. In John’s Gospel we hear the attitude of John the Baptist. He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30 CSB). Second, he said that Christ had a superior ministry. John’s baptism was only a sign that testified to a repentant heart. Christ’s baptism is the work of the personal Spirit of God. The Old Testament Scriptures prophesied that the outpouring of the Spirit would signify the blessings that would happen in the end times (Isaiah 32:15; 44:3; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-32). Christ would bring about this age of renewal. This was far beyond anything John could do!

John talked about the salvation and judgment that Christ would bring (3:17). The Messiah was coming to clean house! The winnowing fork was used to toss grain into the air, usually on a windy hill. The chaff would be blown away, while the grain would fall safely onto the floor. Christ was coming to gather in the good grain to be in his house, while those who were not fruitful would be brought to eternal fire.

John preached the good news to his listeners (3:18). This good news was about the Messiah and what he was coming to accomplish. Notice that this was not a “side bar” matter, but that John used many other words.

Here are two practical ideas. First, people won’t like it when we talk about sin (3:19-20). Because John boldly pointed out Herod’s sin, he lost his freedom and eventually Herod had him put to death. Second, we ought to ask if our local churches are known as people from whom others can hear the good news of Jesus Christ? He must be the core of our message (Colossians 1:28-29). Does your gathering of believers preach the good news and show its transforming power to the world?

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Nineteen)

2 Peter 1:20-21

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV).

In our studies in the Holy Spirit, our current focus is about the Spirit and the Scriptures. How did the Spirit of God act through people to give God’s message in written form? Some might suppose that the Scripture writers wrote their own “spiritual journals” about their aspiration to know God. But even a cursory reading disproves that idle notion. The content of the Scriptures does not originate with mankind: for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man (NIV).

The apostle clearly teaches that the prophets did not concoct the Scriptures out of their own choices. They did not have superior insight from their human nature into the human predicament. They did not invent cleverly devised tales. In many passages, you can easily observe the artless words of an eyewitness to an event or those stating what they had been told by God. There is no effort to “clean up the text”. The heroic acts of the people of God are present right alongside their miserable failures. Think of David, Samson, Asa, and Peter, too! Instead, often the prophets wrote things that were beyond their knowledge, like Isaiah’s prediction of Cyrus. At other times, they wrote what they did not even like. Listen to Jeremiah Woe is me, my mother, that you gave birth to me, a man who incites dispute and conflict in all the land. I did not lend or borrow, yet everyone curses me (Jeremiah 15:10; CSB, cf. 20:7-18). Habakkuk had a similar experience. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted (Habakkuk 1:2-4). Jonah has been called ‘the reluctant prophet”, and that is a charitable description.

The phrase for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man puts at least two necessary limits and clarifications on our thoughts about the Scriptures. “The Biblical writers do not conceive of the Scriptures as a human product breathed into by the Divine Spirit, and thus heightened in its qualities or endowed with new qualities; but as a Divine product produced through the instrumentality of men” (Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 153). So though we might call it a joint product, both parties did not contribute to the written product in the same way. A chef and a server both contribute to a pleasant dining experience, but their participation is different. The Spirit spoke through people embedded in their place of history, human culture, and spiritual experience. The emotionally charged words of the human writers arose from their authentic, personal experience, but at the same time, the Spirit sovereignly spoke through their situation. Yes, this is mysterious.

Let’s put this another way. The apostles and prophets did not respond to cultural situations out of their own wills. Yet many argue contrary to this text in cases when the Word of God comes into direct conflict with one of the darling ideas of a godless and wicked culture, such as gender issues or various kinds of sexual immorality. Paul’s teaching on the role of women in the church is not because “he was anti-female,” which is a ridiculous statement anyway.  He did not speak out his desires, but he communicated God’s desires, which seek the peace, joy, and unity of his people.

In the light of these verses, we must all submit to God’s authority in his revealed word and bow before it. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV). This is not a popular position to take in these lawless, anti-God, and anti-authority times, but it is God’s path. Notice how the Spirit commends the Scriptures to us. They are profitable. They convey God’s words to us. We can listen, understand, be transformed, and rejoice. Over the years I have discovered that popular restaurants can be the worst places to get a delicious meal, while neglected ones provide superb dining experiences. Evaluate everything for what it is, not for what the “people manipulators” tell you. Listen to what the Spirit has breathed out in the Scriptures and be thrilled.

Grace and peace, David

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

Psalm 25:8-15

Previously in this series, we have thought about God as the friend of his people. The Lord is good and upright, he forgives great sin, and he confides in his people. Next, we want to consider how to respond to God’s friendship. We must remember that this is an unequal friendship. The awesome Creator and Controller of all wants to be our friend, yet he is God. Therefore, we must always realize that he is God, and not try to pull him down to our level.

This text mentions four ways to express friendship with God (humility, obedience, godly mindedness and fear of the Lord). In this article, we learn that we express friendship with God by being humble before him (25:9).

Humility is hard for postmodern people to come to terms with. Certainly, people claim to be turned off by arrogant, pushy people. Yet, since people like to think they can interpret the world in agreement with their own ideas and preferences, arrogance is fueled by their core values. This results in humility being interpreted as weakness. From a Christian world and life view, humility is valued and essential. How do we attain humility before God? Two ideas:

  • By having a correct view of God (Hebrews 11:6; 1 Timothy 1:17) – We cannot be a friend of the living God, unless we know him as he has revealed himself to us in the Bible. Until we are convinced of his majestic holiness, we will struggle with his right to do as he pleases (cf. Romans 9:20-21), and this will hinder our friendship with God. “You are God; you are God!”
  • By believing that righteousness before God is only through the gospel (Philippians 3:4-9). Too many try to develop a relationship with God based on their religious efforts; that is, by keeping the rituals and rules of religion or spirituality. Paul knew religion quite well, and he rejected all he could do in favor of relying on Christ and his righteousness to be right with God.

Is your friendship with God based on the grace of God in Christ? Only those who rely on Christ alone for salvation are accepted by God (cf. Ephesians 1:5-6).

How is humility expressed? Humility is expressed by an active faith in God (1 Peter 5:6-7). Faith acknowledges God’s almighty power and is willing to wait for God to lift the believer up in his time. Until that time comes, he or she casts every anxiety on God. We see examples of this in the life of Abraham. Consider how Abraham humbly obeyed God by faith.

  • The Lord said to Abraham, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” What did Abraham do? “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him” (Genesis 12:1, 4).
  • Abraham was distressed greatly, because Sarah wanted him to get Hagar and her son Ishmael out of their household. God tells him, “Listen to whatever Sarah tells you…” What did Abraham do? Early the next morning he sent Hagar and her son away (Genesis 21:11-14).
  • The Lord said to Abraham, “Sacrifice Isaac there as a burnt offering.” What did Abraham do? Early the next morning, he took Isaac to the appointed place (Genesis 22:1-19).

In our lives, there are four special occasions that require us to especially humble ourselves before the Lord.

  • In times of visible confusion in the world (cf. Psalm 46:2-3, 6). How does the person of faith humbly respond? “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:7).
  • In times of amazing, divergent variety in the conditions of believers. Think about this. “Some under persecution always, — some always at peace; some in dungeons and prisons, — some at liberty in their own houses; the saints of one nation under great oppression for many ages, — of another, in quietness; in the same places some poor, in great distress, put hard to it for daily bread all their lives, — others abounding in all things; some full of various afflictions, going softly and mourning all their days, — others spared, and scarce touched with the rod at all; — and yet, commonly, the advantage of holiness and close walking with God lying on the distressed side” (Owen, Works, Vol. 9, p. 114). Why does God deal so differently with his people whom he loves? “Who can, now, with an eye of reason, look upon them, and say they are all the children of one Father, and that he loves them all alike? Should you come into a great house, and see some children in scarlet, having all things needful, others hewing wood and drawing water, — you would conclude that they are not all children, but some children, some slaves: but when it shall be told you that they are all one man’s children; and that the hewers of wood, that live on the bread and water of affliction, and go in tattered rags, are as dear to him as the other; and that he intends to leave them as good an inheritance as any of the rest; — if you intend not to question the wisdom and goodness of the father of the family, you must resolve to submit to his authority with a quiet subjection of mind. So is it in the great family of God; nothing will quiet our souls, but humbling ourselves to the law of his providence” (Ibid, p. 115).
  • In times when their circumstances change suddenly. At sunrise, life seems wonderful, but before twilight comes, one’s life seems ruined beyond recovery. Yet how does humble faith respond? Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).
  • In times of deep, continual, apparently hopeless suffering. But how does humble faith respond? It says as Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

In all things, the humble friend of God rests on the revealed truth that God is righteous, in control, and wise. “When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace… When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.” Bow in humble dependence before your God this day.

Grace and peace, David

The Attributes of God (Part Two)

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14 NIV).

God is self-existent. God “has life in himself” (John 5:26). This means that he is absolutely independent of all other being. There is nothing that he depends upon for existence. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else (Acts 17:25). God often is called “the living God”, which brings out this characteristic (Deuteronomy 5:26; Joshua 3:10; 1 Samuel 17:26; Psalm 42:2; Isaiah 37:4; Jeremiah 10:10; Matthew 16:16; Acts 14:15; 2 Corinthians 3:3; 6:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; Hebrews 3:12; 10:31).

“The ground of God’s being is not in others, for there is nothing more ultimate than himself. God is uncaused, the one who always is (Exod. 3:14). To ask who caused God is to ask as self-contradictory question in term’s of Jesus’ view of God. Another term conveying the concept of God’s self-existence is ‘aseity’. It comes from the Latin a, meaning from, and se, meaning oneself. God is underived, necessary, nondependent existence” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p.453). “God’s self-existence means that he is not answerable to us or to anybody, and we don’t like that. We want God to give an account of himself, to defend his actions. Although he sometimes explains things to us, he doesn’t have to and often he does not. God doesn’t have to explain himself to anybody” (Boice, The Sovereign God, p. 128).

Since God is self-existent, he is also self-sufficient. God does not need anything in or from creation. Instead, God chose to create and to preserve and to direct what he created for the praise of his glory (Romans 11:36). This means that God does not need worshipers, helpers or defenders. God is self-reliant. In contrast with God, humans are created and dependent. We must rely on God for everything (Acts 17:25,28).

This, like everything other attribute God, should cause us to humble ourselves in his presence, as Job did when he realized God’s majesty (Job 42:1-6). We serve the very independent God. He needs nothing from his creation. “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them” (Romans 11:35 NIV)? Admittedly, this is difficult to comprehend, because even those who boast of their self-reliance and freedom are dependent on others. The supposedly great rulers of the earth must rely on others for protection, food, and assistance. For example, the President does not pilot Air Force One; he does not go anywhere without Secret Service agents around him. A rich woman might have money, but she can’t eat unless someone supplies her food in one way or another. Who makes their own clothes? Even if they do, they’re not making all the components necessary to make clothes. We are pitifully dependent. The next time you lose power, and I’m not wishing this on anyone, you will discover your dependence on electricity. I cannot write these blogs unless I have electricity, the internet, and some form of computer. We are shockingly dependent. We ought to humble ourselves before the living God.

So then, let us praise God for his surpassing greatness. God doesn’t need us, yet he calls us to draw near to him, to experience his love, compassion, joy, and peace, which flow from the overflowing fountain of his self-existence and self-sufficiency. Let us praise the living God!

Grace and peace, David