Blessed Are We Who Are Poor

The other day I put on my “Blessed” t-shirt because I wanted to remember this study throughout the day. When I wear it, I anticipate varied reactions from those I meet or pass while walking my dog on our town’s popular “river walk.” That day some folks responded to my eager greeting of “Good morning.” Others, though, politely but cooly gave me the slightest acknowledgment. One gracious couple, walking their two friendly dogs, stopped to converse. I was hoping that at least one of my neighbors, who share their faith with me, would ask me why I felt blessed. I guess they presumed it meant that I was grateful for all of God’s provisions and help. I am sure no one could imagine that I also wanted to remember that I am spiritually poor. We’ll continue our study of the Beatitudes by meditating on how God blesses the “poor” with an abundance of grace. I need reminders to humble myself, and having just studied 1 Peter 5 certainly helps. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” (1 Peter 5:6) When we are humble, we are blessed.

Who are the Poor in Spirit?

Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). “The Old Testament supplies the necessary background against which to interpret this beatitude. At first to be ‘poor’ meant to be in literal, material need. But gradually, because the needy had no refuge but God, ‘poverty’ came to have spiritual overtones… To be ‘poor in spirit’ is to acknowledge our spiritual bankruptcy before God. For we are sinners, under the holy wrath of God, and deserving nothing but his judgment. We have nothing to offer, nothing to plead, nothing with which to buy the favor of heaven.” (1) “The first of the Beatitudes leaves no doubt about whom the Lord is speaking…He is describing redeemed people, those who have believed, those who are part of the kingdom. Here is what their faith is like. Its foundational characteristic is humility — a poverty of spirit, a brokenness that acknowledges spiritual bankruptcy. Genuine believers see themselves as sinners; they know they have nothing to offer God that will buy His favor…If you see that God’s standard is higher than you can possibly attain, you are on the road to the blessedness Jesus spoke of in the Beatitudes. It begins with the humility that grows out of a sense of utter spiritual poverty, the knowledge that we are poor in spirit. And it consummates inevitably in righteous obedience. Those are characteristics of a supernatural life.” (2) Jesus addresses believers, rather than unbelievers, not with a formula for salvation but with a description of its fruit—blessedness as citizens of heaven. As those who have already been transformed by Christ’s irresistible, electing gospel, we wrestle with our tendency to be prideful. But when we humble ourselves and submit to the Lord, we are blessed. “Some have translated Jesus’ opening words ‘Happy are’…Though the Greek can and does mean ‘happy,’ it is seriously misleading to render it ‘happy’ in this case. Happiness is a subjective state, whereas Jesus is making an objective judgment about these people. He is declaring not what they may feel like (‘happy’), but what God thinks of them and what on that account they are: ‘blessed.'” (3) 

Good Poverty

“Hebrew uses the same word to describe both a man of lowly rank, and one who has suffered humiliation and loss. This is because prosperity puffs us up with pride and ambition; as a result we long for the limelight, and are keen to get the better of our neighbor. On the other hand, once God takes the rod to us and tames us, our haughty manners disappear. In so far, then, as suffering disciplines us, Jesus’ expression designates both the poor and the humble…That person, then, is truly blessed, who is poor in his own estimation, who willingly abases himself, who sees nothing good in himself, makes no false claims about himself, and instead accepts rejection by the world. Here we see the real significance of Jesus’ words, and the benefit which we may gain from them.” (4) Jesus turns our thinking upside down with the Beatitudes to actually “right” it for a biblical Worldview. He is radically counter-cultural, and if we are faithful followers, we will also be non-conformers. We are either attached to the world’s values, priorities, pressures, and desires or committed to God’s will, ways, and covenantal promises. When we embrace our inability to keep ourselves clean, right, or even acceptable to Him, God blesses us with an abundance of gracious spiritual and earthly blessings.

Detachment from This World’s Sentiments

“‘The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit.’ By this we are to understand that we should not be content with what our eyes see, but that we should have in view the final goal…So this is what the passage teaches: in order to taste the blessedness of which God’s Son speaks, we must learn first that this world is a pathway to something else; it is not a place where we are to rest or where real life is to be found; we must press further on and lift up our eyes to the heavenly inheritance…God’s promises are most useful, then, in detaching us from the world. And when we have finally left present things behind, then we will know that poverty, affliction, distress, trouble, and everything else which would destroy us, cannot touch us. It is enough that God loves us, that his love has been made known to us, and that by faith we lay hold of that love when we leave this world. Let us go on, then, to finish our course, until in due time God confirms his promises to us.” (5) God has his reasons for putting us in the world, though. In John 17, Jesus prayed, “they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world (John 17:14-18). “Let’s all agree it’s clear that Jesus does not want his followers to be ‘of the world’…But notice that for Jesus being ‘not of the world’ isn’t the destination in these verses but the starting place. It’s not where things are moving toward, but what they’re moving from. He is not of the world, and he begins by saying that his followers are not of the world. But it’s going somewhere…Jesus is not asking his Father for his disciples to be taken out of the world, but he is praying for them as they are ‘sent into’ the world. So maybe it would serve us better — at least in light of John 17 — to revise the popular phrase ‘in, but not of’ in this way: ‘not of, but sent into.’ The beginning place is being ‘not of the world,’ and the movement is toward being ‘sent into the world.” (6) This is the thinking that leads to God’s blessings.

Empty Vessels

“There must be an emptying in our lives before there can be a filling. We must become poor in spirit before we can become rich in God’s spiritual blessings. The old wine must be poured out of the wineskins before the new wine can be poured in…God will fill you with the life of Jesus Christ—supernaturally—and you will begin to live the standards of the Sermon on the Mount by the power of the One who gave them and who himself lived them perfectly in this world…There must be a true poverty of spirit. But this is unnatural to man, and, therefore, impossible. We must, therefore, add that nothing but a direct confrontation with the holy, just, and loving God will produce it. C. S. Lewis once wrote of this experience, ‘Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.”‘ (7) “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 121) We are blessed here through our our poverty of spirit.

Related Scripture: Genesis 3:12; Exodus 19:16-18; Psalm 138:6; 147:6; Proverbs 3:34; Isaiah 6:5; Jeremiah 10:10; Mark 10:43; Luke 5:8; 22:61-62; Romans 7:14-24; Philippians 2:12-13; 1 Peter 5:6-8.

Notes

  1. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, pp. 10-15, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  2. MacArthur, John F., The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 165,  Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
  3. Stott, Ibid.
  4. Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, pp. 21-25, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006.
  5. Calvin, Ibid.
  6. Piper, John, “Desiring God, Let’s Revise the Popular Phrase ‘In, But Not Of’”, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/lets-revise-the-popular-phrase-in-but-not-of
  7. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Matthew 5:3-4, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

August 11, 2022

The Blessing of Christian Discipleship (Introduction to “Blessings From the Sermon on the Mount”)

Yesterday I was walking my dog on trails at a local nature center. As I looked down at the river, or what’s left of it in our drought, I saw bright blue instead of the expected dark green. The water reflected the brilliant blue sky. I looked up at the sky through the trees, thinking it would be even brighter, but it wasn’t. I thought about how the sky looked through sunglasses—a bit duller still. As I walked on this quiet morning, watching GG sniff the brush under the trees with interest, I contemplated how our spiritual vision is dull when we read the Bible through corrupted eyes and old, not entirely correct teachings. We often get a dulled understanding of Scripture, as if through sunglasses. If we pray for clarity through the Spirit, we have a more accurate understanding of Scripture’s teaching and see more clearly, as if looking at the sky unaided. After we have grown in Christ, with the Spirit working, we can catch his reflection even more brilliantly to grasp God’s profound truths,  seeing Christ. When Jesus taught in parables, “the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:10-17) Some of the most misunderstood and misused teachings of Jesus are in his Sermon on the Mount, starting with the Beatitudes. Over the following weeks, we will dive into the blessings described in Matthew 5:1-12. However, as an introduction today, we will use Luke’s sermon summary sermon, one that was very similar to Jesus’s teaching in Matthew. (1) Both teach us that Jesus blesses his humble, poor, and hungry disciples who are willing to be hated on his account. I pray that we will be blessed by being humble, spiritually poor, and hungry, willing to be mocked or maligned on Jesus’s account.

Blessings Resulting From Christ’s Salvation and the Spirit’s Sanctification

“And [Jesus] lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6:20-23) “Immediately after his baptism and temptation [Jesus] had begun to announce the good news that the kingdom of God, long promised in the Old Testament era, was on the threshold…Here is a Christian value system, ethics standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, lifestyle and network of relationships—all of which are totally at variance with those of the non-Christian world…The beatitudes set forth the blessings God gives to those in whom he is working such a character—blessings given not as a reward for merit but as a gift of grace. By working toward the standards Christ has given us and coming as close to the mark as humanly possible, we give evidence of what by God’s free grace and gift we already are.” (2) “The Beatitudes spring from the life blood of Jesus Christ, that is they contain all His meaning, and when we read them first they seem merely mild and beautiful precepts for all unworldly, useless people, and of very little practical use in the stern, workaday world in which we live. However, we soon find that these Beatitudes contain the dynamite of the Holy Ghost…You allow the life of God, first of all, to invade you by regeneration and sanctification, and then as you have been soaking your mind in the teaching of Jesus, and it has been slipping down into the unconscious mind, then a set of circumstances arises where suddenly one of them emerges, and instantly you have to ask yourself, ‘Will I walk in the light of it? Will I accept the tremendous spiritual tornado which will be produced in my circumstances if I follow this teaching of Jesus?’ That is the way the Spirit of God works. It always comes with astonishing discomfort to begin with, it is all out of proportion to our ways of looking at things, and we have slowly to form our walk and conversation in the line of His precepts.” (3) But Jesus, who suffered tremendously throughout his ministry, blesses us when we follow him, being his humble, poor, and hungry disciples willing to be hated on his account.

Blessings for the Future

“Our happiness and blessedness do not come from the world’s applause, or from the enjoyment of wealth, honors, gratification and pleasure. On the contrary, we may be utterly oppressed, in tears and weeping, persecuted and to all appearances ruined: none of that affects our standing or diminishes our happiness. Why? Because we have in view the ultimate outcome. That is what Christ would have us remember, so as to correct the false ideas we feed upon and which so muddle our thinking that we cannot accept his yoke. He reminds us that we must look further ahead and consider the outcome of our afflictions, our tears, the persecutions we suffer and the insults we bear. When once we see how God turns all of that to good and to our salvation, we may conclude that blessing will assuredly be ours, however contrary such things are to our nature…Eschatological hope lies at the core of Jesus’ teaching here: the grieving will be comforted, the hungry will be satisfied, the pure will see God. As a preacher, [John] Calvin is fully alert to the tension which exists between the now and the not yet, between believers’ present experience of suffering and their future exaltation in heaven.” (4) Jesus brings the eternal future into view, saying, “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6:23a)

Blessings for Now

“Jesus’ teaching inspires us to change, to become different and better people. As we pursue our studies in His Word, our mind is improved, but that’s not all. Our life is enriched…The good news is that Jesus hasn’t just given us His teachings and then told us to obey them in our own strength. He has also given us His Spirit to strengthen us and change us. The apostle Paul put it best when he said, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20)…Jesus’s teaching will comfort and cheer you. No one has every spoken such truthful words of cheer, joy, hope, and happiness as He did…When His ‘red letters’ are ‘read letters,’ they lift us above the aches of earth and set your eyes on things above…We never go wrong when we read and ponder and quote the words of Jesus—to ourselves, to our friends, and to our world. He cares, and He comforts, and He brings peace to our soul with His words.” (5) Jesus blessed his humble, poor, and hungry disciples who were willing to be hated on his account. The apostles were supremely blessed to have lived and studied with him, and many were martyred for their faith in Christ, who now enjoy even more intimacy with their Savior. Jesus sent this message to John the Baptist: “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:5-6) We are also blessed by being humble, spiritually poor and hungry, and hated on Jesus’s account, inviting others to see his character reflected in us.

Related Scripture: Psalms 34:18; 37:11; 78:2; Isaiah 57:15; 61:1-4; Matthew 5:1-12; 10:22; Luke 1:53; 12:32; John 7:37-39; Hebrews 11:26; 1 Peter 4:14.

Notes

  1. “The relation between the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Mt. 5–7 and the ‘Sermon on the Plain’ given here has frequently occupied the attention of students. The similarities are clear enough to show that a common tradition lies behind the two accounts…Matthew’s version is much fuller than Luke’s, and there are considerable divergences also in actual detail. It is not, of course, impossible or even improbable that our Lord gave the Sermon to different audiences on different occasions, and that we have here independent accounts of two such discourses.” (Zondervan Bible Commentary, Matthew 5:1-12, F. F. Bruce, General Editor, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.)
  2. Stott, John, The Beatitudes—Developing Spiritual Character, pp. 6-7, InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  3. Chambers, Oswald, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, pp. 11-13, GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  4. Calvin, John, Sermons on the Beatitudes, pp. 20, ix-x, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006.
  5. Jeremiah, David, The Jesus You May Not Know, pp. 87-90, Turning Point, San Diego, CA, 2020.

August 4, 2022

The Blessing of Serving in the Spirit

Do you plan to do something for someone you aren’t excited about or would prefer not to do? Sometimes we do things for others according to their interests or needs, which is good; Christians are called to submit to everyone. (See 1 Peter 3:8.) In my role in my church family, I do the administration for all women’s events, but that doesn’t mean that I always have the same interests as other women. For one thing, I am not a “crafty” girl—that is, I don’t do or enjoy crafts. I delight in being with my sisters in Christ, and when the activity portion of a fellowship comes around, you might find me talking or doing some hospitality tasks. However we serve others according to their interests, so we are motivated by their need, our calling, or simply the fact that no one else can fill the spot. I have often been the only one who could do something, according to my superiors, elders, or friends. Have you been in that position? It’s not easy when our motivation is low compared to something we love to do. And it’s precisely then that the Holy Spirit has the most opportunity to work in us, to give us his passion for service. God empowers all believers with his Spirit to serve the body differently yet in perfect unity to build up his people. We are more valuable to everyone when we encourage by employing the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, knowledge, discernment, and power. We are especially blessed by the Spirit’s work in, through, and for us.

One Spirit Working 

Many Christians wholly disregard the Holy Spirit’s role in service or overemphasize it through their obsession with particular spiritual gifts. We have much to gain from considering Paul’s advice to the Corinthians church. “Some Corinthian Christians seem to have been creating divisions over spiritual gifts…Paul wants the Corinthian church to understand how their unity can be enhanced by appreciating the variety of gifts God has given to them. [He emphasizes that] the purpose of the gifts is to build one another up and to care for one another, not to flaunt one’s own spirituality.” (1) “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-12) “Though these gifts, ministrations, and operations, are so different in themselves, and are bestowed upon different persons, yet they are all wrought by one and the same Spirit of God, who is the true Jehovah, and properly God, as these his works declare; for who, but the most high God, could ever communicate such gifts to men?…For as his special grace in regeneration is dispensed when and where, and to whom he pleases, signified by the blowing of the wind where it lists, John 3:8 so his gifts, ordinary and extraordinary, are severally distributed, according to his sovereign will and pleasure.” (2) All believers are empowered with the Spirit to serve differently yet in perfect unity to build each other up.

The Spirit’s Power

Take, for example, the work of William Wilberforce, who effectively halted the slave trade in England. “He grew up surrounded by wealth…he wasn’t a serious student… [but] had political ambitions and, with his connections, managed to win election to Parliament in 1780, where he formed a lasting friendship with William Pitt, the future prime minister. But he later admitted, ‘The first years in Parliament I did nothing—nothing to any purpose. My own distinction was my darling object.’ But he began to reflect deeply on his life, which led to a period of intense sorrow…His unnatural gloom lifted on Easter 1786…He experienced a spiritual rebirth…He began to see his life’s purpose: ‘My walk is a public one,’ he wrote in his diary. ‘My business is in the world, and I must mix in the assemblies of men or quit the post which Providence seems to have assigned me.’ In particular, two causes caught his attention. First, under the influence of Thomas Clarkson, he became absorbed with the issue of slavery. Later he wrote… ‘Let the consequences be what they would: I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition’…The pathway to abolition was blocked by vested interests, parliamentary filibustering, entrenched bigotry, international politics, slave unrest, personal sickness, and political fear…His second great calling was for the ‘reformation of manners,’ that is, morals. In early 1787, he conceived of a society that would work, as a royal proclamation put it, ‘for the encouragement of piety and virtue; and for the preventing of vice, profaneness, and immorality.’ It eventually became known as the Society for the Suppression of Vice.” (3) Are you thinking, well, Wilberforce became a believer; that’s what happened! Of course, that’s what happened—the Holy Spirit inhabited him and compelled him to do masterful things with his life in service to his country. Who wouldn’t want to do what Wilberforce did? The blessing of serving his country through the Spirit carried him through intense opposition, and physical ailments with great pain, and the resulting addition to opium, the prescribed pain medication of the day. He was blessed with God’s presence and power in his work and trials.

The Spirit Compels Us

The Spirit doesn’t just help with witnessing (evangelizing), as some might think from Acts 1:8 (“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”) As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 12, he gives diverse gifts to the body for the glory of God. “This powerful new work of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost brought several beneficial results: more effectiveness in witness and ministry), effective proclamation of the gospel, power for victory over sin, power for victory over Satan and demonic forces and a wide distribution of gifts for ministry.” (4) “[William Wilberforce] was practical with a difference. He believed with all his heart that new affections for God were the key to new morals and lasting political reformation. And these new affections and this reformation did not come from mere ethical systems…For Wilberforce, practical deeds were born in ‘peculiar doctrines.’ By that term he simply meant the central distinguishing doctrines of human depravity, divine judgment, the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross, justification by faith alone, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and the practical necessity of fruit in a life devoted to good deeds.” (5) It’s not just “special” people, pastors, evangelists, or missionaries that God empowers. All believers have his Spirit to serve the body. Do we serve others by employing the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, knowledge, discernment, and power? Do we need to ask ourselves the question that Paul asked the Galatians, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3) “‘Receive the Spirit’ refers to the new covenant work of the Holy Spirit that comes after saving faith, at the beginning of the Christian life, to sanctify and to empower the believer in life and various kinds of ministry…In v. 2, Paul mentioned the Holy Spirit’s work at the beginning of the Galatians’ Christian lives; here he mentions an ongoing, day-by-day work of the Spirit. Though Paul had long ago left these churches, and there were no other apostles present, the Holy Spirit was still present and was still working miracles in their midst. ‘Hearing with faith’ is not only the way to start the Christian life but is also the way to continue it day by day.” (6) Do you want joy and power to serve, even for something you have no interest in or desire? Ask for help—the Spirit’s willing. “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:9-13) 

Related Scripture: Exodus 35:21; Matthew 28:19; Luke 1:15, 67; Luke 3:22; 4:14; 24:49; Acts 2:16-18; 4:31, 33; 10:38; 13:4; 16:6; 2 Corinthians 10:3-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Peter 4:9-11.

Notes

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Corinthians 12:1-26, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, 1 Corinthians 12:4-12, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/1-corinthians-12.html
  3. Christianity Today, https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/activists/william-wilberforce.html 
  4. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid, Acts 1:8.
  5. Piper, John, “William Wilberforce: Reflections on the Life and Labor,” 2002 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors.
  6. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid, Galatians 2:2-3.

July 28, 2022

The Holy Spirit’s Blessed Assurance

#29 The Holy Spirit’s Certain Assurance

Do you have any guarantees, perhaps for a new appliance, a car maintenance agreement, or an electronic device contract? If the guarantee is for accidental or instrumental breakage, we hope we won’t need to use it. We are required to have auto insurance, but don’t want to invoke the clauses that read, “in the event of….” On the other hand, we use our medical insurance frequently because our bodies are in a state of decay as we age. But there is a limit of coverage every year. This world and life are temporary, so anything we cling to for hope will either expire or buy us some more time and comfort. There is nothing permanent that won’t, in some way, get used up or fail to deliver. In contrast, when God promises something, he fulfills his contract, because he can’t and won’t ever do otherwise. We can’t lose our salvation because God doesn’t “undo” anything. Christ won’t redo his crucifixion or resurrection. His finished work fulfills God’s plan and promise of merciful redemption for all eternity. Our personal feelings or perspectives about Christ’s atonement for sin vary from time to time because we are fallen, unreliable people who struggle with our flesh and doubts. For more consistent, steadfast faithfulness, we turn to God’s Word to remember what he has promised. Our hearts, minds, and souls remember that God has assured us “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). The Holy Spirit called us to Christ, opened and transformed our hearts and minds, applying his redemption. He continues to guarantee our hope, adoption, and glorious inheritance in Christ. We are called to cling firmly to our hope in Christ through the Holy Spirit, anchored to him, for our assurance that God will do all he has promised.

Allusive Hope?

“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:17-20) “Hope has its degrees, as faith also. The promise of blessedness God has made to believers, is from God’s eternal purpose, settled between the eternal Father, Son, and Spirit. These promises of God may safely be depended upon; for here we have two things which cannot change, the counsel and the oath of God, in which it is not possible for God to lie; it would be contrary to his nature as well as to his will. And as He cannot lie, the destruction of the unbeliever, and the salvation of the believer, are alike certain. Here observe, those to whom God has given full security of happiness, have a title to the promises by inheritance. The consolations of God are strong enough to support his people under their heaviest trials. Here is a refuge for all sinners who flee to the mercy of God, through the redemption of Christ, according to the covenant of grace, laying aside all other confidences. We are in this world as a ship at sea, tossed up and down, and in danger of being cast away. We need an anchor to keep us sure and steady. Gospel hope is our anchor in the storms of this world. It is sure and steadfast, or it could not keep us so. The free grace of God, the merits and mediation of Christ, and the powerful influences of his Spirit, are the grounds of this hope, and so it is a steadfast hope.” (1)

Full Assurance

“The resurrection of Jesus is the ‘assurance’ or pledge God has given that his revelation is true and worthy of acceptance. The ‘full assurance of faith’ (Heb. 10:22) is a fullness of faith in God which leaves no room for doubt…This full assurance is not of the essence of saving faith. It is the result of faith, and posterior to it in the order of nature, and so frequently also in the order of time. True believers may be destitute of it. Trust itself is something different from the evidence that we do trust. Believers, moreover, are exhorted to go on to something beyond what they at present have…Genuine assurance naturally leads to a legitimate and abiding peace and joy, and to love and thankfulness to God; and these from the very laws of our being to greater buoyancy, strength, and cheerfulness in the practice of obedience in every department of duty. This assurance may in various ways be shaken, diminished, and intermitted, but the principle out of which it springs can never be lost.” (2) The Holy Spirit never abandons us but always works to increase our confidence in God and diminish our confidence in the world, our sin nature, and in the devil’s schemes and temptations. He provides our soul’s longing for a glorious inheritance in Christ. If we hold tightly to our hope in Christ through the Holy Spirit, anchored to him, we will never be ashamed or disappointed.

Child-like Confidence

“Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us…The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him…” (Romans 5:5; 8:16-17) “Some suppose that if we have received the Spirit of adoption there must be produced a steady and uniform assurance, a perpetual fire burning upon the altar of the heart. Not so. When the Son of God became incarnate, He condescended to yield unto all the sinless infirmities of human nature, so that He hungered and ate, wearied and slept…In Heaven the man Christ Jesus is glorified; and in Heaven the Spirit in the Christian will shine like a perpetual star. But on earth, He indwells our hearts like a flickering flame; never to be extinguished, but not always bright, and needing to be guarded from rude blasts, or why bid us ‘quench not the Spirit’ (1 Thess. 5:19)?…The Christian is not always in the enjoyment of a child-like confidence. And why? Because he is often guilty of ‘grieving’ the Spirit, and then, He withholds much of His comfort. Hereby we may ascertain our communion with God and when it is interrupted, when He be pleased or displeased with us—by the motions or withdrawings of the Spirit’s consolation…In all genuine Christians there is a co-mingling of real confidence and false diffidence, because as long as they remain on this earth there is in them the root of faith and the root of doubt. Hence their prayer is ‘Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief’ (Mark 9:24). In some Christians faith prevails more than it does in others; in some unbelief is more active than in others. Therefore some have a stronger and steadier assurance than others. The presence of the indwelling Spirit is largely evidenced by our frequent recourse to the Father in prayer—often with sighs, sobs, and groans. The consciousness of the Spirit of adoption within us is largely regulated by the extent to which we yield ourselves unto His government.” (3)

Like our world today, “Ancient Ephesus had a fascination with magic and the occult. This helps explain Paul’s emphasis on the power of God over all heavenly authorities and on Christ’s triumphant ascension as head over the church and over all things in this age and the next. The Ephesians needed to be reminded of these things in order to remain resolute in their allegiance to Christ as the supreme power in the world and in their lives.” (4) Paul wrote, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14) “The Holy Spirit makes the Christian secure in his new faith and relationship…Like a down payment on the purchase of a property, he is proof of God’s good faith and an earnest of the full amount to come…Sealing with the Holy Spirit answers all our needs. It assures us of God’s favor. It shows that we belong to him. It renders our salvation certain.” (5) Since the Spirit guarantees our hope, adoption, and glorious inheritance in Christ, will we not cling firmly to our blessing in Christ through him—and turn away from the world’s insufficient remedies for hope? “It is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

Related Scripture: Psalms 110:4; 119:116; Proverbs 19:21; Ephesians 4:30; Philippians 1:6; Colossians 2:2-4; 2 Timothy 1:12; 4:8; Hebrews 6:11; 10:19-23; 1 Peter 1:3-5; Revelation 7:2-3.

Notes

  1. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Hebrews 6:11-20, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/hebrews-6.html
  2. Easton, M.G., Easton’s 1897 Dictionary of the Bible, “Assurance,” software version.
  3. Pink, Arthur W.. The Holy Spirit, The Spirit Assuring, Prisbrary Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  4. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Introduction to Ephesians, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  5. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Ephesians 1:3-14, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

July 21, 2022

The Blessing of the Spirit’s Sanctification

Summertime generates dieting ads, body-building programs, and an intense focus on our physical bodies. Most of my friends have a love-hate relationship with their bodies, and, as you can see, I also view my body as something separate from the rest of me (or else I wouldn’t talk about having a relationship with it). “Body dissatisfaction and overvaluing body image in defining one’s self-worth are risk factors making some people more susceptible to developing an eating disorder than others. People experiencing body dissatisfaction can become fixated on trying to change their body shape, which can lead to unhealthy practices with food, exercise, or supplements. Over time, these practices do not achieve desired results and often create a trap leading to intense feelings of disappointment, shame, guilt and, ultimately, increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.” (1) I think we all agree that there are better ways to spend our summer than being obsessed with worrying about our bodies. Of course, we maintain them with good diets, exercise, medication, or surgery as needed. And here I am preaching to myself. Scripture declares, “The God of peace himself [will] sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24) Spirit, soul, and body represent the entirety of human nature. It seems unlikely that this is a tripartite division of human nature into body, soul, and spirit, where ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ would refer to different parts; more likely Paul is simply using several terms for emphasis.” (2) God made us in his image (Genesis 1:27), and he is one being, without any separation of “parts,” so we are each one being, created by the Lord to be more than a person—to be his holy temple. We are justified, washed, sanctified, joined to God, to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. But do we remember, rejoice, and renew our blessing of the indwelling Spirit’s power for our ongoing spiritual maturity?

God’s Temple

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?…God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God…he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him…Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:11, 17, 19-20) If you read the entire passage from 1 Corinthians 6, you will notice that the central idea here is to “not be dominated by anything” physical, especially food or sexuality (1 Cor. 6:12) Paul urges his readers to have a correct, biblical view of being “joined” to God, being “one spirit” with him. “The Greek word here for union means literally ‘glued,’ signifying the closest of ties, which results in complete union, or fusion…It brings into sharp contrast the Christian concept of holiness with that of pagan Corinth, where in the temple of Aphrodite prostitutes were priestesses.” (3) “Sanctification, says the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q.35), is ‘the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness’…In regeneration, God implants desires that were not there before: desire for God, for holiness, and for the hallowing and glorifying of God’s name in this world; desire to pray, worship, love, serve, honor, and please God; desire to show love and bring benefit to others. In sanctification, the Holy Spirit’ works in you to will and to act’ according to God’s purpose.” (4) What a blessing to see God’s glory now through the Spirit, and to be transformed continually rather than remain as we are.

From Glory to Glory

In 2 Corinthians 3:16 and 18, Paul writes, “When one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” “When any person is converted to God, then the veil of ignorance is taken away. The condition of those who enjoy and believe the gospel is happy, for the heart is set at liberty to run the ways of God’s commandments. They have light, and with open face they behold the glory of the Lord. Christians should prize and improve these privileges. We should not rest contented without knowing the transforming power of the gospel, by the working of the Spirit, bringing us to seek to be like the temper and tendency of the glorious gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and into union with Him. We behold Christ, as in the glass of his word; and as the reflection from a mirror causes the face to shine, the faces of Christians shine also.” (5) “Now the efficient cause of all this, ‘is the Spirit of the Lord.’ It is he that takes off the veil from the heart, that we may, with open face unveiled, behold all this glory; it is he that regenerates, stamps the image of Christ, and conforms the soul to his likeness; it is he that gradually carries on the work of grace upon the soul, increases faith, enlarges the views of the glory of Christ, and the spiritual light, knowledge, and experience of the saints, and will perfect all that which concerns them; will quicken their mortal bodies, and make them like to Christ; and will for ever rest as a spirit of glory on them, both in soul and body.” (6) Having been set apart, washed, and sanctified, we are one with God, and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who ensures our blessed, ongoing spiritual maturity.

Personal Deliverance and Victories Through the Spirit

The other morning while I was doing my stretches, I remembered two un-Christian comments I made to staff members at physical therapy several years ago. I could see the people, hear their instructions, and painfully recall precisely what I said. I know I asked God for forgiveness after the two incidents and also asked for theirs. But I guess my confession and repentance weren’t complete because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was grateful for holy conviction, so I confessed and repented sincerely of a cold, mean, selfish heart with people trying to help me. Then I thought about including this account here as an illustration for sanctification. But I forgot, until this morning, when I’m sure the Spirit moved me to share with you, having been blessed by his help. “Moral renovation, whereby we are increasingly changed from what we once were, flows from the agency of the indwelling Holy Spirit…Regeneration is birth; sanctification is growth. Paul’s use of glory in 2 Corinthians 3:18 shows that for him sanctification of character is glorification begun. Then the physical transformation that gives us a body like Christ’s, one that will match our totally transformed character and be a perfect means of expressing it, will be glorification completed (Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Cor. 15:49-53)…God’s method of sanctification is neither activism (self-reliant activity) nor apathy (God-reliant passivity), but God-dependent effort…To clarify the relationship between the law and sin, Paul analyzes in a personal and dramatic way the sense of impotence for complete law-keeping, and the enslavement to behavior one dislikes, that the Spirit-flesh tension produces (Rom. 7:14-25). This conflict and frustration will be with Christians as long as they are in the body. Yet by watching and praying against temptation, and cultivating opposite virtues, they may through the Spirit’s help “mortify” (i.e., drain the life out of, weaken as a means of killing) particular bad habits, and in that sense more and more die unto sin. They will experience many particular deliverances and victories in their unending battle with sin, while never being exposed to temptations that are impossible to resist.” (7) I am grateful for the irresistible, convicting work of the Holy Spirit, considering how much and frequently I am tempted to resist God’s commands. Perhaps you, like me, have moments when you are doubtful about being God’s temple where his Spirit wants to dwell and stay. Maybe you, like me, feel unworthy, unsuitable, and unqualified for his presence. My body is not pretty, not particularly healthy, and certainly not holy. But Christ is beautiful, worthy, suitable, and the only qualified Savior who gives us our Comforter. How can we deny Christ what he desires? Instead, let’s rejoice in the Spirit’s work and, as a result, give him influence and power to have the blessing of Christ-likeness. “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:14)

Related Scripture: Exodus 34:29-35; Ezekiel 39:29; Psalms 4:3; Acts 20:32; Romans 8:12-16; 15:15-16; Galatians 2:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 2:19-21; 1 Peter 1:1-2, 18-21.

Notes:

  1. https://nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/eating-disorders-explained/body-image/
  2. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  3. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, 1 Corinthians 6:12-13, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.
  4. Packer, J. I., Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (pp. 169-170),  Tyndale House Publishers, Kindle Edition.
  5. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, 2 Corinthians 3:18, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mhn/2-corinthians-3.html 
  6. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, 2 Corinthians 3:18, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/2-corinthians-3.html 
  7. Packer, J. I.. Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (pp. 169-170). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

July 14, 2022

The Holy Spirit’s Blessing in Salvation

Did you celebrate Independence Day in the U.S.? When I was overseas, I was usually so busy that I hardly noticed the Fourth of July. But now that I’m on American turf, I see that the holiday seems to be everyone’s focus almost a week before the actual day. I enjoy hearing patriotic songs and reading posts celebrating the great liberties we have in the U.S. But that freedom is marred by sin and abuse, using independence to assert that my rights trump yours. Generally, many people think of liberty as personal freedom to succeed at any cost, make bad choices, criticize, and generally disregard the ordinary needs of others. It’s an excellent time to meditate on our liberty in Christ through the Holy Spirit’s application of his atonement, freeing us from enslavement to our flesh, Satan, and the world. I will be concentrating this month on the blessings we have through the work of the Holy Spirit. First, we will consider our salvation, and in the following weeks, sanctification, assurance (our hope and security in Christ), and finally, his calling and assistance for our service in the Lord. In a world of extremes— sports, opinions, media—we also tend to treat the Spirit of God with extreme over-emphasis or neglect. The Spirit is mentioned often in Scripture as the third person of the trinity—working together for God’s kingdom on earth and eternally. “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26) Jesus Christ liberates and gives sight to the blind, captive, oppressed, and poor through the Holy Spirit. Do we rejoice in our blessed, eternal liberty from captivity to sin as we do for our earthly independence from tyranny? 

Jesus Christ Anointed by the Holy Spirit

Jesus is united with the Spirit, just as he is with the Father. The three persons of the trinity always work as one essence, one will, and one truth. At no time are they independent of each other, except for the brief time of Christ’s crucifixion, when our sin separated him from the others. At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus declared in the temple, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” (Luke 4:18-19) “The third person in the Trinity…was given to Christ as man, without measure, whereby he was qualified for his great work: he was upon him, and in him, the first moment of his conception, which was by his power; and he visibly descended on him at his baptism; and the phrase denotes the permanency and continuance of him with him…to preach the Gospel to the poor: in Isaiah it is, ‘to the meek ‘…such as are poor in spirit, and are sensible of their spiritual poverty…to these the Gospel, or glad tidings of the love, grace, and mercy of God in Christ, of peace, pardon, righteousness, life and salvation by Christ, were preached by him; and that in so clear a manner, and with such power and authority…to preach deliverance to the captives; who are captives to sin, Satan, and the law.” (1) “The work of Christ was not finished when He had merited salvation for His people and had obtained actual possession of the blessings of salvation. In the counsel of redemption He took it upon Himself to put all His people in possession of all these blessings, and He does this through the operation of the Holy Spirit, who takes all things out of Christ, and gives them to us.” (1) Have you thanked God lately for the work of the Spirit in your salvation? I enjoy asking new friends and fellow believers about their testimonies of redemption. Hearing their accounts reminds me of my own remarkable, unexpected salvation. “The Spirit of glory, the Holy Spirit, rests upon believers in an especially powerful way. Further, it is the same Spirit that rested on Jesus (Isa. 11:2; Matt. 3:16) who now rests upon the believer.” (2)

The Spirit Anoints Believers

“The word [grace] is something like a synonym for the Holy Spirit, so that there is little difference between ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ and ‘full of grace and power’ in Acts 6:5 and 8. The Holy Spirit is called ‘the Spirit of grace’ in Heb. 10:29…As the covenant in which God made provision for the salvation of sinners is called the covenant of grace, and as the Mediator of the covenant is said to have appeared ‘full of grace,’ so that we can receive out of His fulness ‘grace for grace,’ John 1:16,17, so the Holy Spirit is called ‘the Spirit of grace,’ since He takes the ‘grace of Christ’ and confers it on us.” (3) I have a friend who calls God’s blessings a “kiss on the cheek.” When I consider the work of the Spirit in rescuing me from my lost estate, it’s like a tender, loving kiss on my forehead. I was utterly lost and didn’t know it, like a person taking a new shortcut but going in the wrong direction and not realizing it. Some of us were raised in the church, with teaching about sin and the need for salvation. However, others had no idea that we were absorbed in our self-righteousness or cultural indoctrination. The Holy Spirit interrupted our lives to show us God, and we awakened us to our dead status. Even “good” people who love to help others and do what is right suddenly understand that all they have done is temporal and for their self-image when they are converted. “Good citizens” need Christ, like the prophet Isaiah needed him for the calling of God to speak to Israel. When God appeared to Isaiah, he said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5) “He is made sensible of his lost and undone state…For mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts…and a lovely sight it is to see him by faith, in the glory and beauty of his person, and in the fulness of his grace; such a sight is spiritual, saving, assimilating, appropriating, very endearing, and very glorious and delightful: wherefore it may seem strange that a sight of Christ should fill the prophet with dread; one would think he should rather have said, happy man that I am, because I have seen this glorious Person, whom to see and know is life eternal; but the reason of it is, because in this view of Christ he saw the impurity of himself…just as in a sunbeam a man beholds those innumerable motes and atoms, which before were invisible to him. It was not because of his sight of Christ he reckoned himself undone; but because of the impurity of himself, and those among whom he dwelt, which he had a view of through his sight of Christ: his sight of Christ is given as a reason of his view of his impurity, and his impurity as the reason of his being undone in his apprehension of things. The prophet, in these his circumstances, represents a sensible sinner, under a sight and sense of his sinfulness and vileness.” (4) Like Isaiah, I was stunned by my sinfulness when Christ redeemed me. I spent my first year as a Christian confessing and weeping over my sin. And yet, what a blessing to have the light of God shine in my heart, exposing so many dark, dank, evil crevices where my sin dwelt undisturbed. I was cleansed. Jesus Christ relieves, liberates, and gives sight to the blind, captive, oppressed, and poor in Spirit through the Holy Spirit. He saves those who are lost and don’t know it. Without the Holy Spirit’s application of Christ’s atonement, you and I would still be lost. 

“The Spirit recreates the human heart, quickening it from spiritual death to spiritual life. Regenerate people are new creations. Where formerly they had no disposition, inclination, or desire for the things of God, now they are disposed and inclined toward God…Regeneration is not the result of faith. Rather regeneration precedes faith as the necessary condition for faith…We do not decide or choose to be regenerated. God chooses to regenerate us before we will ever choose to embrace Him. To be sure, after we have been regenerated by the sovereign grace of God [through the Holy Spirit], we do choose, act, cooperate, and believe in Christ.” (5) Have you celebrated the Spirit’s work for salvation lately? “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

Related Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-2; 42:1; Ezekiel 34:15-16; Matthew 3:11-16; 11:4-6; 18:12-14; John 3:34-36; Acts 26:15-18; 1 Corinthians 12: 13; Ephesians 1:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5.

Notes:

  1. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Luke 4:18, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/luke-4.html
  2. Berkoff, L., Systematic Theology, p. 432,” Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1993.
  3. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Peter 4:14, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008. 
  4. Berkhof, Ibid, p. 426-8.
  5. Gill, Ibid, Isaiah 6:4-5.
  6. The Reformation Study Bible, “Rebirth, p. 587” Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015.

July 7, 2022

Blessed Fellowship in Christ

My friend, who is also a neighbor, gets busy, as I do, and we don’t meet as often as we would like. Our conversations aren’t remarkable and wouldn’t be particularly interesting to others. We recount what we’ve been up to since we last met or talked, or what’s on our calendars for the next few days. Aa we talk, we thank God for answered prayers and his help. We both place our Christian faith at the top of our priorities, spending time in God’s Word and serving our community. When we disagree about some way to approach someone or do something, it’s quickly put right by bringing in the gospel, and we’re on the same track. It’s not that way with everyone; sometimes, we can’t seem to overcome our differences of opinion or ways of viewing the world with others. When we have our Bible study discussions here, some of the participants grow very quiet with thoughtful expressions, letting me know that the biblical view being addressed is different or new for them. I’m always encouraged when someone lets me know they appreciate new teaching and are thinking about what we discussed. When God redeems us, the Holy Spirit works in us to transform our thinking. “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18; also see Romans 12:1-2.) God’s people, transformed in Christ, have what the Bible calls “koinōnia,” fellowship that draws us closer to God and others into his kingdom. God called the early church to awesome koinōnia giving his people one generous heart and mind in the gospel, resulting in others coming into his kingdom. 

Christ’s First Church

In Acts, we read about the first church God planted in Jerusalem. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47) Having committed themselves to biblical instruction, every soul, all who believed, had all things in common, giving to all, having favor with all people—which was only possible through the Holy Spirit’s work. The result was the growth of the kingdom of God, more blessings for more people, and increased blessings for those already in the fellowship. “The greatness of the event raised them above the world, and the Holy Ghost filled them with such love, as made every one to be to another as to himself, and so made all things common, not by destroying property, but doing away selfishness, and causing charity.” (1) “Acts 2:42-47 describes the early church. It is presented as a model church, but this does not mean that it was perfect. A few chapters further on, we are going to find that it was far from perfect. It had hypocrites in it, as our churches also have. It had doctrinal errors. It certainly had sinful human beings of all types, as our churches do. Yet it was a model in many important respects, and it is as such that it is described in Acts 2…Not only did it devote itself to the apostles’ teaching, but the early church also devoted itself to fellowship at many levels. [John] Stott says that ‘the word “fellowship” was born on the Day of Pentecost.’ This is because Christian fellowship means ‘common participation in God,’ which is what had drawn the early Christians together.” (2) God called the early church to awesome koinōnia giving his people one generous heart in the gospel resulting in others coming into his kingdom. The early believers didn’t create this fellowship; God did. They didn’t work themselves into a blessed state of submission, humility, sacrifice, or devotion to Christ. The Holy Spirit did this work in and among them, and they were blessed. Do we trust God and yield to him for awesome koinōnia with our brothers and sisters in Christ so that others can have Christ’s salvation in his kingdom with us?

Christian Koinōnia 

“The apostle John wrote, ‘We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ’ (1 John 1:3)…The fellowship of the church was a common fellowship because of the great spiritual realities the believers shared in together. Fellowship with God and true fellowship with others go together…If you find yourself out of fellowship with God, you will begin to find yourself out of fellowship with other Christians…But if you come close to God, you will inevitably find yourself being drawn close to other Christians. And it works the other way, too. If you spend time with other Christians, if you share a great deal with them, that fellowship will help to draw you closer to the Father. When we talk about our participation in God, we are talking about a ‘sharing in.’ But this ‘sharing in’ also results in a ‘sharing out.’” (3) “The fellowship that the Bible describes in Acts is that of sharing a common life together. As Jerry Bridges notes in his book, True Community, ‘The first Christians of Acts 2 were not devoting themselves to social activities but to a relationship–a relationship that consisted of sharing together the very life of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They understood that they had entered this relationship by faith in Jesus Christ, not by joining an organization. And they realized that their fellowship with God logically brought them into fellowship with one another. Through their union with Christ, they were formed into a spiritual organic community.’ Sharing a common life together is not about doing activities but about sharing life. Spiritual life. It is about working together to bring about God’s Kingdom purposes. It is about serving together, helping each other through trials, lifting each other up when we fall, praying for one another, urging one another on in the faith. And ultimately, it is reflecting Christ in our love for one another, imaging Him to the fallen world around us. It all starts with our own friendship with God—our own fellowship with God. We give and receive from Him. We give Him our burdens and He gives us His grace, rest, and strength. We receive from Him spiritual nourishment and then pour it out to other believers. They in turn also receive from God and pour it out into our lives. It is a constant flow, an unceasing giving and sharing of God’s love and grace with one another.” (4) As we follow the example of the early church, yielding to God’s calling for face-to-face, in-person koinōnia, we will be tremendously blessed. Others will notice and be drawn by God into Christ’s salvation, sharing the fellowship in his kingdom with us.  

“The word fellowship has been so watered down in contemporary speech that it conveys only a faint suggestion of what it meant in earlier times. When we speak of fellowship today, we generally mean no more than comradeship, the sharing of good times…When the Bible uses the word, it means being caught up into a communion created by God. [In Philippians 1:3-5]…Paul was so thankful in the case of the young church at Philippi. They may have had things in common. But Paul is not speaking of these. He is thankful for their share in the gospel of God. They had been taken up into a divine fellowship. They were united, not upon a social level, but by their commitment to the truths of the gospel.” (5) Paul experienced fellowship with the Philippian church, in-person and from a distance. He wrote to them, “It was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.” (Philippians 4:14-16) What blessings have you shared with your Christian family lately? “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Related Scripture: Psalms 55:14; 119:63; Luke 24:52-53; Acts 1:14; 4:32-33; 5:42; 13:12; 16:5; Romans 14:18; 2 Corinthians 8:9-15; Ephesians 4:3-6. 

Notes

  1. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Acts 2:42-47, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/acts-2.html
  2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Acts 2:42-47, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Boice, Ibid.
  4. Boice, Ibid.
  5. Fox, Christina, Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ helps Friendships to Flourish, Christian Focus Publications, 2017, Kindle Edition.
  6. Boice, Ibid, Philippians 1:3-5.

June 30, 2022

The Blessing of Christian Unity

What have you recently done that was “pleasant?” When were you with people who bless you with love and interest in you and your life? How do you define “pleasant?” Most dictionaries define it as something that gives a sense of enjoyment or happy satisfaction. But after my week of meditation on our passage, I propose that this definition falls far short of God’s. In Genesis 2:9, “The Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” God’s Word equates pleasant with “good” in God’s eyes, which is supremely excellent. The writer of Hebrews recognizes our tendency to define pleasant as the absence of pain: “…all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant…” (Hebrews 12:11) While that which is agreeable, lovely, or delightful certainly includes the absence of pain (at least for a short time), or a distraction from it, we are called to a much more excellent experience of God’s goodness. The people of God have access to the greatest blessings of Christ, especially when we are gathered together. On Sunday, our pastor asked us, “Do we long to come together as a local church body in the Spirit’s presence the way we long to see grandchildren or others? Did we miss being together during COVID, to the point of heartbreak?” He quoted C.S Lewis, who wrote, “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (1) And yet, God pours out his tangible, good, pleasant blessings through believers’ unity when gathered together, as we will see in Psalm 133.

The Blessing of Christian Unity

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” (Psalms 133) In this song of assent to worship, David is aware that “God commands his blessing where peace is cultivated; by which is meant, that he testifies how much he is pleased with concord amongst men, by showering down blessing upon them. The same sentiment is expressed by Paul in other words (2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 4:9), ‘Live in peace, and the God of peace shall be with you.’ (2) “Christ died to purify to himself a peculiar people. Unfeigned love of the brethren is the end of sanctification and evidence of it…according to his abundant mercy, by the resurrection of Christ…being children of the same Father, belonging to the same family and household, having the same spirit, and the same nature and disposition, and being members one of another, and heirs of the same grace and glory.” (3) When we think of God’s blessings, unity is probably not the first thing that comes to mind, probably because we are such independent creatures. But after we have had a shared experience with our Christian brothers and sisters, in worship, fellowship, Bible study, or other celebration, it might come to mind. If we would more frequently recognize God’s blessing of our unity in Christ, we would want more, more of God’s tangible, good, pleasant blessings as we spend time together. 

Unity’s Blessing is Like Dripping Oil

“It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!” (Ps. 133:2) “Unity is a gift from God. In verse 2 the threefold repetition ‘running down,’ ‘running down,’ and ‘down’—the Hebrew uses the same verb each time—emphasizes that the blessing of Aaron’s anointing was from above himself, that is, from God. The anointing of Aaron was a blessing from God for him, but he was the high priest, which meant that he in turn blessed others. The description of the oil running down from his beard ‘upon the collar of his robes’ also suggests the flow of the blessing. There is even the hint that, since the oil was ‘precious oil’—the best oil blended with myrrh, cinnamon, cane, and cassia (Exodus 30:22–24)—the anointing would have been wonderfully fragrant and would have filled the air wherever Aaron went…In the same way, a person who is at peace with himself or herself or a people who are united are a blessing wherever he, she, or they go. They tend to win people to their unity and spread it.” (4) Sometimes, we settle for much less than Christ’s blessings for his family. I have oil that I use to moisten and maintain my cuticles, that drips down all over my hands. But there is no comparison between this oil from a bottle, purchased and applied to myself, to the precious oil of God’s anointing. “[God’s blessing is] like the precious ointment upon the head…that ran down upon the beard, [even] Aaron’s beard…[like] the grace of the Spirit, the unction from the Holy One; which has been poured on Christ, the head of the church, without measure; and with which he has been anointed above his fellows; and from him it is communicated to all his members…particularly brotherly love is compared to this ointment; because of the preciousness of it, which is true of every grace; and because of the extensiveness of it, reaching to head and members, to Christ and all his saints, the meanest and lowest of them; and because of its fragrancy and sweet odour to all that are sensible of it; and because of its delightful, cheering, and refreshing nature; like ointment and perfume, it rejoices the heart.” (5) We are called, like David, to recognize God’s blessings and enjoy our good, sweet fellowship in Christ together. 

Unity’s Blessing is Like Refreshing Dew

“[Brothers dwelling in unity] is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” (Ps. 133:3) I have recently learned that Mt. Hermon, in Israel, is the only snow-capped mountain in that area. Mt. Zion is one hundred or more miles from Mt. Hermon. When the sun beats down on Mt. Hermon, the dew is sometimes carried to Jerusalem by a cold current of air sweeping down from the north over Hermon. The sweet, misty mountain air is refreshing, like the Spirit’s presence when we are together. “This comes from above, from the Father of lights; and, because of its gentle nature, this makes men pure, and peaceable, and gentle, and easy to be entreated; as the dew falls gently in a temperate and moderate air, not in stormy and blustering weather: and because of its cooling nature; it allays the heats and animosities in the minds of men; and because it makes the saints fruitful, and to grow and increase in good works…the promise of the covenant, the blessing of the Gospel; which is in the hands of Christ, and comes through him to all his people; (6) “Unity is a foretaste of heaven. The final verse of the psalm speaks of ‘life forevermore.’ Some things are good for us but not pleasant. Other things are pleasant but not good. But the unity we have as God’s people is both good and pleasant. It is even a bit of heaven now.” (7)

Do you know the hymn, “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds?” John Fawcett was orphaned at twelve. After being converted under the preaching of George Whitefield at sixteen, he became a preacher himself. He ministered at Carter’s Lane Church in London. His congregation was distraught at his farewell service and begged him to stay, and in 1987 he penned the hymn. “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above…We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear, and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear. When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.” Are we like Fawcett, filled with inward pain when we depart each other’s company, not just at funerals or quarantines, but whenever we have been blessed to share our mutual woes and bear our mutual burdens together? May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:5-7)

Related Scripture: Genesis 13:8; Leviticus 25:21;Deuteronomy 28:8-10; John 17:20-23; Acts 4:32-34; Romans 12:16-18; 1 Corinthians 16:13-14; 2 Corinthians 13:11-12; Ephesians 4:1-3; Philippians 2:1-2; 1 Peter 1:22-23; 2:16-17; 3:8; 4:8.

Notes:

  1. Pastor Bryant McGee, Blessed Unity, 6/19/22, with a quotation from C.S. Lewis, The  Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses. 
  2. Calvin, John, Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms, Psalm 133, P & R Publishing, 1999.
  3. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Psalm 133, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalm-133.html.
  4. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 133, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  5. Gill, Ibid.
  6. Gill, Ibid.
  7. Boice, Ibid

June 23, 2022

The Blessing of Shared Christian Joy

On Tuesday, our community celebrated Flag Day with local veterans. We marked our country’s founding and the flag’s ideals of a nation of “liberty and justice for all” by reciting the pledge. What have you observed with others lately? Have you been to a wedding, engagement party, bridal or baby shower, retirement, graduation, or team trophy party? I’m sure we mark some momentous things quietly, without much fanfare. But, it’s so much fun to celebrate a special event or a particular person with others. We have a heightened sense of community and unity of hearts when we get together. Celebrations also distract us from life’s difficulties, worries, and anxieties and relieve us from mundane weariness. According to LinkedIn, celebrating with others have five benefits: it relieves stress, shows appreciation, energizes us, creates valuable downtime, and acknowledges worthiness. This last item caught my attention. The website states: “In a world that can easily be seen as negative, acknowledging that something is important for you reflects a sense of worthiness to you.” (1) Of all the benefits of celebrating, this one seems obvious since the way we use our time is always an indication of what is valuable to us—even when it’s doing what is necessary to sustain life and take care of necessities. But going beyond life’s “necessary” things to celebrate, blesses us as we acknowledge something special together. Contrary to what we assume, we’re not restricted to celebrating periodically. Whenever possible, I begin my meetings and group Bible studies with shared praises and thanksgiving, celebrating God’s character and works. At other times, I try to open with a prayer that celebrates God. Christ’s family is to rejoice in God’s great salvation for us all. We celebrate our blessedness in God’s greatness when we worship, sing, pray, fellowship, and confess together.

Called to Celebrate Together

Many passages in the psalms call us to be joyful because of God’s blessings and salvation. I have extracted two verses in two different psalms today. “May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’…Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Psalms 70:4; 144:15b) Psalm 70 is a brief individual lament; it is David’s prayer for God to rescue him from his enemies. In Psalm 144, David praises God for his power and victory promised to Israel. Regarding Israel’s care from the Lord, he says, “Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall!” (144:15a) “It is the will of God that he should be known in his gracious character, not only by one or two, but generally by all men. David, therefore, shows that he asks nothing for himself individually but what pertains to the whole Church. He prays that God would gladden the hearts of all the saints, or afford them all common cause of rejoicing.” (2) “It is good to be reminded that there are other righteous people, those who are trying to follow after God and do the right thing, just as we are. We often forget this. We struggle against our particular enemies, grow tired and discouraged, and find ourselves slumped under a juniper tree like Elijah, crying out, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too’ (1 Kings 19:10). When that happens we need to remind ourselves (or be reminded by God) that there are yet ‘seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him’ (1 Kings 19:18). It is important to remember that there are other people who are trying to do exactly what we are trying to do…[and] we should be able to praise God for whatever he chooses to do with us…It is a great thing when the people of God can say in any circumstance, ‘Let God be exalted!’ For he will be! It is fitting when we can acknowledge this and praise God openly.” (3)

Daily Celebration of Christ’s Salvation

I wonder how our Christian friends, co-workers, and family members might respond if we greeted them like this: “Isn’t God wonderful? Christ is interceding for us even as we speak!” Or, “What delights you about God today?” I confess that I often use my dog’s name to share my joy in the Lord. I named him GG (God’s Gift) intentionally because I wanted him to be a bridge to talk about the Lord as I move around in my community, at the vet’s, and in public places where I engage with others. It’s a bit easier to see why I named him this now that he’s glorifying God with his calm demeanor (vs. his former reactive, anxious behavior). But before, when he didn’t look like a gift, he reminded me and others that God’s blessings don’t always look like gifts to us. In Psalm 144, “David is extremely personal as he confesses who he had found God to be. He says my Rock, my loving God, my fortress, my stronghold, my deliverer, and my shield…The last lines [of the psalm] commend David’s God to the people. They say, in effect: Happy are those who can make the same confession I do, who can say as I have been doing, ‘My Lord and my God.’…the blessing is anchored in its only adequate source, God, which is why the psalm ends by saying that the greatest blessing of all is to have Jehovah as one’s God. How different this blessing is from the world’s way of thinking!…Having Jehovah as our God does not in itself immediately guarantee blessings, for we live in a fallen world. Even David did not experience uninterrupted blessings…But we are blessed by God all the same. Besides, to know God is the greatest of all blessings, and knowing and serving God is the best and surest path to every other blessing.” (4) As Christ’s family rejoices in his great salvation, we are to celebrate our blessedness together with joy. 

More Than Conquerers

Our pastor recently reminded us to thank God for Christ, our Savior, if we can’t think of any other reason to praise and thank God. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39) “If Christ has triumphed over our spiritual enemies, then we, through him, shall be more than conquerors. This may encourage all that seek God and love his salvation, to rejoice in him, and to praise him. No griefs nor poverty can render those miserable who fear the Lord. Their God, and all that he has or does, is the ground of their joy…The promises are sure, the moment of fulfillment hastens forward. He who once came in great humility, shall come again in glorious majesty.” (5) Celebrating Christ joyfully together blesses us all. “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust…You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told.” (Psalms 40:3-5)

Related Scripture: Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 33:29; 2 Samuel 7:23; Psalms 16:11; 33:12; 35:27; 40:16; 111:6-9 146:5; Proverbs 16:20; Isaiah 30:18; Jeremiah 17:7-8; 31:33; John 13:12-14; 1 John 4:11, 20-21.

Notes

  1. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/top-5-benefits-celebrating-something-keryn-rose
  2. Calvin, John, Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms, Psalms 70:4, P & R Publishing, 1999.
  3. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 70, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  4. Boice, Ibid, Psalm 144.
  5. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Psalm 40, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/psalms-40.html

June 16, 2022

The Blessing of Biblical Faith

Have you responded to an advertisement lately that promises something vague? You’ve had to open the envelope or email to learn more about the stated reward or discount. Many internet and email advertisers pursue us today with offers. But, we have to chase the ‘invitation” if we’re interested to learn the truth. Then, if you apply for a new credit card, expect to get other companies pursuing you for months. I’ve had many companies send me mail promising a $250 or $500 cash reward for opening an account with them. Curious, I open the envelope to see what I must do to earn it. I have to spend five or ten times that amount in a few months before getting the “reward.” I don’t know about you, but that’s not a reward in my eyes; it’s a bribe. If I had not read the literature carefully, I might not realize the condition for getting the funds and would have requested the card—in blind faith. Blind faith is a faith with no reason or faith despite evidence to the contrary. God’s Word never endorses faith without reason, evidence, or proof. The proof of Scripture is in the historical accuracy of its events, prayers, miracles, and teachings. Real people lived real lives and said things people memorized and recorded about the world, God, people, and creatures. “Biblical faith is not blind trust in the face of contrary evidence, not an unknowable’ leap in the dark;’ rather, biblical faith is a confident trust in the eternal God who is all-powerful, infinitely wise, eternally trustworthy–the God who has revealed himself in his word and in the person of Jesus Christ, whose promises have proven true from generation to generation, and who will ‘never leave nor forsake’ his own (John 13:5). Such faith in the unseen realities of God is emphasized throughout [Hebrews] chapter 11 and has provided confidence and assurance to all who receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.” (1) We sometimes confuse sight with the truth; but God is invisible but real or believable. When we have faith in our unseeable God, the object of our faith is Christ, who is alive, reliable, and the source of all spiritual blessings. Believers are spiritually blessed by Jesus Christ because we have real, biblical, saving faith. Let’s delight in the blessings of Christ and reject tendencies toward “blind faith.”

Thomas Believed When He Saw Jesus

After Jesus’s resurrection, Thomas seems to think that the disciples saw a ghost rather than Jesus’s real, glorified body. The following Sunday the disciples gathered before returning to Galilee. Jesus appeared in the locked room “and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'” (John 20:26-29) “What does Jesus mean when he says, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed?’…I believe he is speaking, not of a subjective faith, but of a satisfied faith. He is speaking of faith that is satisfied with what God provides and is therefore not yearning for visions, miracles, esoteric experiences, or various forms of success as evidence of God’s favor. More than that, he is saying that a faith without these things is not inferior to but is actually superior to a faith based upon them. If you are a normal Christian, I am sure there have been times when you have been discouraged, perhaps overcome with doubt, and you have said, ‘Oh, if God would only reveal himself to me in some special way so that my sight, touch, or hearing could assist my faith.’ We remember that there were people in the Bible who had such evidence’…Why can’t we have something similar?’ we argue. ‘Surely we could believe much better and be far more effective in our Christian walk and witness if we did.’ But that is not true, even though we like to tell ourselves that it is. For one thing, we usually want such experiences for the wrong reason—vanity. We would have a far higher opinion of ourselves if we should be granted an experience which most do not have. For another thing, visions do not necessarily lead to greater faith…If you are looking for miracles (which God sometimes does provide, but seldom), you will gradually become insensitive to the thousands of normal evidences of God’s mercy which you receive constantly…the blessings of the gospel are for those who live by faith and not by sight, who live by their faith in the character and benevolence of God.” (2) We are spiritually blessed by Jesus Christ because he gives us this reliable biblical, saving faith. The more robust our belief, the more able we are to reject tendencies toward “blind faith.”

Blessed to Believe Him Without Seeing Him

“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7) “This is not a reference to believing the unbelievable but to living all of one’s life based on confident trust in God’s promises for the future, even when one cannot yet see the fullness of the coming glory.” (3) “The present state and situation of the saints, whilst in the body, is a state of pilgrimage, and so of absence from the Lord Christ, and from their Father’s house, serves to increase their confidence and assurance, that they shall not long continue so, but in a little time shall be at home, and forever with the Lord. For we walk by faith, and not by sight. Faith is a grace which answers many useful purposes; it is the eye of the soul, by which it looks to Christ for righteousness, peace, pardon, life, and salvation; the hand by which it receives him, and the foot by which it goes to him, and walks in him as it has received him; which denotes not a single act of faith, but a continued course of believing; and is expressive, not of a weak, but of a strong steady faith of glory and happiness, and of interest in it…Faith looks at, and has a glimpse of things not seen, which are eternal; but it is but seeing as through a glass darkly; it is not that full sight, face to face, which will be had hereafter, when faith is turned into vision..” (4)

Being Informed About God is a Blessing

“When Christians are not informed about the many reasons for God, their faith rests on an intellectually weak foundation. With a weak foundation, their spiritual home becomes unstable and is difficult to share with others. If spiritual leaders convince you that believing things without any reason to do so is virtuous, then you’ve opened yourself up to being misled by anything they tell you…I would challenge you to raise the bar of your engagement with Christians to the highest level you can take it. Maybe begin with Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis or The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel. If that’s weak sauce, go after Reasonable Faith, by William Lane Craig. Hungering for something bristling with the toughest arguments? Work your way through The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.” (5) “God blesses faith, and not the living out of some unusual experience…Suppose God’s blessing were linked to the unusual. In that case, either his blessing would be for a small and select company only, or else the things we consider unusual would have to become commonplace, in which case they would cease to have the character of ‘special evidences.’ They would be like those other countless evidences of God’s providence which we enjoy daily but do not regard so highly, simply because they are common. No, the blessings of God are for all; and they are based, not upon the unusual in Christian experience, but upon faith which by its very nature and definition is common to all who call upon the name of Christ as God and Savior. This is why the Gospel of John ends on this note. It ends here because John wants to encourage everyone to believe on Jesus and enjoy God’s blessings.” (6) And, I add, to reject the tendency we may have toward blind faith, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) The next time I read of some “reward” on the front of an envelope, I will think of our sure, true, reliable inheritance in Christ. “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, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9) 

Related Scripture: 2 Chronicles 30:26-27; Luke 1:18-20; John 20:29; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 2 Corinthians 4:18-5:1; Ephesians 3:17-19; Hebrews 11:1.

Notes:

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Hebrews 11:1, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, John 20:29, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid, 2 Corinthians 5:6-7.
  4. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, 2 Corinthians 5:6-7, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/2-corinthians-5.html
  5. Weitnauer, Carson, The Problem of Blind Faith, February 2, 2013 by Carson Weitnauer, http://christianapologeticsalliance.com/2013/02/02/the-problem-of-blind-faith/.
  6. Boice, Ibid, John 20:29.

June 2, 2022