God Commands Everyone Everywhere to Repent

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it seems as though we have adjusted to the idea that there is a killer virus affecting an increasing number of people. The CDC has an elaborate, well-organized, and easy to navigate website with all the information necessary for COVID, including help for those who have become sick (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/). How many folks have looked at the page and how many others assume they already know enough to be “okay?” Perhaps if you aren’t going anywhere (at all) or interact with no one outside your immediate household (no one), you may not need help. How many of us are doing that or even want to? It’s easy to overlook someone’s ignorance at the beginning of a new crisis, but as the trauma takes on a long-range character, ignorance is inexcusable. Not knowing what to do about my child’s failing grades, my newly discovered cancer, our inability to pay our bills due to work loss, or my grief over a family member’s death is understandable in the beginning. But, as time goes on, the pressure builds to have a resolution or an approach that might lead to a solution. When I think of how we are managing during the 2021 extension of the pandemic, I also think of how we are handling our spiritual needs. We all need a greater hope, a better future, and a goal or objective to aim for if we want to operate at our best possible potential. We don’t give up if we are committed to a life of intentional integrity. And God never gives up on us as we seek his help and glory. Unbelievers do not have the Holy Spirit’s help, so God commands all people to repent, to find their hope in Christ—not a vaccine, a cure for cancer, the educational approach that will work, or the job that will guarantee financial independence. Most people within reach of the internet have heard the truth of God’s Word and the name of Jesus Christ for salvation. What is God doing now for the unrepentant? He’s doing what he has always done, commanding them to repent. “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31) 

God overlooked ignorance before Christ’s incarnation but now commands repentance in light of Christ’s atoning work and future judgment. “Paul’s address begins in verse 22. It is a classic…He has a short but brilliant introduction, followed by four clear points: (1) God is the Creator of all things; (2) God is the sustainer of all things; (3) God is the ordainer of all things; and (4) we should seek him. Paul concludes that we should repent since we have not sought God as we should…We can see why Paul calls for repentance. He has not spoken of the gross immorality of the Athenians, though he could have. He has not spoken of the intellectual arrogance of the philosophers, though he could have. There was a sense in which the Greeks did not know any better in these areas.” (1) God is the one doing everything to bring the Greeks and us to repentance. In the past, he overlooked ignorance of the gospel, he fixed a day for judgment, and he raised Jesus from death, giving us assurance of a resurrection. In the future, he will judge the world. At this present time and throughout the church age, he commands everyone everywhere to repent. Except God is the only One “mighty to save.” (Isaiah 63:1) “By the words ‘to save’ we understand the whole of the great work of salvation, from the first holy desire onward to complete sanctification. The words are multum in parvo [much in little]: indeed, here is all mercy in a word. Christ is not only ‘mighty to save’ those who repent, but He is able to make men repent. He will carry those to heaven who believe; but He is, moreover, mighty to give men new hearts and to work faith in them. He is mighty to make the man who hates holiness love it, and to constrain the despiser of His name to bend the knee before Him. And this is not all the meaning, for the divine power is equally seen in the after-work…He is mighty to keep His people holy after He has made them so, and to preserve them in His fear and love until He consummates their spiritual existence in heaven.” (2) God’s saving grace is irresistible, so his command to repent will not fail for the elect. “Though God only is the author of conversion, it is of great importance to stress the fact, over against a false passivity, that there is also a certain co-operation of man in conversion. The New Testament represents conversion as a deed of man 26 times, and speaks of it only 2 or 3 times as an act of God. It should be borne in mind, however, that this activity of man always results from a previous work of God in man, Lam. 5:21; Phil. 2:13. That man is active in conversion is quite evident from such passages as Isaiah 55:7; Jeremiah 18:11; Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11; Acts 2:38; 17:30, and others.” (3) What the Lord plans, he does, without fail.

The Lord is no longer overlooking the excuse of ignorance, so we should make our concern for the unrepentant a priority. We are to pray for and witness to those who are unrepentant because of Christ in us. Acts 14:16-17 offers some insight into the “ignorance” that God overlooked. “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” “Until the coming of Jesus Christ, God’s special redemptive revelation was addressed almost exclusively to Israel, leaving the pagan nations largely in ignorance (except for the general revelation throughout the cosmos, that left them without excuse, Rom. 1:18-25). God did not impose on the Gentiles the judgment they deserved, and now He has sent Paul to proclaim His truth to all people everywhere, calling them to repentance.” (5) “We need the message of repentance for our generation too, though we are far guiltier than the Greeks. Besides, we need it for ourselves if we have not yet repented. Christianity does not begin by saying, ‘You’re a very good fellow’ and ‘everything is going to be nice for you if you will just get in touch with God.’ Christianity says, ‘You have failed to seek after God. You have gone your own way. You are willfully ignorant. Therefore, God commands that you repent of that ignorance.’ As we repent, God holds out the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.” (6)

‘He will judge the world’ (v. 31) means that God holds people accountable. Later, in Acts 18:5-6, we learn that “When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’” “Your blood be on your own heads reflects Ezekiel’s words about God’s prophetic watchman (Ezek. 33:1–7). ‘Blood’ means ‘the responsibility for your judgment by God.’ Paul had faithfully discharged his responsibility, so that at the final judgment no part of these Jews’ failure to believe could be attributed to his failure to tell them about Christ.” (7) “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26) The best good news during the pandemic, and in any season of life, is that “If a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezekiel 18:21-23) God never commands what is impossible, by his grace. Should this not encourage us to testify to those who claim to be ignorant?

Additional Related Scripture: Psalm 9:8; 96:13; 98:9; Mark 6:10-12; Romans 1:1-7; Ephesians 4:18; Titus 2:11-12; 1 Peter 1:14; 4:3; Revelation 20:12-15.

  1. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Acts of the Apostles,” Acts 17:16-34, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  2. Truth For Life, “The Best Proof,” January 14, https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/daily-devotionals/1/14/1/
  3. Boice, Ibid.
  4. Berkoff, L., Systematic Theology, Acts 17:30—(p. 490), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1993. 
  5. The Reformation Study Bible, Acts 17:30, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015. 
  6. Boice, Ibid.
  7. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Acts 18:6, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

January 15, 2021

Repentance For Salvation

Have you ever been in a situation where you were sure of your knowledge of a thing only to realize that after years of certainty, you don’t understand it at all? Take our current American political landscape, for instance. For the first time in my lifetime, I learned about the possibility of an objection to the electoral votes casts by states in November handled by congress every January 5. Previously, I was unaware of the January process for congress’s formal approval of electoral votes (probably because I don’t follow politics closely). Maybe you’ve had this experience with car mechanics, internet technology, or even cooking—you were sure of something that turned out to be different, perhaps even radically different. I am having this experience with the doctrine of biblical repentance, so I wonder how many of us truly understand what it is and how God uses it in our spiritual growth? Let’s start with where Biblical repentance starts for us—when we turn from the rejection of Jesus Christ as the source of God’s forgiveness and salvation to receive him. Only God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience lead us to repent of our cold, defiant hearts toward him. I pray that we will thank God for his goodness, which alone rescues us from his righteous judgment and wrath.

In the middle of a narrative about the sinfulness of all people and the consequences of rejecting God, Paul writes, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:4-5) “Paul disagrees with much of the Jewish teaching of his day, according to which the Jews were not storing up wrath but were in good standing with God through their covenant relationship, not needing to meet God’s standard of perfect obedience but needing only an intention to obey God.” (1) Many people today also believe that by not stealing, murdering, lying, committing adultery, or coveting, by attending church, not using God’s name, and honoring their parents, they have earned God’s favor and escape from wrath at the final judgment. But they do not love God, only fear his punishment. “Theologians make a distinction between two kinds of repentance. The first is called attrition. Attrition is a false or spurious kind of repentance. It involves remorse caused by a fear of punishment or a loss of blessing…motivated by an attempt to get a ticket out of hell or to otherwise avoid punishment. Contrition, on the other hand, is true and godly repentance.” (2) Our sinfulness is a reality; arrogantly thinking that we are ok, acceptable, or good enough to earn God’s favor is the sin of pride—idolatry and self-justification, as if God didn’t exist. Many people believe in what I call “salvation by death,” as if everyone who dies goes to heaven by default.

“’Do you presume’ is probably directed against Jews who thought that their covenant relationship with God would shield them from final judgment. After all, they had often experienced his kindness and forbearance and patience. They thought such blessings showed that they were right with God and had no need to trust in Christ, but Paul says the opposite is true: God’s blessings should have led them to repent of their sins.” (3) After years of Bible study, I have adopted a particular order of praying in the morning, including confession. I first recognize God’s attributes, then give thanks. I find it very easy then to move into repentance. I can only do this because of God’s gifts of faith and repentance that I received from the Lord when I was lost, unworthy, and utterly unaware of his grace. I thank God for His kindness, tolerance, and patience that led me to repent of my cold, defiant heart toward him. God rescued me, as he does all believers, from his righteous judgment and his wrath for sin.

“We do not earn salvation by our repentance; nevertheless, Scripture says we do not belong to Jesus apart from repentance. If we profess faith and yet do not seek to follow Christ—who commands us to repent—we do not have saving faith in Jesus (Matt. 7:21-23)… Repentance and faith can be distinguished but they cannot be separated. Saving faith is a repentant faith, and authentic repentance is repentance that trusts in Christ. Daily as we follow the Savior, we should be grieving our sin, asking for forgiveness, trusting in Jesus, and asking Him to strengthen us to serve Him. That is the way of repentance.” (4) Louis Berkhof invites us to see repentance, not as a work we do, but “According to Scripture repentance is wholly an inward act, and should not be confounded with the change of life that proceeds from it. Confession of sin and reparation of wrongs are fruits of repentance…true repentance never exists except in conjunction with faith, while, on the other hand, wherever there is true faith, there is also real repentance. The two are but different aspects of the same turning,—a turning away from sin in the direction of God…the two cannot be separated; they are simply complementary parts of the same process.” (5) Have you thought of repentance in this way? Let’s be glad to think about this idea in light of Scripture. 

“Some people even claim that if we say repentance is necessary for salvation we’re adding works to the gospel. They claim that if repentance is required then we’re no longer saved by God’s grace alone, but by what we do as well. But what does the Scripture say? Jesus says, ‘I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance’ (Luke 5:32) Jesus told his disciples to proclaim ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins’ in his name to all the nations (Luke 24:47). When the apostles preached in Acts, they called people to repent of their sins in order to be forgiven (See Acts 2:38, 3:19, 8:32, 17:30, 20:21, 26:20).The apostle Paul makes it clear that those whose lives are characterized by sin ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor. 6:9-10; see also Rom. 8:12-13, Gal. 5:21, Eph. 5:5). According to the unanimous testimony of Scripture, repentance is absolutely necessary in order to be saved. Only those who turn from their sin, trust in Christ, and live lives that are characterized by righteousness will be saved on the last day. But then is repentance a ‘work’ we must perform in order to earn our salvation? Not at all! repentance and faith are really two sides of the same coin. Repentance is turning from sin. Faith is turning to, trusting in, and relying on Christ. Repentance is not a ‘work’ any more than faith is: we simply renounce our sin and rely on Christ.” (6)

In Romans 2:4-5, “Paul has spoken of two paths open to human beings as a result of God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience. One path is the path of contempt for God’s blessings. The other path, the one Paul recommends, is repentance. Paul argues that the kindness, tolerance, and patience of God are to lead us to repentance. But will this happen?” (6) “There is an interesting image suggested by Paul’s language at this point, for Paul speaks of the stubborn and unrepentant person ‘storing up wrath’ for the day of God’s judgment. [“But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5)] It is the image of a greedy individual, a miser, who has been storing up wealth which, contrary to his expectations, is destined to destroy him…That is the way it is for those who pile sin upon sin and show contempt for God’s kindness…They think of their sins as building up a life of future happiness and freedom. But each sin is actually a storing up of wrath.’” (8) “I want to give you three reasons why you should allow [God’s] attributes to lead you to repentance and should no longer despise the goodness of God. First, if God is a good God, then whatever you may think to the contrary in your fallen state, to find this good God will mean finding all good for yourself…Second, if God is tolerant of you, it is because he has a will to save you…Third, if God is patient with you in spite of your many follies, it is because he is giving you an opportunity to be saved…If God is good in his patience, his reason for being so must be to do good. His patience must be to give you opportunity to turn to him.” (9)

“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.” (Psalms 130:3-7)

Additional Related Scripture: Psalm 119:128; Job 42:5-6; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 2 Peter 3:15.

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Romans 2:4-5, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. The Reformation Study Bible, Article: “Repentance” (p. 1964), Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015. 
  3. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid.
  4. Ligonier Ministries, “Repentance Required,” https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/repentance-required/
  5. Berkoff, L., Systematic Theology, “The Scriptural View of Repentance”, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, Reprinted 1993. 
  6. 9Marks, “Is repentance necessary for salvation?” https://www.9marks.org/answer/repentance-necessary-salvation/
  7. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Romans 2:4-5, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  8. Boice, Ibid.

January 8, 2021        

God’s Gift of Repentance

Every year between Christmas and New Year’s Eve I pray about my new blog theme. I also ask the Lord to give me a big-picture Scriptural view for guidance for the new year. My passage for spiritual direction and growth in 2020 was Job 40:6-9. “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?’” This year the theme of rebuke and repentance continues, but from Job’s perspective. “Then Job answered the Lord and said: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6) Biblical repentance is the topic for my devotions this year. I am already humbled and respectfully terrified to write on such an essential aspect of the Christian faith. But, as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (the writer, not the jurist) once wrote, “To reach a port we must sail, sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it. But we must not drift or lie at anchor.” (1) Repentance is the gift from God that not only provides our wind but rekindles our faith to stay on course, close to Jesus.

Many people and organizations will pressure us to “turn over a new leaf” or “be the best we can be” in 2021, as if that’s even possible in one year (or a few months). But in Africa, I enjoyed the tradition of praying in the new year, which is a radically different approach than making New Year’s resolutions based on felt needs and personal strength. Instead, we should repent of our independence, autonomy, and empty boasting. Some secular writers and speakers realize the need for deeper self-examination. For example, in the introduction to “First Things First,” the authors warn that “To get the most out of this material requires that you become involved with it in a deep way—to be willing to examine your life, your scripts, your motives, your ‘first things,’ and what you represent. This is a highly introspective process…It’s impossible to get deeply absorbed in this kind of profound self-knowledge and not emerge unchanged. You’ll see the world differently. You’ll see relationships differently. You’ll see time differently. You’ll see yourself differently.” (2) I agree that good material can change us dramatically. However, their conclusion is utterly unbiblical. “We’re convinced from our own experience that principles produce both personal peace and dramatic results.” (Covey, Ibid.) Their book, nor any book other than the Bible, can deliver peace; principles do not deliver biblical shalom or lasting results. And, only through repentance can we see God differently as Job did.

Rather than depend on someone’s principles, let’s go to the Lord of truth and righteousness, the only One who promises us peace with him through reconciliation in Christ. At the first act of biblical repentance, God gifts us with faith to believe in Jesus. Peter proclaimed the message of repentance on the first Pentecost in Jerusalem. He was especially familiar with repentance, as all of us should be, from his initial awakening to Christ as the Son of God (Matthew 16:16-17) to his very human, sinful insistence on his own power to follow Jesus (Matthew 3:2; 14:29-33; Matthew 26:73-75). Repentance is also the gift from God to walk with Jesus as we navigate this life. Repentance in the Old Testament called for a change in a person’s attitude toward God that impacted one’s actions and life choices. It always involves the idea of leaving one way of thinking and living differently. Peter’s Bible was the Old Testament so he would have been familiar with this doctrine. Then Jesus arrived on the scene, the beloved Son of God, proclaiming the same message of repentance because “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” On Pentecost, Peter preached, “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:36-41)

“This new life will reveal itself in conscious repentance followed by unconscious holiness, never the other way around. The foundation of Christianity is repentance. Strictly speaking, a person cannot repent when he chooses— repentance is a gift of God. The old Puritans used to pray for ‘the gift of tears.’ If you ever cease to understand the value of repentance, you allow yourself to remain in sin. Examine yourself to see if you have forgotten how to be truly repentant…Repentance always brings a person to the point of saying, “I have sinned.” The surest sign that God is at work in his life is when he says that and means it. Anything less is simply sorrow for having made foolish mistakes— a reflex action caused by self-disgust.” (3) The result of the Spirit’s work through Peter’s preaching at Pentecost was the addition of several thousand souls—true believers—who wanted to know more about Christ. So Peter continued to teach them. “And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:40-41) 

The difference between those who are content to make New Year’s resolutions and the work of the Spirit is seen in how believers long to know more about and follow God, his doctrines, his ways, commands, and his people. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, And which is the same with the doctrine of Christ…this the apostles received from Christ, and constantly taught in their ministry…and this these young converts had embraced gladly; and were not only believers of it, but persevering believers; they were constant hearers of it; they continually attended on the ministry of the apostles, and held fast the form of sound words they had received from them; and stood fast in the faith of the Gospel, notwithstanding all the reproach cast upon it, and the afflictions they endured for it: and fellowship; with the apostles and other saints, in spiritual conversation with them, in private, and in communion with them at the Lord’s table in public… and in prayers: not only in their closets, and in their families, but in the church…they observed all opportunities of this kind, and gladly embraced them.” (4) Repentance is an ongoing process of yielding ourselves to Christ’s discipleship for biblical change and growth. 

Will we also long to know God better in 2021? There is no restoration or renewal of our faith apart from repentance, both initially in regeneration and in our sanctification. “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” (Acts 3:19-21) Will we take these words to heart, though it might cause us pain to see our sin? Will Easter 2021 be a true celebration of Christ’s life and death, having humbled ourselves at his cross? When you use your Christmas gifts in 2021, will you also remember to use God’s gift of repentance and pray for a revival through it for many to enter the kingdom this year? Happy New Year in the Lord!

Related Scripture: Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 28:18; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 24:45-47; Acts 2:21; 3:19-21; 16:30-34; 20:18-21; 26:16-18; Romans 14:7-9.

  1. Hyatt, Michael; Harkavy, Daniel, “Living Forward,” Baker Publishing Group, 2016, Kindle Edition.
  2. Covey, Stephen R.; Merrill, A. Roger; Merrill, Rebecca R., “First Things First,” Mango Media, Kindle Edition, 2015.
  3. Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost For His Highest—Repentance,” December 7, https://utmost.org/repentance
  4. 4.    Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Acts 2:42, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-2.html

January 1, 2021        

Our True, Glorious Freedom in Christ

“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” So goes the classic song written by Sara Evans in 2014, and it is so appropriate for us during this COVID Christmas! Today, many people are complaining that their freedom to travel to be with family on Christmas is ruining the holiday for them. I appreciate the oft-repeated phrase, “Christmas has not been cancelled!” But are you wondering how to celebrate and then close out 2020, to finish the year without discouragement about the ranging pandemic? First, I suggest considering the freedom we have in Christ in every circumstance. Then, you might google “best nature photos of 2020,” go for a long walk or hike to appreciate God’s creation, or journal about what you’ve learned about God, yourself, and the world this year. An excellent way to study Scripture is to consider what God is teaching us about himself, the world, and ourselves in the context for the original audience. The Bible offers us freedom from our human intellectual and emotional constraints that keep us bound to the past and inferior perspectives. God also gives us a completely different view on what true freedom is and how we can have it regardless of life’s trials or entrapments. I have been writing about the fruits of the Spirit this year to expand our views of what is possible for us who have the indwelling Holy Spirit—to think and live freely in Christ. Once again, our fathers of the Faith have wise words to appreciate that “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

I recommend reading all of Galatians 5 right now since this conclusion for the year’s blog series brings us full circle to the context of Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit we have from Christ. Christ has freed us from slavery to sin, and the Spirit produces fruit for our gospel witness. This season, it is my goal to enjoy my freedom in Christ through godly living and loving,  fruitful works. In Philip Ryken’s commentary on Galatians, he writes: “…the only kind of theology that interested Paul was practical theology, so his epistle ends with ethics. Beginning with chapter 5, the apostle takes the good news of the cross and the empty tomb and applies it to daily life. The theme of these chapters is announced in the very first verse: ‘For freedom Christ has set us free’…What many Americans [and others] want these days…is not freedom of religion, but freedom from religion…Freedom from religion is not freedom at all, of course; it is another form of bondage…The best and truest freedom is the kind described by John Stott: ‘freedom from my silly little self, in order to live responsibly in love for God and others…Our former state is portrayed as a slavery, Jesus Christ as a liberator, conversion as an act of emancipation and the Christian life as a life of freedom.’”

 (1)

“The obligation that is gone for the Christian is the obligation to obey the law to be saved, which is impossible to achieve. But now that we are saved wholly and freely by grace we are, if anything, more obligated to obey the law! Why? Because we have more reason to love God than we ever did before. Love arises from gospel faith and hope (vs. 5-6), and overflows into loving and serving our neighbors, rather than using them to serve ourselves. And loving our neighbor is ‘the entire law … summed up in a single command’ (v. 14). (2) Paul writes, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:13-15) Paul’s strong language is necessary since we try to justify ourselves by disparaging or condemning others’ reputations and character to appear superior or righteous. “We are born in sin, and thus we are evil by nature. We are destined to die, having been made mortal by God’s curse against Adam’s sin. Finally, we are tormented by the devil, who tempts us to sin and seeks to drag us down to the very pit of hell. True freedom, therefore, is not self-fulfillment. It is not merely political independence or social equality.  It is not the kind of liberty that leads to license, the freedom to do whatever we want or believe whatever we choose.” (3)

“True freedom means liberation from sin, death, and the devil. And by the grace of God, this is exactly the kind of liberation Christ has come to provide. First, Jesus set us free from sin, and especially from its guilt…Second, Christ has set us free from death…Third, Christ has set us free from the devil. There is nothing I have to do to win God’s acceptance. Now that God has accepted me through Jesus Christ, I am free in him. And this freedom is the key to gospel holiness. The old Princeton theologian Archibald Alexander (1772–1851) asked a question that continues to trouble thoughtful Christians today. He wanted to know why ‘Christians commonly are of so diminutive a stature and such feeble strength in their religion.’ There are many answers to this question, but here is the one that Alexander emphasized: ‘There is a defect in our belief in the freeness of divine grace.’” (4) 

“[Galatians] Verse 1 is the summary of the last two chapters of the book (and, in a sense, of the whole of the book). First, Paul tells us that we have a profound freedom in Christ. He literally says: ‘For freedom Christ freed you’. Both the noun and the verb are the word “freedom”; freedom is both the means and the end of the Christian life! Everything about the Christian gospel is freedom. Jesus’ whole mission was an operation of liberation…Yet second, he warns that this freedom we have in the gospel can be lost. It is important that Paul mentions this, because the emphatic, triumphant declaration of the first half of verse 1 might lead us to believe this gospel freedom is so great and strong that it can’t be lost…Paul says, though, that despite its divine source, our freedom is fragile and can slip from our grasp…In short, despite the fact that we already have been saved by Christ, we must be continually diligent to remember, preserve, rejoice in and live in accord with our salvation. We cannot lose our salvation, but we can lose our freedom from enslavement to fear…So this is a critical passage. Paul wants to show us that gospel freedom from fear and condemnation leads us to obey God, not to please ourselves.” (5)

“Believers…are very pertinently exhorted to stand fast, in consequence and consideration of their character; that is, they should highly prize and esteem it, as men do their civil liberty; and maintain it and defend it, at all hazards; abide by the doctrine of it without wavering, and with intrepidity; not giving up anyone part of it…and keep up the practice of it, by obeying from the heart the doctrine of it, by becoming the servants of righteousness, by frequent attendance at the throne of grace, and continual observance of the ordinances of Christ.” (6) All this we do through and because of our love for God, which the Spirit renews in us day by day, not as a set of rules or to-do checklist. Christ has freed us from slavery to sin, including the sin of self-sufficiency and independence. The Spirit produces fruit for our gospel witness continually as we enjoy our freedom in Christ through the godly living and loving, fruitful works. “The gospel does free you to live any way you want. But if you truly understand through the gospel who Jesus is and what He has done for you, then you will ask: How can I live for Him? And the answer will be—look at the will of God expressed in the law. The gospel frees us from the law, for the law. It does away with our old, selfishly motivated and unloving law-obedience. And it motivates us to obey the law out of love.” (7)

What is your perspective this Christmas? Are you thankful for the freedom you have in Christ or begrudging the civil liberties you lack? We have an excellent opportunity to put the Spirit’s fruit to work right now. “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:7-14) Are you at home with Christ this Christmas?

  1. Ryken, Phillip Graham, “Galatians-Reformed Expository Commentary, Galatians 1:1-16, P & R Publishing, 2005.
  2. Keller, Tim, “Galatians For You,” Galatians 5:1-16, The Good Book Company, United Kingdom, 2013.
  3. Ryken, Ibid.
  4. Ryken, Ibid.
  5. Keller, Ibid. 
  6. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Galatians 5:1, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/galatians -5.html
  7. Keller, Ibid.

2021 Note: My topic for devotions will be “Repentance,” starting with the next one on January 1, 2021. I hope you’ll be as passionate as I am to understand biblical repentance and exercise it in a world desperately needing this gift from Christ for salvation and sanctification. 

Related Scripture: Psalm 51:10-11; John 8:31-32; Acts 15:10-11; Romans 8:5; Galatians 2:4-6; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Philippians 1:27; 4:1.

December 24, 2020

Biblical Self-Control For a COVID Christmas

We are in the height of the Christmas season and COVID is raging. Christmas music is playing everywhere, lights are up, and packages are arriving. But people are tired of all the restrictions, which are increasing even as vaccinations are underway. This is the perfect time to meditate on godly self-control, while masks and self-isolation are strongly encouraged, and gathering is unwise. People who ignore this advice, leaving themselves vulnerable to the COVID virus, which may be OK with them, but they are also potentially causing others to become sick by association. In Proverbs 25:28, Solomon profoundly says, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” His wise saying starts with a single man lacking self-control but then compares him to an entire city that becomes vulnerable. Such is the case with COVID. “Self-control relates to the passions (such as anger or love), the appetites (for food, sex, and the will (as illustrated by impulsive decisions). The lack of self-control is a mark of a fool. He is like a city left without walls, that is, with no means of defense against enemies.” (1) COVID is an enemy today. Our attitudes, beliefs, values, priorities, morals, and convictions are on display as we react to the virus’s danger, spread, and vaccination. Our self-control is vital for wise decisions rather than fearful or compulsive behavior or adamant disregard for others’ well-being. 

The Bible is the authority for believers; we want to be self-controlled in a world where personal freedom and liberty are highly valued. Today’s passage is 2 Peter 1:3-8 “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are self-controlled because of our faith, primarily, but also as a result of Christ’s virtue granted for believers, and our knowledge of God and his commands. Through our self-control, we are steadfast in the exercise of our faith, godly affection, and loving conduct toward others. “Now the Gospel, and the precious promises, being graciously bestowed and powerfully applied, have an influence on purity of heart and conversation, and teach men to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly; such are the powerful effects of Gospel promises, under divine influence, as to make men inwardly partakers of the divine nature, and outwardly to abstain from and avoid the prevailing corruptions and vices of the times.” (2) God gives us steadfast godliness, virtue, self-control, and love for others through our knowledge of Christ. We are to exercise our faith in and knowledge of Christ with pragmatic virtue, resolute godliness, and affection for others. 

We are no longer slaves to “the corrupt manners of the world, or those corruptions and vices which, are prevalent in the world, and under the power and dominion of which the world lies.” (3) But, we struggle to remember that our identity lies in Christ, and only through his power can we somewhat successfully live as new creatures in him. All believers struggle with sin, even our great Fathers of the Faith. Paul writes, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:14-25)

John Gill addresses the conflict in his commentaries son Proverbs 25 and 2 Peter 1: “There is a knowledge of Christ which is barren and fruitless…He that hath no rule over his own spirit…His affections and passions, puts no restraint, unto them, as the word signifies; no guard against them, no fence about them, to curb his curiosity, to check his pride and vanity, to restrain his wrath and anger and revenge, and keep within due bounds his ambition and itch of vainglory…but there is a knowledge of him that is spiritual and experimental, by which a soul not only approves of Christ, but places its trust and confidence in him, and appropriates him to himself, and practically observes his commands and ordinances in the faith of him; and in love to him he performs the above duties, and exercises the above graces…he is not like the barren fig tree, or the earth that bears briers and thorns, and is nigh to cursing and burning, but like a tree planted by a river of water, and is green, flourishing, and fruitful.” (4) Our relationships with Christ yield steadfast godliness, virtue, self-control, and love for others, in opposition to our ungodly tendencies. As we continue to exercise our faith in Christ with pragmatic virtue, committed godliness, and loving affection for others, our knowledge of him also increases.

Commenting on Romans 7, James Boice writes, “What I want to commend to you as we face the fact of the war within us is what J. I. Packer calls ‘spiritual realism.’ He talks about it toward the end of his study of the various Christian views of holiness, ‘Keep in Step with the Spirit.’ As Packer defines it, ‘Realism has to do with our willingness or lack of willingness to face unpalatable truths about ourselves and to start making necessary changes.’ In light of Romans 7:14–24, I want to suggest four statements with which this spiritual realism should start.

  1. “When God called us to be Christian people, he called us to lifetime struggles against sin.
  2. Although we are called to a lifetime struggle against sin, we are nevertheless never going to achieve victory by ourselves.
  3. Even when we triumph over sin by the power of the Holy Spirit, which should be often, we are still unprofitable servants.
  4. And yet, we are to go on fighting and struggling against sin, and we are to do so with the tools made available to us, chiefly prayer, Bible study, Christian fellowship, service to others, and the sacraments.”

“We are never to quit in this great battle against sin. We are to fight it with every ounce of energy in our bodies and with our final breath. Only then, when we have finished the race, having kept the course, may we rest from warfare.” (5) According to Scripture, self-control is not a single act of resisting temptation, but an aspect of our sanctified life in Christ, as we oppose what opposes God, love what he loves, and do what pleases him. How? “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:10-13) How will you remember this Christmas—as one of restrictions or one when you and others trusted in the Lord with self-control?

Related Passages: Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Ephesians 4:22-24; Philippians 4:8; Titus 3:14; James 1:3; Hebrews 13:1; 2 Peter 2:18-22

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Proverbs 25:28, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 2 Peter 1:4, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/2peter-1.html
  3. Gill, Ibid.
  4. Gill, Ibid.
  5. Gill, Ibid, Proverbs 25:28; 2 Peter 1:8.
  6. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Romans 7:14-24, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

December 18, 2020

God’s Training For Self-Control

The pandemic is teaching us much about ourselves. Singles may be learning more about our need for quiet to function at a higher level or our need for companionship to not slip into discouragement or depression. Couples who are spending more time together are (hopefully) learning how to live together 24/7. Family members working and learning at home together are getting to know each other in entirely new ways. Parents see the fruit of their training as children either embrace virtual learning or fail miserably (most probably falling somewhere in-between.) Online learning is challenging, even for those who are technically gifted. It requires effective time-management, writing and communication skills, and greater focus than in-person classroom instruction. Parents are either setting up the environment for their children, or children are taking responsibility for making the most of their time and energy during the COVID pandemic. In the former group, obedience to parental instructions is crucial. But, older students may have already learned to be self-disciplined—to be more self-controlled about distractions, moods, and hindrances to their concentration. These challenging times and all our earthly trials provide the means to learn essential life-skills. God provides just such difficulties for our spiritual maturity and training in godliness. 

Self-control is essential to our faithfulness. Having been regenerated, given new hearts, we begin to live for and with Christ through the work of the Spirit and his gifts. We cannot separate the purity we have from Christ from the work of sanctification. We cannot become more holy until Christ has imputed his righteousness to us, making us a particular people for himself. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14) This passage begins and ends with a proclamation of gospel truth—Christ saves by redeeming a people for his possession (vs. 11, 14). “Paul gives the theological basis for the lifestyles he has described in vs. 1–10…One cannot truly claim to be a recipient of saving grace without also being a pupil of “training grace.” This change in lifestyle is rooted in the atonement (v. 14) and the expectation of Christ’s return (v. 13).” (1) Christ died to purify and train his particular people for godly living, longing for his return.

If taken wrongly, out of context, one might think verse 11 teaches universal salvation. However, neither Paul, other New nor Old Testament writers, nor Jesus ever proclaimed that all people would be saved. Therefore my devotions and Paul’s proclamation are primarily for those given to Christ by God, the Father. (See John 6:37, 44, 65) “Now these people, for whom Christ has given himself, and whom he has redeemed and purifies, are a “peculiar people”; for whom Christ has a peculiar love, in whom he takes a peculiar delight, and to whom he grants peculiar nearness to himself, and bestows peculiar blessings on them, and makes peculiar provisions for them, both for time and eternity; these are Christ’s own, his possession, his substance, what he has a special right to by his Father’s gift, his own purchase, and the conquest of his grace…they are his peculiar treasure, his jewels, whom, as such, he values and takes care of…And they who are redeemed and purified by Christ, through the power of his grace upon them, become a people ‘zealous of good works’… [performing] them from principles of truth and love, and with a zeal for the glory of God, and the honour of his Gospel; and with an holy emulation of one another, striving to go before, and excel each other in the performance of them.” (2) “Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon in 1883 describing a weather-beaten sailor with mahogany colored skin, who looks like an aged oak, because he has been on the seas. No one looks that way by staying on the shore. Those who have developed the biblical spiritual fruit show it in a way that others don’t. They are recognized by others who also have mature fruit, developed through the work of God in the experiences of life. It is not about being old, but being mature.” (3) Since Christ died to purify and train us, his particular people for godly living, longing for his return, should we not embrace God’s plan for our training in holiness, godliness, and good works, even self-control?

Ah, but first we need training “…to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” (v. 12). In the previous verse, Paul brought out the Old Testament view of a people for God’s own possession (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6). Now we see how the law of God for obedience to him is directly related to gospel salvation of us, his “treasured possession.” “What I must decide is whether or not I will agree with my Lord and Master that my body will indeed be His temple. Once I agree, all the rules, regulations, and requirements of the law concerning the body are summed up for me in this revealed truth-my body is “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” (4) We cannot divorce the law of God from the gospel work of God. For self-control to become the norm, one must be happily under the mastery and control of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. “…[the] lesson of self-denial, or of the denial of sinful self, the Gospel teaches, and urges upon the most powerful motives and arguments; and when attended by the Spirit of God, does it effectually.” (5) As the Spirit trains us in godly, self-disciplined living, he gives us a desire to be progressively more intimate with our Savior, which increases our desire to be like him, letting nothing separate us from our fellowship with God. 

When we long for intimacy with Jesus, we find ourselves “…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (v. 13) “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” (Galatians 5:5) “The Greek for waiting often carries a connotation of eagerness. Eagerly expecting the return of Christ is the way grace trains Christians to renounce sin and live in a godly way (see vs. 11–12). Setting one’s mind on the truth of Christ’s return impels a person to holiness (see 1 John 3:2–3).” (6) Our training in godly living begins with our salvation and continues through our fellowship with Christ, longing for even more fellowship—I can’t seem to say this enough!. As we embrace him, our ability to be self-controlled increases exponentially. We all know that we become like those we spend time with, how others’ character influences us. It is even more so with Christ since he lives in us through his Spirit, who not only trains us but empowers us to live for him in holiness and good works. No wonder James could confidently say, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27) The apostle knew the power of communing with Christ, who works all things for good for those who are called by God and love him (Romans 8:28). 

Related Scripture: Exodus 19:5-6a; Ezekiel 37:23; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Timothy 5:22; Titus 3:4-7; James 1:27; 2 Peter 3:11-14; 1 John 2:16-17.

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Titus 2:11-14, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Titus 2:14 https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/titus-2.html
  3. Spurgeon, Charles, “What Saith the Scripture?” http://www.whatsaiththescripture.com/Text.Only/pdfs/Sermons_Spurgeon_Text.pdf
  4. Chambers, Oswald, “The Temple of the Holy Spirit,” December 5 devotion, https//utmost.org/the-temple-of-the-holy-spirit/
  5. Gill, Ibid, Titus 2:12.
  6. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Ibid.

December 11, 2020

Self-Control— Supernatural Fruit of the Spirit

When I adopted my dog in June and started walking him multiple times each day, an exciting thing happened—I started losing weight, and I haven’t stopped. I went from being sedentary (with one walk a day) to being very active. I haven’t dieted; I am eating desserts every day. I haven’t had to resist anything, only do what is appropriate as an apartment dweller for my high-energy puppy. When people remark on my significant weight loss, I merely say, “It’s my dog!” I can’t take credit for practicing any self-control around food,  although most people assume that I am practicing super self-discipline, which is the way most of us think of self-control. But I’m just taking care of my dog and enjoying it. The secular definition of self-control goes something like this: “the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behavior, especially in difficult situations.” (1) But biblical self-control is the fruit of our regeneration, not something we work up on our own to fight ungodly pressures. Didn’t Jesus Christ practice the most remarkable human self-restraint and submission to God’s plan when he came to us in the form of a newborn? Didn’t he show the most incredible patience and humility when he was mocked, rejected, abused, and crucified? He is our Savior but also our perfect example to follow, to submit ourselves entirely to God’s desires, will, and plans over this season, as well as any other. Is the spiritual fruit of “self” control contradictory? No, because God aligns our hearts with his heart and mind, our desires are his, and we control our behavior based on those, putting aside our opposing desires or resistance to the Lord, as Jesus did. Jesus quietly suffered and died for our life with him, with full confidence in his Father’s plan. When we choose to emulate Christ, we will practice self-discipline as the fruit of our salvation. Our mental, emotional, and physical self-control gives us full confidence and delight in God’s plans by the Spirit’s power. It is my intention, over December, to help us redefine and embrace biblical self-control.

It is true that self-control reminds us that we do have a continual battle for our new nature to take precedence over our old sin nature. “Fundamental to the Christian view of self-control is that it is a gift. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit: ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…self-control’ (Galatians 5:22-23)… And how does the Spirit produce this fruit of self-control in us? By instructing us in the superior preciousness of grace, and enabling us to see and savor (that is, ‘trust’) all that God is for us in Jesus. ‘The grace of God has appeared… training us to renounce…worldly passions…in the present age’ (Titus 2:11–12). When we really see and believe what God is for us by grace through Jesus Christ, the power of wrong desires is broken. Therefore, the fight for self-control is a fight of faith. ‘Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called’ (1 Timothy 6:12).” (2) We will dive into the great fight for our new nature in future devotions. 

Every fruit of the Spirit is from God, which is why I always start with a meditation on God’s  character—even self-control. Jesus had human desires and was tempted in every way but did not yield to temptation. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) The fruits of the Spirit are one way that the Lord shares his communicable attributes with us. “When we speak of God’s communicable attributes, we are referring primarily to His moral attributes such as love, goodness, and kindness. In one sense, we must not forget that there is a basic incommunicability of even these attributes, for insofar as such things as the love and goodness of God are infinite, we cannot imitate them. Nevertheless, because we bear God’s image, there is a manner in which we exhibit these attributes by way of analogy. For example, the kind of love we have as creatures is not identical to the kind of love our Creator possesses. However, at the same time, our love is not wholly dissimilar, such that there is no point of contact whatsoever with the love of God. Our Creator loves truly that which is lovely. As regenerate people, we possess the capacity to do the same.” (3) It makes sense to think of God’s love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and kindness. Self-control falls into the same category, I suppose, as faithfulness and gentleness—these are behavioral characteristics of human beings more than of our heavenly Father. We are to look to Jesus during his incarnation to see how he lived out these fruits entirely as the Son of Man. 

Jesus didn’t respond with vengeance, fear, or resistance when so many mocked, rejected, and abused him, “but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” I believe that our Lord, Jesus Christ, never had to force himself to stop doing something, but by his power as the Son of God (as well as the Son of Man), simply did what was divine. We are blessed when we choose holiness and devotion to him over our worldly ways, with our thoughts, attitudes, desires, words, and actions consecrated to God. I believe this is our antidote to the burden of personal self-control as the world defines it. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:21-23) Peter emphasizes Christ’s willingness to suffer for the sake of his people—past, present, and future—and his perfect, active obedience to God’s law and will. Because of his eager submission to his Father’s plan, Jesus was entirely committed to doing whatever would be in accord with it.

Jesus didn’t respond with vengeance, fear, or resistance when so many mocked, rejected, and abused him, “but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” “…the affirmation of the sinlessness of Christ is significant as coming from a man who lived so closely to Him for so long and observed intimately His behaviour in times of terrible stress. It is mentioned to show that His suffering was innocent, as that of Christians must be if their patient endurance of punishment is to be valuable in God’s sight or effective testimony before men. Similarly, the silence of the Sufferer is a pattern for copying.” (4) I assume that our Lord, Jesus Christ, never had to force himself to stop doing something, but by his innate power as the Son of God (as well as the Son of Man), simply did what was divine. We are blessed when we choose holiness and devotion to him over our worldly ways, with our thoughts, attitudes, desires, words, and actions consecrated to God. I believe this is our antidote to the burden of personal self-control as the world defines it. 

The Greek word “Egkrateia [means] self-control, the ability to pursue the important over the urgent, rather than to be always impulsive or uncontrolled. The slightly surprising counterfeit is a willpower which is based on pride, the need to feel in control.” (5) Matthew writes, “And the high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?’ But Jesus remained silent…when the chief priests and elders accused him, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?’ But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.” (Matthew 26:62-63; 27:12-14; Mark 14:60-61; 15:2-5; John 19:9-11a) Rather than demonstrating self-control as we normally view it, Jesus’s behavior was consistent with his character and calling. When the Spirit indwells us, we live in unity with God, consistent with his attributes and our calling as new creatures in Christ. Knowing this takes the pressure off to live legalistically, by following arbitrary rules, even during a pandemic. Why do we wear masks and isolate ourselves? Is it because we are told to or because we love our neighbors so much that we want to protect them from unnecessary suffering? Did not God put people in charge who are currently begging us to wear them? Do we accept the responsibility to behave differently than those who are yet unregenerate and pray for them? Will you do so because you are being self-controlled for the world, or because you trust our sovereign Father? (7) “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

Related Scripture: Matthew 11:29-30; Hebrews 4:16; 12:3-15.

  1. Oxford languages on www.google.com
  2. Piper, John, “The Fierce Fruit of Self-Control,” https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-fierce-fruit-of-self-control
  3. “God’s Communicable Attributes,” Ligonier, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/gods-communicable-attributes/
  4. Zondervan on 1 Peter 2:21-23
  5. Ryken, Phillip Graham, “Galatians-Reformed Expository Commentary,” 1 Peter 5:16-25 “Gospel Character,” P & R Publishing, 2005.
  6. Yes, as a 70-year-old woman who is high risk for respiratory infections I am taking a stand on this issue. Thank you for thinking of others even more vulnerable than me when you put on your mask. 

December 4, 2020

Guarded for Gentleness and Thanksgiving

Do you like fences? Do you have one around your house to keep your young children inside the yard, keep the dog confined, or the deer out? Some people like fences for privacy and some for security. Fences protect, restrict, reduce unwanted noises, warn against intrusion, define boundaries, and may provide a retreat. I appreciate barriers because I have found that there is usually a good reason for them, even if it’s just to keep me from intruding on some else’s space. I especially love the fences around dog parks because they allow my pooch to run and play off-leash while I can relax and enjoy myself. Spiritually, the Holy Spirit protects me from my sinful inclinations, as if standing guard at the threshold of my mind and my heart, helping me to enjoy life. “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” (2 Timothy 1:12) In the same chapter of, two verses later, Paul instructs Timothy, and us to guard ourselves. “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (1:14) The process of sanctification, by which the fruits of the Spirit come to maturity in us, is one of cooperation with God’s Spirit. It is… “confidence in God that prevents Paul from being ashamed. His boldness arises not from self-confidence but from God-confidence.” (1) We are to define, protect, and secure our faith in Jesus Christ, our free inheritance, with confidence in the Lord. We guard against intruders and distractions from the world, Satan, and our old sin nature. By protecting our faith, we can maintain our peacefulness, humility, and gentleness. 

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul instructs his fellow believers and us to rejoice in the Lord. One aspect of spiritual joy is the peace we share with God and others. Let this passage encourage us as we consider the fruit of gentleness one more time: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5-7) The peace of God is the cause of our reasonableness, translated gentleness, or moderation in some Bibles. We can be calm rather than anxious, able to take all our cares to God who guards us before we act. Yet, Paul reminds us that we have even greater protection in three ways, through our practice of reasonableness, calmness, and prayer. These three verses also contain three imperatives for believers: let your reasonableness be known; do not be anxious; and make your requests known to God (in prayer, supplication, thanksgiving). Finally, he gives three descriptions of the Spirit’s work in us: gentleness, relief from anxiety, and accord with him. The Lord is close, peaceful, and watchful. God’s loving and instructive imminence safeguards our gentleness, calmness, and desire to pray with thanksgiving. Won’t we put God’s peace to work through our gentleness, calm, and thankful prayers?

Although the first imperative sounds passive, we have to work at doing it in a high-strung, social media-driven culture. “Let your reasonableness [forbearance, moderation, gentleness] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand…” (v. 5) It is good news that God gives us reasonableness through the Spirit. Our challenge is to demonstrate it in our relationships. John Gill’s list of possibilities for this “modesty” include: “giving up strict and proper right…and not rigidly insisting on it; putting up with affronts and injuries, and bearing them with patience; and interpreting things in the best sense, and putting the best constructions on words and actions they will bear…exercised towards ‘all men’; not only to believers, the members of the church, by ruling with gentleness, by bearing the infirmities of the weak, and by forgiving offences.” (2) As with all our verbal and non-verbal witnessing, the effect sought is the glory of God, maturity in Christ, and salvation of the elect. “Reasonableness is crucial for maintaining community; it is the disposition that seeks what is best for everyone and not just for oneself. The Lord is at hand emphasizes the fact that Jesus will surely return as judge and will hold people responsible for their deeds (James 5:9).” (3)

I’m sure none of us object to Paul’s teaching. However, putting it into practice is another matter. But he offers the help we need in the next verse: “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (v. 6) “Paul echoes Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:25–34) that believers are not to be anxious but are to entrust themselves into the hands of their loving heavenly Father, whose peace will guard them in Christ Jesus.” (4) As we pray, we enter communion with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, who unite our wills with God’s. “[And] we must join thanksgivings with prayers and supplications; not only seek supplies of good, but own the mercies we have received. God needs not to be told our wants or desires; he knows them better than we do; but he will have us show that we value the mercy, and feel our dependence on him.” (5) Through our prayers, God’s peace can inhabit us so that gentleness and calmness reign where fear, doubts, fretting, worry, or anxiety were overtaking our minds and hearts. On our American Thanksgiving Holiday today, what could be more appropriate than focusing on thankfulness and prayers of thanksgiving to God.

Putting God’s peace to work through our thankful prayers for ourselves and in our intercession as a priority will yield remarkable gentleness and reasonableness. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (v. 7) “The peace of God, the comfortable sense of being reconciled to God, and having a part in his favor, and the hope of the heavenly blessedness, are a greater good than can be fully expressed. This peace will keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus; it will keep us from sinning under troubles, and from sinking under them; keep us calm with inward satisfaction.” (6) Our holiness is crucial to our witness, so we must not detach verse 7 from verse 5, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” As a result of our spiritual maturity, the fruit we bear should attract others who want to know more about us, and hopefully, our faith. The Lord did not redeem us for our comfort and relaxation. He saved us for his glory, best demonstrated in our witness for Christ.

If you’re like me, witnessing is one skill that takes constant improvement. Bridging the interests of others to that of Christ is a skill Jesus demonstrated frequently. He spoke of God’s presence when Nicodemus asked him how he knew God and instructed the Samaritan woman about living water at the well. (7) In this sense, Jesus “fenced” the conversations to focus on his divine nature gently before confronting their erroneous understanding of true religion. We need to learn how to do this since we tend to shrink, avoiding what might become uncomfortable. “When we are equipped by God’s word for every good work, the other people in our life get to enjoy the fruit…When the truth of the gospel is firmly entrenched in our minds, we’ll look for opportunities to share Christ with them.” (8) The more we practice calmly, trusting that God has given us the reasonableness and calmness that we need, the easier it will become. Do I have a teachable spirit, to become more gentle with unbelievers about Christ? Am I repentant of my fear and impatience that leads to harshness? Do I trust the Spirit to work in me to be considerate, generous, and fair in my dealings with others, or am I rigid, exacting, and demanding? Lord, help us to remember that your peace safeguards our gentleness, calmness, and thanksgiving. “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick?…the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:13-16) May there be many prayers of thanksgiving today!

Related Scripture: Psalm 145:18; Proverbs 16:3; Isaiah 26:3-4; Matthew 6:25; John 14:27; Colossians 3:15;James 5:8-9.

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, 1 Timothy 1:12, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Philippians 4:5, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/philippians-4.html
  3. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Philippians 4:5, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  4. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Philippians 4:6-7, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  5. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Philippians 4:2-9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/philippians-4.html
  6. Matthew Henry, Ibid.
  7. Arthur, Kay, “The Gospel of John, Part 1, Lesson 7,” Precepts Video Series, https://shop.precept.org/products/john-part-1-dvd-lectures-kay.
  8. Marshall, Glenna, “Everyday Faithfulness,” page 43, Crossway (TGC), 2020.

November 27, 2020

Unhurried, Thoughtful Gentleness

Speed—coveted by the young and ambitious, rejected by the elderly and meditative. One of the most significant challenges of aging is the inability to hurry, rush, or multitask—the body can’t do it. I used to practice a lot of multitasking at work and home; these days, I do one or two things at a time and love the simplicity. Our world has gone from a speedy race for information and activity to a grinding halt due to COVID. The faster you were going, the more dramatic the change. God interrupted life as we know it, and what Christian doubts that the Lord has a grand purpose for this plague-like slow-down, though we can’t discern it? “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’” (Romans 11:33-34) Rather than trying to decipher the Lord’s desires for the world, our work is to slow down. It’s what he has forced us to do. (“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” Psalms 23:2). As we seek God’s wisdom for using these slower, quieter days, the Spirit gives counsels us with the Word of God. What an excellent time to think about biblical gentleness and sharing the gospel lovingly and humbly, letting the Spirit work in our relationships. 

Most of us don’t take the time to prepare ourselves spiritually as we should, despite the Bible’s frequent admonitions to do so. Today we will consider 1 Peter 3:15-16. “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, 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, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” Whenever God brings a crisis, we can either wait for it to be over, praying for minimal discomfort, or use the time to glorify God in it. It takes time and quietness to be prepared to share about Christ gently and with respect in a culture of adamant opinion-sharing, criticism, fear, illness, and death. “It is a bitter season. And God ordained it. God governs it. He will end it. No part of it is outside his sway. Life and death are in his hand…In the presence of God, no one has a right to life. Every breath we take is a gift of grace. Every heartbeat, undeserved. Life and death are finally in the hands of God…” (1) This counter-cultural viewpoint on life and God’s mercy should lead us to want to defend our faith gently. 

1 Peter 3:15 is weighty. Peter tells us to honor Christ in our hearts as the holy Lord, to be prepared to defend our faith gently and respectfully—with whoever asks. But we cannot do this perfunctorily; it is a work of the Spirit in our hearts and minds. “Sinners must not grasp the means of grace as if conversion could be produced mechanically by human power. Nor should the preacher think that he can induce conversion…the word of law and gospel does not have this power in itself, nor from the preacher, but only from the “glorious sovereignty” of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is sovereign over the word, the soul, and the times of conviction and conversion.” (2) Honoring Christ the Lord as holy in our hearts takes time and deep fellowship with him, receiving his truth with our limitations to expand our view of Christ. It also takes living a life that evidences our love and devotion to Him. We must be fully convinced that Christ’s Lordship is unquestionable to attract others who are overcome with distress about the COVID pandemic’s increasing reach, and respond gently and respectfully, “That person is in a sad condition on whom sin and suffering meet: sin makes suffering extreme, comfortless, and destructive.” (3) If we want others to know Christ, the source of our hope, we must prepare ourselves to gently offer the comfort only God can give through his grace and mercy—a balm to the soul. 

We’re instructed to have “a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:16) Have you ever been maligned? Has anyone ever slandered or insulted you, attacking your reputation? The more open and proactive we are about our faith in Jesus Christ, the more likely we will be reviled and mocked. But having a good conscience allows us to stay calm, steady, and objective, rather than reacting emotionally and vindictively. “Two features of the method of self-defense are stressed. It must be done with gentleness and respect. Peter seems particularly anxious to restrain them from the sharp retort. Further, their answer is to be backed by a good conscience, so that the accusers rather than the accused may be put to shame.” (4) Paul gave similar advice to Timothy. “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 2:24) Some years ago, after being blamed for many problems in a particular program over which I had no control as the administrator, I adopted a new practice of responding with the gospel, instead of trying to defend myself or listening to professing Christians ranting with nonsensical criticisms. I started telling my critic that I was much worse than they could know; the evil and sin in my heart and mind goes deep, which is why I need Christ and his forgiveness. I recommend this, reminding others why we need a Savior. Isn’t that what God wants, for us to run to the cross in all our trials? Proclaiming the gospel gently, with myself in view, shows respect for the other person’s stated beliefs. At the very least, he or she may walk away confused by the unemotional tone and truth of our reply, considering it further.

During these rocky, anxious days of COVID, we need Christ’s steadiness, peace, reasonableness, and love. If we are to be prepared to defend our faith gently in a culture of mockery, then we must cooperate with God’s sanctification. (5) In his book, “Coronavirus and Christ,” John Piper gives us six things God is definitely doing through the pandemic. But first, he states, “God is not silent about what he is doing in this world. He has given us the Scriptures.” So what is God doing that will prepare us to respond gently to people? “God is giving the world…a physical picture of the moral horror and spiritual ugliness of God-belittling sin…Some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment from God because of their sinful attitudes and actions…The coronavirus is a God-given wake-up call to be ready for the second coming of Christ…The coronavirus is God’s thunderclap call for all of us to repent and realign our lives with the infinite worth of Christ…The coronavirus is God’s call to his people to overcome self-pity and fear, and with courageous joy, to do the good works of love that glorify God…[Finally] God is loosening the roots of settled Christians, all over the world, to make them free for something new and radical and to send them with the gospel of Christ to the unreached peoples of the world.” (6) Thanks to my friend for recommending this book and for Piper, who dedicated his pandemic time to help us prepare to answer our hope in Christ. We’ll look back and probably think of many ways we could have used our time more productively and more worshipfully for the cause of Christ during the COVID outbreak. But God’s Word says to us as God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) May God’s gentleness be ours to give to others.

Related Scripture: Romans 12:18-21; 2 Corinthians 10:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:19-23; 3:9.

  1. Piper, John, “Coronavirus and Christ,” Crossway, Kindle Edition, 2020.
  2. “A Puritan Theology, Chapter 28—Puritan Preparatory Grace,” Beeke, Joel R. and Jones, Mark, Reformation Heritage Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2012.
  3. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible,” 1 Peter 3:14-22, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/1-peter-3.html.
  4. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce, General Editor, 1 Peter 3:15-16, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.
  5. Piper, John, Ibid.
  6. Piper, Ibid. (There is a separate chapter for each one of these six reasons.)

November 20, 2020

The Truth About Gentleness

My 2020 devotions are about understanding, embracing, and applying the fruits of the Spirit to our daily lives. But our world has a very different view of living out what you believe. An internet search for applying what we believe in our daily lives generated a website that states: “There’s something magical that happens when you live in alignment with the Truth. Most of us live for ourselves—lying to ourselves and/or others in order to satisfy our immediate needs and assuage our petty fears. But when you dedicate yourself to the Truth, you synchronize yourself with something more expansive—a force that is greater than yourself, existed before you were born, and will continue after you pass away.” (1) Here is the insidious integration of New Age philosophy in modern thinking. New Age philosophy should alarm us; it is just another of Satan’s tools to keep people opposed to God and his Word. Is this useful in a time of such heated, verbal, and judgmental controversy? We instead are to look to the Bible for the real Truth about all things. And I think we have much to learn about true gentleness. Knowing that the Holy Spirit’s gentleness is powerful in our relationships when we humble ourselves will lead us to embrace humility through his power. We do not need to work at “unleashing our full potential,” since we have none of our own but all of God’s grace in Christ applied to our hearts through the Spirit.

Jesus Christ is the prime example of humility and gentleness yielding greatness. His willingness to submit to his incarnation and crucifixion resulted in the world’s most powerful event in all history for all time. Many others have imitated his meekness in the power of the Spirit. Today we will consider how David expressed gentleness toward Saul, living out the truth that Paul expounds in the New Testament. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1) Hundreds of years before that, David wrote, “For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your gentleness made me great.” (2 Samuel 22:32-35; Psalm 18:31-35)

After David had been anointed by Samuel as the next king of Israel, while Saul was still king, Saul became jealous of David and hunted him down. Saul’s murderous behavior was a clear violation of God’s commandments and will. But David consistently refused to kill Saul when given the opportunity. “‘ The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. But take now the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.’ So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul’s head, and they went away. No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them.” (1 Samuel 26:11-12) God’s gentleness had made David merciful. Gentleness from the Spirit makes us able to do more than resist temptations; we will do great acts of mercy and righteousness if we humble ourselves. 

When we read Paul’s admonition in Galatians 6:1, we mistakenly assume that it only refers to a direct confrontation with anyone who is sinning habitually. Let’s reconsider how much more Galatians 6:1 teaches as we apply the “spirit of gentleness” after our self-examination. “The absence of self-centeredness, of pre-occupation with my own dignity and standing, is to be balanced by that true concern which places myself in the position of another, and acts to that other as I would then wish others to act towards myself. Yet this forgetfulness of self, this unselfconscious thought for others, can be expected only of one who has learned to live with himself; to accept his own abilities and calling, and the niche in which his own inherent gifts must place him. Only in this way can a man attain the quiet assurance and confidence of a responsibility taken and conscientiously fulfilled.” (2) We have a tender-hearted guide who knows how to transform us into gentler people.

Tenderness is a demonstration of love. Biblical gentleness is an outflow of God’s love, resulting in submission to him and appropriate submission to others—a balance possible only with the help of the Holy Spirit. We are usually gentle with people and valuable possessions: a newborn baby, someone who is very ill, or a frail, older person or a little animal, even an antique vase or a treasured old photograph. Not only do we not want to cause harm, but we want to preserve or add value. Gospel kind-heartedness like David’s is possible with people who oppose us and those we might consider enemies of Christ. Jesus modeled this behavior with the Jewish and Roman leaders; and with Judas, treating him like a brother, with love and respect despite his betrayal. During Jesus’s ministry, some came to faith, leaving their habitually sinful rebellious ways behind them. Others were confronted to the point of wanting to kill Jesus, as Saul wanted to kill David because righteous conduct exposed (confronted) their sinfulness. 

There are times when we do need to be more direct. But, “If someone is caught in a sin,” conceited superiority would drive us to look down on them, be glad we are not like them, and feel righteous in ourselves. Pointing out their sin would merely be to underline how good we look by comparison. Conceited inferiority would cause us either to envy the life they are leading, however sinful; or to crave their approval so much that we won’t risk pointing out their failure to live in line with the gospel. What will a ‘brother’, who knows they are a son of God, do? Paul says we will not ignore a situation when we see someone “caught” in a sin. This does not mean that we are to confront anyone we see sinning in any way. ‘Love covers over a multitude of sins’ (1 Peter 4:8)—we are not to be quick to criticize and tell people about their faults (see also 1 Corinthians 13:5, 7). But we must not overlook someone’ caught’—overtaken—by a sin…Christians need to be neither quick to criticize nor afraid to confront…This responsibility belongs to anyone who is trying to live a Christian life at all. What will our aim be? To ‘restore him gently.'” The Greek translated ‘restore’ here is katartizdo. This was the term used for setting a dislocated bone back into place. A dislocated bone is extremely painful, because it is not in its designed, natural relationship to the other parts of the body. To put a bone back in place will inevitably inflict pain, but it is a healing pain.” (3) The Holy Spirit is our great physician whose gentleness is powerful. 

“For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless…You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your gentleness made me great.” (2 Samuel 22:32-35; Psalm 18:31-35) David was a little shepherd boy whom God raised to the throne of Israel. His humility showed up many times while he struggled with Saul and was on the throne. The psalms prove that he was consciously aware of God’s providential goodness, which here he calls gentleness that made him “great.” Later in his life, David’s failings do not diminish God’s righteousness, compassion, or patience, just as our weaknesses and failings do not decrease the Lord’s gentleness with us. Like David, when we embrace the humility of our origins and God’s goodness, we are more able to express the Spirit’s gentleness in our relationships through his power. We might ask ourselves, Am I becoming increasingly compassionate and kind, or crusty and inflexible as I mature in Christ? Am I becoming more or less patient with those who seem to oppose God or me? The psalms have much to offer us in the way of instruction, but Jesus’s tenderness and love is the greatest source of gentleness for all time. Isaiah expressed it well. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

Related Scripture: Psalm 141:5; Habakkuk 3:17-19; Romans 15:1-3; 1 Corinthians 4:21; 2 Corinthians 2:5-8; Galatians 5:25-26; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; James 5:19-20

  1. ”The Tools,” An excerpt from “Coming Alive,” https://www.thetoolsbook.com/blog/3-principles-for-living-the-truth
  2. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Galatians 5:26-6:10, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.
  3. Keller, Timothy, “Galatians For You, Helping our Brothers,” Galatians 6:1, ebook Edition, The Good Book Company, 2013.

November 13, 2020