Holiness Pursued

“No one can attain any degree of holiness without God working in his life, but just as surely no one will attain it without effort on his own part.”  – Jerry Bridges –

            In his book, The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges uses an illustration of a farmer to support the above quote.  The illustration emphasizes how important it is that the farmer tends to his responsibilities in order to ensure a healthy crop.  He must plow, sow, fertilize and cultivate.  But the farmer also knows that for his crop to be successful, he is ultimately dependent on God.  Somehow we’ve worked into our theology that God’s grace in salvation allows us to be passive as we live out our Christian lives; that daily time with the Lord is optional, that prayer is only for the major issues in life and that obedience really doesn’t matter.  That’s not what Scripture teaches.  It teaches clearly that we are to pursue holiness:    

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  Philippians 2:12-13

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”  Hebrews   12:14                                                  

“Train yourself for godliness” 1 Timothy 4:7

            These verses don’t teach or even imply salvation by works.  But they do support what is known as the doctrine of sanctification whereby Christians grow to be more spiritually mature.  Sanctification means to “set apart” as holy to the Lord.  It is a never ending process in which God works in the lives of believers to make them more like Christ.  Our active role in this growth doesn’t mean we contribute to our salvation, for salvation is all of God.  There are however, tremendous benefits to our disciplined pursuit of holiness.  As the Holy Spirit works in your life and you become more responsive to the will of God, you will experience more joy, more comfort, and more peace.  God not only wants that to be your Christian experience, even more, He wants to be the source of those experiences.  When such is the case in our lives, He is pleased, but more than that, He receives the glory and honor that He is due.  And that is what He deserves the most.

The Final Test Of Love

“The final test of love is obedience.  Not sweet emotions, not willingness to sacrifice, not zeal, but obedience to the commandments of Christ.  Our Lord drew a line plain and tight for everyone to see.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                    – A.W. Tozer –

             At times, the Bible confronts us with things we don’t naturally like to hear, but that doesn’t make it any less true.  Obedience as the proof of love for God is one such example.  In each of our sinful natures, there exists a self-willed spirit that resists submission or obedience to others.  We see it in varying degrees in our relationships with others as we live day to day.  Somehow in our society obedience has become synonymous with weakness.  But we must face the fact that our love for God is measured by just that; obedience.  I love this quote from Tozer because the other things he mentions: emotions, sacrifice, and zeal are all good things which result from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  But in and of themselves, they are not the final test of our love for God.  It is only obedience:  

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word…” (John 14:23a) 

“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words…” (John 14:24a) 

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.  And His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) 

            Though obedience is proof of our love for God, it is wrong to think that it is how we gain His love.  He loved us first; proving it at the cross.  Our obedience is an offering we make in return that serves to bring glory to His name.  In all things, let our hearts say to the Lord, “not my will, but yours, be done”.

When Your Light Shines

“Don’t you worry your pretty little mind, people throw rocks at thing that shine, and life makes love look hard.”   – Taylor Swift –

            Sometimes simple lyrics tell a Biblical truth.  Such is the case with Taylor Swift’s recent hit song, entitled Ours.  A star in the world of country music, at only twenty two, she has had numerous hits.  Ours is a song about being in love and being true to the relationship in spite of having people criticize it.  Though I assume unintended, part of the lyrics of this song are striking in that they possess a truth that is taught in Scripture.  Basically singing a letter to the guy she loves, she tells him not to worry, and that “people throw rocks at things that shine”.  She is of course talking about their relationship.  And it’s true.  People do throw rocks at things that shine.  This doesn’t happen only in the context of living out Christian faith, but as a Christian, it will happen:  

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (2 Timothy 3:12)

“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

            Persecution, often in the form of criticism, is indeed part of living separate from the world while at the same time, being in it.  Several public examples come to mind:  First, Tim Tebow, a star football player at the University of Florida and current NFL player.  For all who love him, many see him as a polarizing figure, criticizing him for his public displays of faith in Jesus Christ.  Second, Rick Santorum, a former presidential candidate who dared to stand for Biblical principles in the midst of the campaign.  Finally, Kirk Cameron, an actor who drew sharp criticism for expressing his belief in the Biblical view of marriage and homosexuality in spite of the unpopularity of those views among his peers.  These people, though certainly not sinless are living in the world, yet living differently by living a life that honors Christ.  Their lights are shining and because they are, people who prefer darkness are offended, demonstrating it by their criticism.  In Scripture, “light” correlates to holiness and purity whereas “darkness” refers to sin and wrongdoing. 

            The Bible gives numerous examples in which Christians are told to be lights in the world and to shine.  Paul told those in the church at Philippi to shine by living in a way that accords with faith in Christ (Philippians 2:15).  To those at Ephesus, he said, “walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).  More importantly, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  He also said, “Let your light shine before others…” that your good works that flow from living faith will bring glory to God (Matthew 5:16).  Never has a light shined brighter, exposing the darkness more than Jesus Christ.  That’s why He was and is hated so.  As your light shines, it may be costly.  People may hate you (John 15:18).  Suffering and persecution can be great or it may be very subtle, but sharing in the fellowship of Christ’ suffering is part of the Christian calling.  Trust God to provide the necessary grace.  Taylor’s lyrics are profound in another way.  Life does make love look hard.  Outward expression of love for God and for Jesus Christ can be hard under the influence of a dark world.  But there’s hope.  Jesus’ light still shines.  It shines so bright that the darkness can’t overcome it (John1:5).  So wherever you are, live as a child of God and let your light shine that it may point the way so that others may know Christ.

Who God Uses

“God has chosen and used nobodies, because their unusual dependence on Him made possible the unique display of His power and grace.  He chose and used somebody’s only when they renounced dependence on their natural abilities and resources.”    – Oswald Chambers –                                                                      

            When I read the quote above, I think about Timothy.  Timothy was a disciple of the apostle Paul, joining him during his second missionary journey and traveling with him for nearly twenty years.  Paul and Timothy ministered in many difficult situations where the gospel of Jesus Christ came under attack.  As a result of their faithfulness to it, they themselves were attacked.  Persecution was a constant companion.  Paul loved Timothy like a son and as he wrote 2 Timothy, his last letter before his death, he wanted to encourage Timothy and also provide instructions to him.  This was Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome, he knew death was imminent and he wanted to ensure that the gospel, what he referred to as the “good deposit” be preserved in its purest form, that it not be corrupted by false teachers.  Preparing to die, it was Timothy that Paul most trusted to faithfully carry on this ministry.  So what is it about the quote above that has to do with Timothy?  Well, by all accounts, aside from being younger than many in which he ministered, Timothy was somewhat timid and unsure of himself.  Certainly not the strong, charismatic personality we would envision leading a movement.  Not the next guy in line you would think of to take the reins from Paul. 

            But that’s just the point.  This was not just any other movement; this is the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It comes only by God’s power and always by His grace.  Paul knew that.  He knew that it wouldn’t be Timothy’s personality that made the difference.  Timothy’s name means “one who honors God” and he did that.  Though he had faced some difficult times in ministry and at points needed encouraging, Timothy had the characteristics for God’s power to be displayed fully, most notably; a submissive heart toward God’s leading.  Do you?  Our ministries are always by His power and grace and never about personality or charisma.  Will you in your ministry rely on the Giver of your spiritual gift?  Will you give up your best you that His power and grace might be fully displayed?  Will you be His nobody?

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” 1 Corinthians 1:27

“But He said to me, ‘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 when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

From Reading To Praying

“Meditation is the missing link between Bible intake and prayer.”  – Donald S. Whitney – 

            Prayer should flow naturally from our encounter with God through His Word.  But it often does not.  Why might that be?  In many cases, it is the result of our approaching Scripture reading as part of a “to do” list instead of an opportunity to be in the presence of God.  It may not even be that this is our intention, only that our fast-paced lives have conditioned us in this way.  The quote above is derived from Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life in which he sets forth spiritual disciplines that are valuable as we live our Christian lives.  According to Whitney, the two most important of these disciplines are Bible intake and prayer.  Whitney says, “There should be a smooth, almost unnoticeable transition between Scripture input and prayer output so that we move closer to God in those moments”.  He believes that this happens when meditation is the link between the two disciplines,   giving two examples in which Scripture teaches this very point: 

“Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my groaning.”  Psalm 5:1 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.”  Psalm 19:14 

            To meditate is to consider thoughtfully, or to ponder.  There is not a more important time in our day than the time spent with the Father.  It’s a time when God speaks to us through His Word and we speak back to Him in prayer.  Make the most of this time by allowing meditation to bridge the two.  Worry less about the amount of Scripture you take in, but instead meditate on what you do so as to understand what God is saying to you and how you might be changed by having been in His presence.  When you do, you will find that your prayers will not only flow more naturally, but also with great power.  This will please the heart of God, serve your own good, but most of all, bring Him glory.

 

 

Christian Understanding

“A Christian who claims to understand all of God’s truth and to envision the fulfillment of all His promises is not demonstrating great faith but great presumption.”    -John MacArthur-

             There are many examples of doubt creeping into the minds of great and faithful people of the Bible.  Doubt, I’m sure creeps into your mind, as it does mine.  As we think about this quote, it is important to realize that no matter a person’s spiritual maturity, there will always be a massive gap between God’s knowledge and ours.  Though we are created in His image, at best we are an imperfect reflection of Him.  Realizing this fact is a healthy place to be, as it should keep us ever intrigued to more fully “know” God.  There is, however, much about God’s truth; His will, His plans, His purposes and His promises that belong only to Him.  These things are called His secret will, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God…” (Deuteronomy 29:29).  So we must be careful in presuming full understanding of all His truth, for it is impossible. 

            On the other hand, our limited knowledge of all God’s truth, plans, purposes and promises are never an excuse for not knowing what He has revealed to us.  Unfortunately, because of discouragement or doubt, many end up in a place where they just quit listening.  This is a mistake.  The latter half of Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us that what God has chosen to reveal is of great importance, “…but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever…”  God does not hide the things we should know regarding issues of faith.  But at the same time, godly faith doesn’t require us to be able to fully understand all His ways.  Godly faith is full trust in God even when we don’t.  It is as the Hebrew writer says, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).