Seeing rightly—ourselves and our God

–Who alone is worthy?–

The morning sun came streaming in at the sliding glass doors today. It doesn’t do this too often at this time of year but we’re having a cold snap complete with frosty nights and cloudless blue daytime skies, and this brilliance of sunshine. And suddenly these windows of mine don’t seem quite so clean as I thought them. It wasn’t all that long ago that I washed them was it? Yet the evidence is irrefutable. An accumulation of dust and wind-blown dirt has collected there. They need cleaning. The morning sun has made it clear.

Funny how we can hum along just fine under cloudy skies, thinking everything is spic and span. Then the light comes streaming and we see…

I guess that’s what this blog is about, the ‘seeing’ what has been hidden from my eyes. I am so grateful for the Word of God and for the Spirit of God who continually brings truth to bear on my life in ways that arrest my attention and give me pause to think and to write.

I have been considering this whole topic of ‘nearness to God’ and the corresponding fear of God. Perhaps never in church history (I don’t know; I’ve lived only such a short bit of it!) has there been such a lot of talk about ‘intimacy with God’ and at the same time so little evidence of it.

Are we deluded that we know God better than in fact we do?

Are we living under such a pall of cloudy skies that we are not able to rightly see ourselves and our sinfulness for want of the light of God’s holiness?

I can hum along quite fine for whole stretches of time assuming ‘it’s all good’ with my soul, content with my current level of practical sanctification. In my secret heart of hearts I may even entertain moments of delusion that I am sin-free (This happens best in isolation from people who ‘push my buttons’, and when my body is free from pain or discomfort, and in moments when endorphins are running high and life’s circumstances are comfy cozy). I can live deluded and unaware of my sinfulness so long as the sun doesn’t shine brightly through my windows.

But then comes the light of the Word shining. Then comes the fellowshipping with the saints (these down-to-earth God-seekers I walk with and talk with). Then comes the whisper of the Spirit, bringing the Word to bear on my heart. He doesn’t miss a beat. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves. If we walk in the light we see our sins. And confession restores fellowship and a walking in the light that keeps our windows clean.

But it all starts with a fear of God that trembles at His Word.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. All those who practice it have a good understanding.” Ps.111:10

Where we lack the fear of the Lord, we will lack a right understanding of ourselves and of our God. I see this in myself. It’s evident in the flippant God-talk that abounds in our day. Seeing dimly through our dirty windows we begin to think more highly of ourselves and more lowly of God than we ought to think! Somewhere in the fog of self-flattering words, sin becomes a non-issue. Affirming our own identities, our own worthiness, becomes far more significant than extolling the worth of the One who alone is worthy to be praised. There are many voices out there, not all of them have a good understanding. Not all of them are seeing in the light of a holy fear of God.

Consider these diverse ways of seeing–

“Let no man think more highly of himself than he ought to think”–Paul (Rom.12:3)

For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord… He will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. –Paul (I Cor. 4:4-5)

“For once a person believes he is an ‘unworthy sinner,’ it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ.” –Schuller

“You rock because He rocks, so get over it. You were born to carry His glory. You are His finest creation…the only creature actually made in the exact image of the Creator. You look like your Daddy!” –Vallotton

‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.’ –the Pharisee (Lk.18:11)

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. –Jesus (Rev 3:17-19)

‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ –the tax collector (Lk.18:11)

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. –John (I Jn.1:8,9)

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” –Paul (I Tim 1:15; I Cor.15:9; Eph.3:8)

And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. –John (Mk. 1:7)

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals? And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” –John (Rev 5:2-5)

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” —the four living creatures and the 24 elders (Rev. 5:9-10)

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” —myriads of angels (Rev 5:12)


I am thinking on these things this week because I don’t want to be deluded into thinking I know God rightly when in fact I am living under a delusion of knowing God just because I know His words in my head and carry them on my lips. The Bible calls this ‘lip-service’. It is worthless. God sees the heart.

“…this people draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” Is.29:13

What will be the evidence that we are coming to know ourselves and our God rightly? How will we view sin? How will we view each other? How will we view God?

What I’ve concluded from Scripture (so far) is that the closer we are to a true vision of who God is and who we are in comparison, the greater will be our awareness of our own unworthiness and of His SO WORTHY-ness. This will be seen in our reverential fear of this awesome and holy God who is likened to a consuming fire. But it won’t end here. Fear is the beginning of wisdom. It is the beginning of knowing God rightly.

We can’t skip this step. The Gospel is for sinners, not for those who think themselves pretty good and just in need of a life insurance plan or a quick fix from the painful symptoms of sin. Nor do we outgrow the fear of God. If we refuse to live in the fear of God we will fail to see ourselves rightly. And the deceitfulness of sin will quickly turn our hearts to grandiose thoughts of ourselves, rather than profound and humbled gratitude and worship of God who alone is worthy of praise.

We may worship Him with our lips but even our ‘worship’ will have become an opportunity to feel good about ourselves. “Worship” is often reduce in our present church culture to mean an exuberant and necessarily emotional singing of ‘worship songs’ designed to lead us into ‘worship’. The deception lies in that this state can be entered into on a purely physical and emotional level without our hearts truly worshiping God at all.

Those who worship God will worship in spirit and in truth, Jesus said.This isn’t dependent on the setting and won’t necessarily yield a physical ‘feel-good fix’. Worship isn’t about carefully orchestrated music. Being in God’s presence isn’t about feeling good. We will know we have drawn near to God when our hearts are made aware of the natural gulf between us. Consider these men’s responses when they encountered God’s holiness:

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” –Peter (Lk.5:8)

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips” —Isaiah (Is.6:5)

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” —John (Rev.1:17)

It is not in the exuberant and/or reflective singing of ‘worship music’ that we reveal our knowledge of God but in the deep heart-felt wonder that though unworthy in myself to approach God, He provided the Lamb to be my substitute, to bear my sins in His own body on the Cross so that I might become the Righteousness of God in Him. Does this then make me feel good about myself? Does it not rather allow me to forget about myself in my Awe of Him who first loved me so that I might come to know Him as He is?

How well we are coming to know our God will be seen in how aware we are becoming of our own sinfulness. If we have come to know God in any measure we will have begun to see sin as He sees it, not something to be brushed off as irrelevant, or inconsequential, not something we’re ‘over’ since we’ve come to believe. We’ll see it as the rotten core of our natures.

Granted, when we come to believe in Christ’s death on the Cross on our behalf, once we’ve confessed our sins and been given a new heart with a new allegiance and a new nature, we are no longer ruled by the old ‘us’. But while we live in these bodies, it will be there vying for attention, struggling to take dominion, needing to be denied its wishes. Only to our peril do we live as though we had no such rotten core. Even the loveliest apple will not long be edible if the worm at its core goes undetected.

Who then is worthy? If we are focused anywhere but our Lord Jesus Christ, we have misunderstood the Gospel.

And that’s the other thing about sun shining in. When it hits you full in the face it is blinding. As I sit here typing the sun is glinting in through the willow branches at an angle I am unaccustomed to. As it hits me square in the eye I am blinded to all else. Its glory expels all competing images and thoughts. My fingers are silenced on the keys as I gather my thoughts. Is this not what it is to perceive the glory of God who lives in ‘unapproachable light’, whom no man can see and live? I cannot go on business- as- usual without averting my gaze and cowering so that my eyes can evade the sun’s piercing brilliance. When we are given a glimpse of the holiness of God, all other considerations will seem trifling. When we walk in the light of it there will be no  exalting of ourselves or despising of others, but only awe of Him!

This is where I want my ponderings and my life to center.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.


God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1Co 1:28-31

If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
(I Cor.8:2,3)

“…He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,  who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”  (I Tim. 6:15-16)

Where is a sinner to run?

Sin is deceitful. It hardens our hearts. It dulls our hearing and would damn our souls, but for Jesus, our great high priest.

Sing to Jesus, Lord of our shame, Lord of our sinful hearts…Our great Redeemer

Have you read Leviticus lately? Forgiveness is costly.  Sin is deadly.  Without blood there is no remission of sins.  These truths are inescapably linked to the bloody details of the sacrificial system.  But God appointed priests to offer sacrifices to God for the people’s sins.  Herein lies His mercy.  Without a priest there would be no having God dwell among them.  Without a priest there would be only wrath and judgment.  But now they could be God’s holy people, preserved from the evils that befell the nations around them, so long as they kept God’s commandments and kept offering sacrifices… so long as God dwelled among them.

The nearness of God was their good.  But it was also high risk.  Without holiness, no man could draw near.  God’s standards were exacting for those who were nearest to Him. Aaron knew this well.

 “Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD has said: “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.” [Lev 10:3 ESV]

But his two sons were dead.  They had taken liberties and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord.

Years later David would come to terms with this same reality.  It seemed a good thing to bring the ark of God back to town.  It was a festive occasion!  Problem was, David hadn’t done his homework.  Every king was to have a hand-written copy of the laws of God with him to read from daily so that he would learn to fear the Lord by keeping all His laws. (Deut. 17:18)  David was remiss.  He ordered the ark brought in an ox-cart, rather than carried by the Levites.  And poor Uzzah bore the brunt of his sin.  The cart rocked. Uzzah reached out to steady the ark.  And he was killed instantly!

And David was afraid of God that day, and he said, ‘How can I bring the ark of God home to me?’” So the ark stopped in its tracks and settled with Obed-edom the lucky Gittite, until David had a better plan of action!  Meanwhile God blessed Obed-edom’s household and all he possessed. The nearness of God was his good.

When the ark was finally transported to Jerusalem it came not only with great rejoicing but with great preparation and care, carried on the Levites shoulders. They were so grateful for God’s protection that they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams!  There was no taking for granted the mercy of the Lord this time (I Chr.15:26). It was for this occasion that David appointed thanksgiving to be sung for the first time by Asaph and his brothers.  It was David’s psalm (96)—Notice his focus:

“Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name;…Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!  Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually…He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth…For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be held in awe above all gods…Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place….Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him!  Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth…”

David understood God’s goodness and His holiness. He knew the joy of seeking God’s presence as well as the fear of having Him near. Do we?  Or is it all lost on us because we’ve distanced ourselves from ‘the God of the Old Testament’.   This is to our misfortune.  Without the fear of God there is no genuine drawing near to God.  Without drawing near to God there is no being made holy.  It is God’s ways that make His people shine in a depraved generation. When His people have no regard for His ways, they lose their distinctiveness, their holiness, and the blessings of living by God’s design.

Remember Asaph? He and his brothers were the singers appointed by David.  It is his psalm that brings out this point.  Psalm 73 begins with Asaph’s envy of the wicked.  They appear to prosper and to get away with so much. Meanwhile  Asaph struggles to keep his hands clean and his heart pure and for what use?  He’s suffering and being rebuked still.

But then he had a heart change.  What happened?  He went into the sanctuary of God; his perspective of eternity was restored.  He realized God was all He truly wanted. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”  And all He truly needed:  “My flesh and my heart may fail but Go d is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (73:26) And he concluded  ‘But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”  It was worth keeping his heart right with God, so worth it.

The ‘pleasures of sin for a season’ just can’t compare with this.

I’ve been continuing to read John Owen’s old writings on Overcoming Sin and Temptation.  His point this week was that if you really want to overcome sin it will start with getting a solid grasp on the GUILT of it, the DANGER of continuing in it, and the present EVIL results of it in your life.  I’ve elaborated on these elsewhere if you’re interested, but what I realized when all was read and studied is that we are so indebted to Jesus our High Priest to deal with our sins.  We can’t even see them, let alone grasp how deadly they are to us apart from His work in our hearts.

But the crazy impulse sin creates in us is to run away from nearness to God, like Adam and Eve cowering in the garden when they could be walking with their loving Creator.  Meanwhile the God who  calls us into fellowship with His Son with intent to dress us in His righteousness, invites us to walk with Him in the light and so be made clean.  He no longer dwells in man-made sanctuaries of stone but by His Spirit in the bodies of those who believe on His Son’s work on the Cross on their behalf (I Cor.3:16). He has given us His Word and, through the Spirit, life-giving understanding of it, so that we can know His ways and walk humbly before Him.  Truly the nearness of God is our good.

Let’s run to Him, with our sins, with our failings, with our doubts and temptations. He has given us Jesus as our great High Priest by whom we may draw near the throne of grace for mercy and grace when we most need  them.(Heb.4:14-16)  At the heart of holy living is not great will power (or ‘won’t power’), not great disciplines for a stringent lifestyle, but a humble heart drawing near go God by faith, confessing sin, admitting weakness and continuous need of Him, willing to say ‘yes’ to His ways, and ‘no’ to our own notions of what seems best.  And as we walk with Him by faith we will begin to love the things He loves and hate the things He hates.  The nearness of God will be our good.  Run to Jesus!


This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1Jn. 1:5-7

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Jas. 4:8

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Heb. 11:6

“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” I Cor.1:9

I could not choose between the following songs.  All of them have been a balm to my soul tonight.  I pass them on for your meditation…


Jesus, Lover of my Soul, let me to thy bosom fly…
I dare not stand on my righteousness…
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ.

…and lastly this, in honor of Reformation Day…and the great truths brought to light at that time.

My life is hid with Christ on high, with Christ my Savior and my God…

“I shall be safe” (?)

Last week I talked about holiness, and particularly what it is not. We can think ourselves holy by external comparisons with others when we base our perceived ‘holiness’ on what we do or don’t do rather than what’s in our hearts. We can deceive ourselves especially well if we maintain a little distance (and deafness) from God and assure ourselves that He is love and all is mercy and grace and He really doesn’t mind how we act. We’re covered.

I was arrested by a description of this thinking in Deuteronomy. The Law had just been explained to them. God’s covenant with them had been carefully laid out. I am your God. Keep my commandments and you will live. Don’t and you will die. And then these words: Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” Deut.29:19

Notice that he’s not necessarily saying this aloud. It’s a heart thing.

If you’ve been a Christian for long you may recognize this kind of thinking. We can get comfortable with the idea that we are ‘saved’ and on our way to Heaven, and grow careless in the journey. We can grow lazy, discouraged, or cynical and imperceptibly we can begin to let distance come between us and God. Sin begins to feel at home in our hearts and we may not even notice it.

I’ve been challenged by my reading in Hebrews of late. This book is rife with warnings and encouragement about the deceitfulness of sin and the dangers of drifting, about the potential for our hearts to become hard and crusty and the imperative that we listen for God’s voice today and encourage each other today, lest any be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Take care, brothers lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Heb.3: 12, 13

While I was exercising this week I listened to some excellent messages based on the opening chapters of Hebrews, messages with titles like Heed These Warnings, The Danger of Drifting, and Holding Firmly to the End.* It’s impossible to read Hebrews and come away thinking you can just continue ambling along to Heaven with no particular care over how you walk, just so you prayed the ‘salvation prayer’ sometime in the past.

Sin is deceitful. It hardens our hearts. Hard hearts grow hard of hearing. Unless we hear God’s voice how can we walk before Him in the obedience of faith?  I especially appreciated this list of warning signs taken from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  It shows the trajectory that takes us away from the living God into the consequences of sin’s deception:

#1 As our commitment begins to wane there will be a forgetfulness of God and a forgetfulness that one day we’re going to meet Him “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.” Heb.10:31

#2 There will follow a gradual loss of private holiness, private prayer, the curbing of our lusts and genuine sorrow for our sins

#3 We will begin to avoid the company of ‘lively’ Christians.
(People who love Jesus will seem like fanatics to us.)

#4 There will be a disinterest in public worship.
(Though you may still attend, your heart will not be in it.)

#5 Finding fault in others will blind us to our own sins.
‘There’ll all a bunch of hypocrites!’
(When our eyes are fixed on Jesus we will be busy first with the planks in our own eyes!)

#6 We will prefer the company of the godless. (Ps.1)
(Our interests will be drawn to what the godless have to say and we may pursue old faithless associations we left behind.)

#7 We will be involved in fleshly lusts in secret.
(Secret sins will begin to hold us in their grip–Eph.5:12)

#8 We will begin to play with sin openly, losing our sense shame.
(We won’t care what people think, but will be brazen in making our sin public.)

#9 We will become hardened eventually, revealing to all the sorry condition of our lives (I Tim. 4:1,2)


Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
(I Cor.10:12)

I don’t want to make headway down this path while I  convince myself that “I am safe” though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.  I don’t want to miss knowing the heart of God who is the essence of holiness. I don’t want to stand before Him and hear Him say: “I never knew you”, or even to stand before His consuming fire and have all the deeds of my life burned up as loss (I Cor.3:15).

It’s too easy for me to pat myself on the back and delude myself into thinking I’m some sort of “holy” based on things I don’t do, or addictions I do not struggle with, and miss the rotten core at the center of my own nature.

So I’ve been asking God lately to reveal to me my sinfulness, not so I can grovel in shame but so that I will not be lulled by sin’s deceitfulness into a false assurance of well-being (“It’s all good!”) while cultivating a stubborn heart that can no longer hear God’s voice.

And God is answering that prayer, in the most unexpected of places.

There I was standing in line at Shopper’s Drug Mart, impatient to pay for my jug of milk and get home… This was to be a quick stop. I’d intentionally avoided heading into the grocery store, too many steps to the dairy section, too many distractions enroute. I thought for sure here I’d be in and out in a flash! So I’d grab my jug of 2% and couldn’t help seeing eggs on sale so picked up two dozen of those as well. And there was butter at a good price. Oh, and a pint of discounted cream. So I added these to my armload and hustled to the check-out only to step behind a gal with her shopping cart full to overflowing with Halloween candy. Not only that but in front of her was an elderly couple obviously in no rush…

What did my heart say? Rats! Wish this gal would let me go ahead of her. This milk’s heavy, and cold… If she were nice she would let me go first…I bet she feels guilty standing there being so selfish…I would let me go first if I were her…

What did the Spirit say? No problem. You’re not really in a hurry. And your hurry is no more important than hers. Why should you go first anyway? Who are you? Must the world revolve around you?

OK, so, that’s right. New strategy. I’ll be nice. I’ll show her how nice I am. I’ll show her I don’t resent her standing there avoiding eye contact so she can pretend she doesn’t know I’m here heavy-laden with my milk. I’ll smile and chat it up with her. I’ll be nice.

That strategy worked so well that we were quickly both at ease, her explaining that she works for a company that gives out candy on Halloween. Me affirming this nice idea and jokingly wondering how I could get in on the free candy. Fine. I was nice.

Enter sin. Oh how nice I am. She must think I’m so patient. The cashier must be grateful I am so patient…My oh my how nice I am… Not content to ‘put on the new man’, the old man must make a show of it, take credit for it, boast in it… Yes, Lord. That’s wrong!

But then suddenly a new line opened up and the ‘next in line’ was invited to come over. By this time there were two or three people behind me diving for first place in the new line up. The gal with the cart of candy prompted me to take my rightful place there. I shrugged it off, said I was in no rush, and alluded to not wanting to be trampled by the ‘herd’. Ah yes, gracious me. Sacrificing my rightful opportunity. Letting others go first. Waiting like a saint. Still smiling. No hurry here. Just look at me.

The action was right; I seemed to be putting others before myself. But the heart? To be honest, I wanted that place. I was in a hurry. I resented those folks for taking my place. The only reason I didn’t try to claim my rightful place was fear of looking like a selfish fool! But I demeaned them in my mind, while I smiled a placid smile. (No rush here) and gloated over my external graciousness all the while…

Oh, Lord, have mercy on me. My heart is deceitfully wicked. Thank-you for the grace to respond rightly on the outside but I see my heart is not holy….

If Jesus were in my shoes, His actions may have looked similar but they would have flowed from a holy heart, a heart of love rather than self-interest, a heart not consumed with thoughts of self-importance (Phil.2).

I eventually paid for my things and went out to my car, not in shame but grateful and in awe that the Spirit is faithful in this process of sanctifying our hearts. He is faithful in very practical ways in very down-to-earth places. And I had heard His voice and not hardened my heart… This too is a mercy of God. I have seen a glimpse of my sinful heart and been awed by my Saviour, in the checkout line at the drug store.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, 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. Phil.2:12,13


If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:8,9

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. Heb.12:15-16


If you have not listened to Alistair Begg, you are in for a treat.  Listen to his series of messages on Hebrews here:

The tell-tales of Spirit-empowered Holiness


Holiness is beautiful.  Its counterfeits are odious, but their standards are humanly attainable.  So we write our rules and set ourselves to keeping them. We make our do’s and don’t lists and check them off…and are no more holy, and maybe a little more smug, when we’re through.

I’ve been meditating, talking and reading about holiness a lot lately. What does the real thing look like? It’s a many-faceted topic and I’ve wrestled all day at where to begin here…HOLY.   It’s what God is. It’s what He’s called us to be.  It’s both what we are and what He’s making us to be.  It’s His work and it’s ours to reach for.  We can’t attain it but are to be ever about the business of aiming at it while waiting for it.  Holiness is a beautiful enigma.

My practical grasp of it is so far behind my head-knowledge of it that to write of it seems hypocritical.  And yet, I have a growing sense of what it is not and how it is not attained.  And surely this is a start…

“Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”(Gal.3:3)

“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Col.2:22,23)

We through the Spirit are being made holy, being conformed to the image of Jesus.  The process is hard to define and impossible to mandate. Though we are called to be active participants we are clearly not in control of outcomes. Only God can make us holy. 

The man-made versions of holiness come in an endless array.  They may look quite impressive and their appeal is tremendous.  We can at last ‘do something’ to make ourselves holy!  But without exception, unless the Spirit of God is the wind in our sails, the results will be disastrous!

I’ve been thinking of these things this week in light of sickening scandals revealed at the highest levels of two widely renowned Christian ministries known for their strict adherence to “Biblical principals’’.  Thousands of Christians dedicated to pursuing the highest standards for their families have been  sucked into movements whose founders have been living duplicitous lives for YEARS, even decades in one case. How has this not come to light sooner? How is it that a Christian ministry can flourish in terms of adherents, purporting to promote godliness, while grieving the Holy Spirit all the while,  and noone knows the difference?

Have we gotten so very clever with our principles and formulas for being ‘holy’ that we no longer need faith or dependence on the Spirit of God? Are we blind to the infinite difference between what we call ‘godly’ and who God really is?

I’ve been mulling over these things…surely there are indicators to keep us off the shoals of self-made religion and running in the power of the Spirit toward that  holiness “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb.12:14). How do we distinguish the two?  Holiness is not a goal we can reach without God but we can sure waste a lot of time and energy and do a lot of damage pursuing it on our own steam.

It’s rather like sailing without minding the tell-tales.  A pair of these brightly colored strips flip about in the wind on either side of the sail.  The position of these tell-tales  tells the sailor how he’s doing with respect to the wind in his sails.  If  he reads them well, he will be spared a great flapping of sails as the wind catches them awry and attempts to turn his boat from its course.  If he fails to heed the tell-tales indication of what the wind is up to he may lose control of his craft and find himself headed in quite a different direction than he had intended.  The tell-tales are there to show him the optimal angle of attack with regard to the wind. The handy sailor will gain a great advantage by them. He will trim his sails accordingly and so arrive at his destination.

Is this not the way of the Christian life? We can get in our boat and try to motor against wind and wave, sails flapping, being blown this way and that because the set of our sails is wrong.  Or we can heed the tell-tales and sail in the power of the Spirit to God’s destination for us—the likeness of His Son.

So what are the tell-tale signs that the holiness we espouse is truly Biblical holiness?  What are the indicators of the Spirit’s sanctifying work and where is it just our flesh flapping in the breeze and thinking we’re going somewhere?

May I offer some negative perceptions first?  These are the ones I know best. They come naturally to me. This stripe of ‘holiness’ is tell-tale that we’ve missed the wind of the Spirit and are heading off course.

  • When we get together for ‘fellowship’ but speak of ‘them’ and ‘us’ more than of Jesus.
  • When we follow the letter of the law but fail to celebrate the grace of God in Christ Jesus as our only source of righteousness.
  • When we are so appalled by the evil in others and in the world at large that we don’t see the evil in our own hearts; more energy is spent enumerating other’s faults than repenting of our own.
  • When we are quick to condemn others’ blatant sins (especially those with which we have not struggled),  but slow to see our own (which are no doubt just as glaring to others)
  • When we are more apt to point out another’s sin than to aid in his restoration.
  • When we nobly bear the burden of obedience to our own set of prescribed rules but cannot help condemning (and secretly envying) others who don’t follow our rules.
  • When we justify our pious distance from sinning brothers in Christ as ‘holiness’ and are consequently too distant to be involved in their restoration

My sails have been madly flapping all through that list.  Those things are tell-tale indicators that we are veering off course in our pursuit of holiness. I see another way drawn out all through Scripture, a “new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom.7:6) It is beautiful, marked by righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Obedience is no longer burdensome but the overflow of love for God and others that the Spirit has worked in us.  It is marked by a glad service to God, rather than a holy grimness.

Here are some of the tell-tales that the Spirit is filling our sails and moving us steadily in the right direction:

Restful Confidence that the good work God’s begun in us He will move in us to complete.  We won’t be motivated by guilt, anxiety or regret but by the Spirit of God revealing truth and error and guiding our steps in practical daily ways. “…He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.” Phil.1:6

Freedom.  We won’t be bound by a one-size-fits-all exhaustive list of  principles and disciplines.  Our righteousness will not be about keeping rules: “Never…,  Always…”  but about walking by the Spirit in the light of God’s revealed truth.  Consequently, we won’t assume that the way God has directed us is the way everyone must live. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” II Cor.3:17

Sacrificial love will characterize our lives and interactions with others in the Body.  Rivalry will cease.  Instead we will look for every opportunity to build up, to restore, and to forgive.

Self-forgetful humility will keep us from thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. We will not necessarily recognize the changes God is making in us, but others will.  When Moses talked with God, his face shone, but he wasn’t aware of it. The people around him certainly were!

Devotion to Christ will be more important than keeping up appearances or keeping rules. We will seek approval from Him alone.  Our focus will not be on doing but on being with Him and getting to know Him and He us. Our ability to do anything good will flow from being rooted and grounded in this relationship.

These are some of the tell-tales when our sails are trimmed to catch the wind of the Spirit’s working in bringing us to glory.

We dare not be driven by our own ideas of righteousness, our own clear-cut standards and programs and principles to the exclusion of the need for faith and the Spirit’s power.  It is not the externals that make us holy but the matters of the heart. “All that matters is faith working through love.” Gal.5:6

If we want to be holy people, it will not start with lists, but with loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength.  Who can do this in his own power? The answer to the  lawlessness we see around and within is not law-keeping or even law-enforcement, but love. The one who loves God keeps His commandments and they are not burdensome.

And so we’re faced with ‘Be holy as I am holy.’  What will we do?  It will start with the provision Jesus has made for us to draw near the throne of grace ‘that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ Heb.4:16  It will be in drawing near to Him that we will be changed.  This is where the breeze is blowing us. Mind the tell-tales.


“the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” Ex.34:29

For ‘through the Spirit by faith we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness’ Gal.5:5

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. II Cor.3:18


A related post from the archives: “Wind and Spirit”

My gleanings—the ‘mini devotional’


In my post, Some Bible Reading Pointers, I suggested a multi-genre way of reading the Bible, including some tips for getting the most out of it. One of those ideas was to take what you’ve read and connect-the-dots to formulate a ‘mini-devotional’.  This is easier said than done.  While in my mind I can see beautiful glints that form patterns, much like in a child’s kaleidoscope, it is not simple to put them in words.  The marvel of Bible reading is that the Spirit breathes life into the words and helps us make sense of it and see the glory of God woven through it.  This is not easily put in print.  However, it’s worth a try in hopes that you will be inspired to do the same (  :  So here are my gleanings for your consideration.

This will not be a polished ‘devotional’, just some snippets from my October 15th reading.

Right now I’m reading in the books of Leviticus, II Kings, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Hosea, Matthew and Romans as per the Grand Tour of Redemption Bible reading idea I explained in the JUST READ IT tab (at the top of my home page), and referred to in this post.

Note: This is really not an overwhelming amount of reading.  Just one chapter from each of these books took me 36 minutes, including the time it took to jot down some thoughts from each.  [And no, I don’t usually time myself!  I was just curious how much time was passing; I avoided rushing.  I like to ‘chew’ a little and go back and forth a bit comparing passages…and still it was just over half an hour.  So yes, this is quite doable time-wise even for a busier person than I!]

Anyway, here’s what I found:

Leviticus 24—It’s important to keep the lamps burning in the tabernacle, and to keep the bread of offering fresh and present on the table.
Cursing ‘the Name’ was punishable by stoning.
Laying on of hands was actually a form of testimony against the guilty—yes, this is the one; I heard him curse. (Now that’s interesting; (how) does this relate to the purpose of laying on of hands in the New Testament?)
And lastly, ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ is presented as the just way of dealing with sin against one’s fellow man.  Yikes.

II Kings 12—Here’s a bit of practical wisdom for temple maintenance.  Take up regular offerings and do the maintenance as ‘funds’ become available.  And the workmen were trustworthy ‘in house’ maintenance men.  Hmm.  Seems pretty sensible.  But what’s this? Sacred gifts that had been dedicated to the Lord, and gold from the temple treasuries is given as a bribe to keep the King of Syria at bay!  Up till now King Joash, the boy king, under the tutelage of Jehoiada the priest, has been a good king.  But ‘oh no!’ his own servants conspired against him and killed him.  Why?!  I just had to detour from my ‘planned’ readings to the parallel account in II Chronicles (12).  It filled in the dismaying missing pieces.  When Jehoiada died King Joash returned to idolatry, hardened his heart against God’s prophets, one of whom was Jehoiada’s son whom he killed, and so Joash came to a bad finish himself. Sad.

Psalm 97—When the Lord reigns the earth rejoices! In comparison idols then look as worthless and shameful as they truly are. This psalm exudes gladness, light, righteousness, justice, glory and of course, Thanksgiving!  As I reflect on it I realize that in our world righteousness is often viewed negatively. God reigning sounds like oppression.  Idols are desirable objects—how can we live without them?  This is all wrong.  To what extent have these impressions crept into my thinking?  This psalm is a joyful restorative of truth—where the Lord reigns there is joy! And what a contrast to the reign of King Joash.  His own servants rose up and killed him.  Once he abandoned the Lord his reign became tyranny.

Ecclesiastes 10—So much of this book is a tad depressing and not really wise.  But here are some proverbs I jotted down—
A dull ax requires more strength.”  In other words, work smart; sharpen your ax. I wonder… what tools of mine need sharpening?
“A fool multiplies words.”  Hmm.  I’m reminded of that proverb that says something like ‘in a multitude of words sin is not absent’. (I found it just now: Prov.10:19–“In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” ) Seems like wisdom requires few words. Hmm.  Is this post getting too long?!

Oh, and here’s a tidbit that sounds quite like modern thinking:
“Money answers everything”  (19) This certainly didn’t prove true for King Joash.  His bribe of gold was no use against the King of Syria. “Though the army of the Syrians had come with few men, the LORD delivered into their hand a very great army, because Judah had forsaken the LORD, the God of their fathers. (II Chr. 24:24)  The Lord is King after all and money is not everything!

And one more:  “The toil of a fool wearies him for he does not know the way to the city.” Is is a stretch to be reminded of the Celestial City?…We know where we are headed.  Our labor is not in vain in the Lord.  We need not grow weary in well-doing as the fool who has no purpose in what he does…I think of the workmen in temple gladly serving the Lord (II Kings 12)…I think of the gladness of all the earth when the King reigns (Ps.97)…Serving Him is not wearisome, unless we lose sight of the City he’s preparing. “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Heb.11:16

Hosea 12—At this point in my little notebook, my words are getting tiny and all jammed up. I loved this chapter. It underlines that it is not self-effort but reliance on God that honors him: “So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.” (6) Here again, God sends prophets to warn his people (as He did Joash), prophets which go unheeded.  God is not eager to judge.  He woos us to return to Him when we get off into our own ways of doing things.

Matthew 24—Jesus is coming again.  In the meantime there will be others who come in His name.  We don’t have to go check them out.  It will be obvious when Jesus comes.  His Glory will be unmistakable.  Meanwhile the love of many will have grown cold in an atmosphere of lawlessness.  (What is it about lawlessness that makes love grow cold?  Could it be the persecution that accompanies lawless times?)  The hope of Jesus’ return is designed to have a purifying effect.  This is illustrated in a parable of servants whose Master is away. The faithful ones live expectantly.  The unfaithful abuse their positions and incur the Master’s wrath at His unexpected return.

And I couldn’t help noticing the upcoming story (in Matthew 25) of the ten virgins, five foolish, five wise.  The wise had oil for their lamps and were ready to meet the groom when He came to get them.  Their lamps were lit…hmm…how does this relate to the constant burning of lamps in the Old Testament tabernacle? (See Lev.24)  I wonder… But there’s one last chapter…

Romans 7—  “We serve in a new way, by the Spirit, not the written code.” God gives us new desires but our ability to carry them out is dependent on the Spirit who gives life and power to these bodies destined for death (Yes, I peeked at Romans 8 also).  Could this be what the five foolish virgins were missing?  The Spirit.  That old Sunday School song comes to mind:
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning
Give me oil in my lamp, I pray…
Keep me burning till the break of day.

Did we know what we were singing about?

And that was my reading for the day.  It took much longer to tell you about than it did to read and think about!  But it left me with an overarching awe of God’s Kingdom—Where He reigns there is joy and love and gladness. Until He reigns there will be wicked kings, crazy idolatry, lawless persecutions…but it’s not forever.  With His oil in our lamps and His love in our hearts we can serve faithfully as we wait eagerly to be welcomed into the joy of our Master!

Now it’s your turn. I hope you will have a try at reading widely throughout the Bible in one sitting. And I’d love to hear how it works for you.

For the nitty gritty and some practical pointers check out the “JUST READ IT” tab above.

O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.  Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.  Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name! Ps.97:10-12