Knowing God

I have a lot of head-knowledge about God.  I’ve read His Word all my life.  Once-upon-a-lifetime before marriage and family I even earned a Bachelor in Biblical Studies; I learned some Greek, picked my way through the ins and outs of Biblical exegesis, worked my way through most of the books in the Bible with inductive study questions and godly teachers to guide the way.  And of course, where human teachers fell short, there was the Spirit to apply the living word to my heart.  He’s still about that business.  Why then am I not the spittin’ image of Jesus by now?!

Truth is, there are blind spots—hard-hearted places where the water of the Word is repelled like water off a duck’s back.  I may see your blind spots, may suspect you’re heading for trouble in some area or another because of some chronic behavior based on a belief that needs changing…But by definition I am blind to my own blind spots.  Deaf to the Spirit in these areas.  Slow of heart to believe and so to live out the truths that would transform these areas in my heart.

Too often I have been content with knowledge about God without seeking to really know God.  Knowledge for knowledge’s sake—so I can ‘know it all’, puffs up.  The true knowledge of God applied to the heart will have the opposite effect.  Consider Job: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye see you;  therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:3-6

This week I’ve started reading J.I. Packer’s KNOWING GOD, a perennial classic.  I’m sure I read it back in Bible School days but it’s time for a refresher!  Packer writes out of a conviction that the Church of God is weak and ineffective because they are ignorant of their God—ignorant of His ways and of how to commune with Him. But he writes in a hopeful, helpful and ultimately practical way, which I’ve found very encouraging.

It has been convicting in a life-giving way to reflect on my own knowledge of God. Has my acquaintance with God kept pace with my knowledge about Him?  Does my life give evidence of being one who knows her God well?

Packer outlines several of these evidences. He says these things will be true of those who have gotten to  know their God:

  • Neither their achievements or their hardships will matter in comparison with the value of knowing God.  All these are nothing compared to the gain of knowing Him.  They won’t bemoan their ‘crosses and losses’ or be pre-occupied with what-might-have-been; these things are insignificant in light of knowing God. ‘Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…’ Phil.3:8,9

I think of the psalmist who said: Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. –Ps.73:25  Can I say that wholeheartedly?  Only by faith that God will make it so in my life.

  • People who know their God have great energy for Him. “…but the people who know their God will display strength and take action.” Dan 11:32  This is first seen in the energy with which they pray for His Kingdom to come, His will to be done (see Daniel’s example). “People who know their God are before anything else people who pray.”  If we have little energy for prayer and little practice of it, can we say we know God?
  • The way we pray is the best evidence of our view of God. Those who know Him will have great thoughts of Him! What do our prayers express about the littleness or greatness of our knowledge of God? (See Daniel 2:20ff)
  • Great boldness for God will accompany those who know God. Once convinced of a course of action they ‘smilingly wash their hands of the consequences.’ (Oswald Chambers) It matters little what others think or what consequences await. (Consider Daniel and friends in Babylon)
  • Great peace of mind and contentment marks those who have known God. They know they are known by God, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favour to them in life, through death and on for ever. In life or death they are the Lord’s glad servants. How comprehensive is my contentment?

I read these things and am acutely aware of my fledgling knowledge of God despite years of ‘knowing’ Him.  But this is precisely the first step toward reversing this trend!   Packer’s words are not condemning but prescriptive. He doesn’t end the chapter till he has  given two strong encouragements.  They are first steps in knowing God rightly:

1. Recognize what is lacking. Learn to measure your knowledge of God, not by head-knowledge, or even service for God but by how you pray and what goes on in your heart. Ask the Lord to reveal your impoverishment in this area.

2. Seek the Saviour. He invites us into His company. We know God through seeking and finding Jesus. Those who seek Him wholeheartedly will surely find Him.

But the best gem of all was this practical piece of advice and instruction:

How can we turn our knowledge about God into knowledge of God?

The rule for doing this is demanding, but simple. It is that we turn each truth that we learn about God into matter for meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God.” 22

Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes  and promises of God.  It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God.  It’s purpose is to clear one’s mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let his truth make its full and proper impact on one’s mind and heart.  It is a matter of talking to oneself about God and oneself; it is indeed, often a matter of arguing with oneself, reasoning oneself out of moods of doubt and unbelief into a clear apprehension of God’s power and grace.” 22

And so, little by little I am using my Bible reading times not just to increase head knowledge but to consciously interact with God about what I am reading, to admit my reactions to the text, to praise Him for the qualities I see of Him in its pages, and to ask Him to fulfill His Word in my life and those He puts on my heart.  It is a small start toward putting all this head-knowledge to use in a living relationship.  And I am encouraged to press on to know my God.

–LS

IMG_20150821_214412261[1]

“So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth.” Hosea 6:3

“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God…”
I Cor.2:12

And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true;
and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. I Jn. 5:20

Listen for it. Listen for Him.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?

These words jumped from their immediate context (I Cor.6:19) to arrest my thoughts one day  not too long ago and their significance keeps echoing in my heart…

Have I fathomed this? The eternal, Almighty, Holy-holy-holy God has sent His own Spirit to take up residence in this very perishable, earth-bound, sin-prone shell that I inhabit.  He has in fact designed it for His habitation  and because of His presence here I have been given the chance to showcase His glory.  (I Cor.6:19-20)  It’s unfathomable.

And yet,  surely there are day-to-day, moment by moment implications to this reality?!  Too often I live oblivious to them, not so very unlike Eve who took for granted getting to walk and talk with God in the Garden and soon was listening to the wrong voice in her ear…

That voice did not come from one who had her best interests at heart,  although he knew her interests very well. He also knew her vulnerabilities, better than she knew them herself—or she might not have wandered so far alone…She might not have been so eager to listen to a stranger… At first perhaps she listened out of curiosity, or wonderWho’s ever seen a talking snake?!  But the first words from his mouth should have clued her in that this was an enemy: “Did God actually say?”
This beautiful enemy was a poser; pretending to care about her interests, he only used them to exploit her.

I know this story backwards and forwards but I don’t often transpose it to my own backyard and the temptations that play on the mental swingsets there… For this is my enemy too. He (and his hordes) knows my interests… knows I’m eager to be ‘righteous’, to learn to pray ‘well’, to be ‘good’… How might he exploit  even these interests to distort my understanding of God and prayer and righteousness?  The direct approach might not do—the enticement to blatant immorality.  But perhaps, clothing himself as an angel of light, he might suggest I focus on technique, or on trying harder, or on shaming myself into action? Or he might suggest I read just one more book before I get started—a book on prayer, of course.  And then ‘tsk-tsk-tsk’ when I show no signs of improvement.  And “do you really think God is pleased with you ‘as-is’?  You really had better get your act together, pray more, try harder… maybe then…”  We could really get this swing-set in motion, he and I, with my  vulnerability to do-it-yourself-righteousness and my incorrigibly distorted view of prayer as dire duty more than relationship.   I may not even need his help.

But I do need help to avoid the pitfalls of my nature, that’s just it.  And before we took that excursion into the Garden and my being not so very unlike Eve… I was considering the implications of having Almighty God dwelling in my earthly tent—this body of mine.  Here is one of them.  He is present, my HELPER, there to nudge me away from error and into truth.  He is there beneath the undercurrent of life’s busy-ness or idle-ness, there in the moment of temptation, there always, acting on my behalf for His great glory.

I like the way Richard Lovelace describes a normal relationship with God in his book:  Dynamics of Spiritual Life—“…as we move through life the presence of his Spirit is the most real and powerful factor in our daily environment; …underneath the momentary static of events, conflicts, problems and even excursions into sin, he is always there like the continuously sounding note in a basso ostinato.’

I had to look up that term.  It’s the musical term used to describe a repeated theme of notes in the bass line of a composition that undergird the variations in the upper notes.  I like that—the Spirit always there, sufficient for everything we face.  Our constant companion.

And I find these days that I want to be more attentive to His presence, more sensitive to His promptings, more responsive to His corrections. (This too is His Work! )  He is at work in each of us more than we realize—prompting, enabling (to do what God calls us to do), directing, reassuring, illuminating truth, assuring of the Father’s love, making our lives to be salt and light… It’s all too easy to miss Him and to arrogantly chalk our successes up to our own cleverness, to attribute pleasant surprises to ‘coincidence’, to thank our ‘lucky stars’ rather than the God ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’!

What if instead we assumed God’s Spirit’s work in us and responded with hearts of gratitude, awe, and praise—like the melody notes above the steady voice of the basso ostinato?  How different would our days be if, with humble hearts and  ears inclined to believe, we listened for the bass line of the Spirit, listened ready to say “Yes! I see. Yes, you’re right. Yes, Jesus is amazing!”; listened at the sink, in the car, at the desk, in the line and believed Him to be present…

For myself, I suspect it would save me from a great deal of useless self-effort, self-reproach, and just plain self-ish-ness.  I suspect it would lead more readily to a glad repentance and a new way of praying—without ceasing, with joy.  And I suspect this kind of attentive listening would begin to develop in us all a more humble dependence on the One who alone can produce spiritual growth in us.  We can attempt to do all the right things, to grow ourselves up, but apart from the Spirit’s illumining instruction and empowering we are hopeless orphans. This is not God’s intention.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” Jesus said. Jn.14:18

Again I found Lovelace’s insights helpful:

“We should particularly recognize that growth in holiness is not simply a matter of the lonely individual making claims of faith on the basis of Romans 6: 1-14. [“We know that our old self was crucified with Him…consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”]  It involves moving about in all the areas of our life in dependent fellowship with a person:  “Walk by the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh…” (Gal.5:16 NASB).  When this practice of the presence of God is maintained over a period of time, our experience of the Holy Spirit becomes less subjective and more clearly identifiable, as gradually  we learn to distinguish the strivings of the Spirit from the motions of the flesh.” –Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, p.131

I have a little object lesson here I’d like to suggest.  What follows is an audio recording of a familiar classical piece.  It is a great example of a sustained ‘Basso Ostinato’.  The opening bars introduce the theme.  Listen for it, and keep listening for it as the melody progresses. As you listen think of how the Holy Spirit is always at work in the score that is your life-song, sustaining the rhythm, performing His designs to perfect God’s  will in your life.  Listen for it.  Listen for Him.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOA-2hl1Vbc

–LS

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. Rom.8:6

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Rom.14:17

“… For we are the temple of the living God.” II Cor.6:16

“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?…”
Ps.139:7

==================

P.S. If you, like me, sometimes  get side-tracked by notions that are not from the Spirit, may I offer this excerpt from the writings of John Owen, a highly regarded Puritan theologian (1616-1683).  I have found it very helpful. He suggests four ways we can distinguish the leading of the Spirit from other impressions.

  1. The leading of the Spirit, he says, is regular, that is, according to the regulum: the rule of Scripture. The Spirit does not work in us to give us a new rule of life, but to help us understand and apply the rule contained in Scripture. Thus, the fundamental question to ask about any guidance will be: Is this course of action consistent with the Word of God? 
  2. The commands of the Spirit are not grievous. They are in harmony with the Word, and the Word is in harmony with the believer as a new creation. The Christian believer consciously submitted to the Word will find pleasure in obeying that Word, even if the Lord’s way for us is marked by struggle, pain, and sorrow. Christ’s yoke fits well; His burden never crushes the spirit. (Matthew 11:28-30)
  3. The “motions” of the Spirit are orderly. Just as God’s covenant is ordered in all things and secure, (2 Samuel 23:5) so the promised gift of that covenant, the indwelling Spirit, is orderly in the way in which He deals with us. Restlessness is not a mark of communion with the Spirit but of the activity of the evil one. Perhaps Owen had particular members of his congregations in mind when he wrote:

We see some poor souls to be in such bondage as to be hurried up and down, in the matter of duties at the pleasure of Satan. They must run from one to another, and commonly neglect that which they should do. When they are at prayer, then they should be at the work of their calling; and when they are at their calling, they are tempted for not laying all aside and running to prayer. Believers know that this is not from the Spirit of God, which makes “every thing beautiful in its season.”

  1. The “motions,” or promptings of the Spirit, Owen says, always tend to glorify God according to His Word. He brings Jesus’ teaching into our memories; He glorifies the Savior; He pours into our hearts a profound sense of the love of God for us.

–This excerpt is taken from The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen
by Sinclair Ferguson

Are you awesome?

I am troubled this week at how subtly and persuasively the gospel of the Glory of Christ can be subverted to be all about the glory of man.  The God who created the heavens and the earth is truly awesome.  But how flippant we’ve become with the use of this word.  Now we’re being told we too are awesome! I’ve been considering this…

There’s a new gospel afoot. It is the gospel of the glory of man, and it is not good news.  Oh, it sounds good.  Who doesn’t want to be praised for their inherent beauty, paid homage for their worthiness,  exalted as awesome, and generally made much of?   But this is not the true Gospel.  It is a creeping deception that smacks of its forefather.  Lucifer was cast out of heaven for such audacity—wanting to share God’s glory, wanting praise to come to him for his God-given beauty.  God will not share his glory with another.

He will not be rivaled.  Man exists for God’s glory, not He for ours.

The Gospel is all about the beauty of Jesus—the perfect wedding of grace and truth in the perfect God-man. It is about God made flesh in order to redeem sinful man from the death that is their due.  It is the ‘gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’  ‘What we proclaim is not ourselves, Paul said (II Cor.4:4,5).  The ultimate culmination of the Gospel will be the summing up of everything in Christ.(Col.1:19,20)  Every knee will bow, willingly or otherwise, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.  “Worthy is the Lamb”  will be our song. We know this and yet the modern understanding of the Gospel has been infiltrated (hijacked?) to legitimize our own desires for glory.

Just this week I read these quotes:

“Jesus is not a window showing us who we can become, He is a mirror showing us who we already are.”

And what is recommended in the aftermath of personal sin?  Not acknowledgement that our guilt is real.  Not confession that we have sinned. Not a glad and humble repentance. But just :“Stop it! You are way too awesome to be acting like that. You are acting below your nature.”

This is nothing more than self-delusion, an appeal to our insidious pride.  It is an effort to brush off the  indignity of  failing/falling.  After all, we are awesome (?!).

Where do we find this view in Scripture?  How have we so reduced God’s awesomeness as to unashamedly count ourselves worthy of a share?

We’ve come a long way from Moses’ posture before God:

And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

And we’ve missed the point of God’s awesomeness in taking for Himself a depraved people and doing for them great and awesome deeds.  Look at God’s response to Moses:

And [God] said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
Ex.34:9,10

God’s work in and through His people is meant primarily to display His own Awesomeness, not ours.  We are special only by virtue of Him having chosen us, not by our own merit:

And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making for yourself a name for great and awesome things, in driving out nations before your people whom you redeemed from Egypt?
I Chr.17:21

David understood this:

Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? … And what more can David say to you for honoring your servant? For you know your servant. For your servant’s sake, O LORD, and according to your own heart, you have done all this greatness, in making known all these great things.  There is none like you, O LORD, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.  And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making for yourself a name for great and awesome things, in driving out nations before your people whom you redeemed from Egypt?  I Chr.17:16,18-21

Has the New Testament changed all that?  Or did these men who walked with God  just suffer from a poor self-esteem so that they just never really understood how awesome they were?

It’s not that there aren’t Scriptures that speak of the glory of man,  but ours is a reflected glory, not ours to boast in. Yes, we are made in the image of God.  Yes, we have been ‘crowned with glory and honor’ (Ps.8)   Yes, we can become ‘partakers of the divine nature’ through the fulfillment of God’s promises in us. (II Pet.1:4) Yes, God “has called [us] to his eternal glory in Christ” (I Pet.5:10) and yes, Jesus even said He gave His disciples the glory that God had given Him(John 17:22).

What do we make of this?  Are we then such awesome folks that we should really spend more time and energy reflecting on our greatness till we have overcome our feelings of inadequacy and bolstered our self-esteem sufficiently to vanquish all guilt and shame?  Is this what Scripture commends?

Let’s be sure to counter-balance these passages with those that liken man to grass and worms and the like, all transient and insignificant things.  For instance, All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord remains forever.” I Pet.1: 24,25 (See also: Is.2:22Ps.144:3,4)

Or this from Isaiah: “Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. ” Is.41:14 14  [BTW–For a superb message on this theme see John Piper here: http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/fear-not-you-worm-jacob ]

Yes, we’ve been crowned with glory and honor and those who have put their faith in Christ are destined to be glorified with Him (Rom.8:17), but this is not a glory revolving around us. How can it be? Ultimately all glory must return to its Giver.  He is the Source of anything we may glory in.

Psalm 8 is a particularly relevant passage dealing with the magnificence of God and the derived glory of man.  You will be familiar with it:

 “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens…when I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers…what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that your care for him?” 

The verses that follow present an interesting opportunity for the modern generation.  We are so inclined to find reasons to glory in ourselves. We update our profiles, keep the status of our ‘goings-on’ up-to-date, and post our blogs, always fishing for compliments, praise and assurances that we are significant.   But we sometimes fail to recognize and rest in the real source of our significance.  Here it is outlined:

“Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.  You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field…” (Ps.8:5-7)

Here is the God of all Creation putting the very works of His hands into the care of mankind.  He has vested us with significance.  We can revel in this incredulous glory, stewarding the work of His hands in humble gratitude, and conclude with David: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”  OR we can pat ourselves on the back feeling quite mighty and go fishing for human affirmation of our special-ness. The choice is ours.  Our response will reflect who is the Lord of our lives.

I come back often to Jesus’ words to the Pharisees.  They came to Him to find fault, while glorying in their own significance by way of heritage (Abraham and Moses!) and of meticulous rule-keeping.  They lived for the praise of men, such an ephemeral glory, but missed the only source of glory that lasts:

“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”, Jesus asked. (Jn.5:44) We would do better to take our cues from Jesus who lived for His Father’s glory, not His own.  He refused to seek or ‘glory in’ the praise of men (Jn.5:41).  The result:  He received glory and honor from the Father expressed in these words: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (II Pet.1:18)  Isn’t this the ultimate glory we crave—knowing we have brought God pleasure by yielding our lives to His will.

This is the glory we will revel in through all eternity—the glory of God, and the knowledge that we have inexplicably been invited to participate in this glory by yielding to His work in us.  He has created us in His image, redeemed us through faith in His Son, and shaped us through all the events of our lives into the likeness of His Son.  He has used us to do precisely the ‘good works’ He ordained for us and in the end there will be ‘a crown of glory’ not to our praise but to His.  We get a sneak preview in Revelation  of what will come of those crowns:

“…the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Rev.4:10,11

It is a glorious privilege indeed to be invited to reflect such a glory.

I savored again this week C.S.Lewis’ explanation of how the glory we crave intertwines with the very glory God has promised us.  He notes how quickly praise received turns to deadly self-admiration but suggests that behind this desire for glory is a desire to please the One who created us.  In Heaven we will have escaped this ruinous habit of glorying in ourselves and will be able to receive God’s praise: “Well done, good and faithful servant”  with the innocent delight of a child.  We will gladly return the glory back to the One who alone is worthy.  But let me give you Lewis’ own words:

…I am not forgetting how horribly this most innocent desire is parodied in our human ambitions, or how very quickly, in my own experience, the lawful pleasure of praise from those whom it was my duty to please turns into the deadly poison of self-admiration. But I thought I could detect a moment—a very, very short moment—before this happened, during which the satisfaction of having pleased those whom I rightly loved and rightly feared was pure. And that is enough to raise our thoughts to what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please. There will be no room for vanity then. She will be free from the miserable illusion that it is her doing. With no taint of what we should now call self-approval she will most innocently rejoice in the thing that God has made her to be, and the moment which heals her old inferiority complex for ever will also drown her pride … Perfect humility dispenses with modesty. If God is satisfied with the work, the work may be satisfied with itself; “it is not for her to bandy compliments with her Sovereign.” I can imagine someone saying that he dislikes my idea of heaven as a place where we are patted on the back. But proud misunderstanding is behind that dislike. In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised. (C.S.Lewis, The Weight of Glory,1942)

What a glory that will be! What an awesome God we serve.

–LS

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. … You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen. Deut.10:17,20-21

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches,  but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” Jer.9:23,24

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.”  I Cor.1:28-31

For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. II Cor.10:18

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth visible and invisible.. all things were created though him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body the church.  He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Col.1:16-18

“…when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. II Thess.1:10-12

“…in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” I Pet.4:11

————–

Just a sampling from John Piper’s message: You Worm, Jacob.
[It is available in audio and written transcript here.]

“Satan has master-minded a phenomenal victory in the American church. By teaching us through a thousand lectures and articles and books that we are too valuable to be called worms, he has made it impossible for us to sing “Amazing Grace” with truly amazed hearts. The more beautiful and valuable man is made to appear, the less amazing it is that God should love him and help him.

The gospel of self-esteem is healing our wounds very lightly. The wings of self-worth that carry us briefly out of fear will quickly weary and drop us in despair some day…”—John Piper

Embracing Repentance—I can’t live without it!

Two men go up to the temple to pray. One returns home a new man, justified. The other says a deluded prayer and returns home unchanged. (Luke 18:9ff) What made the difference?

Two sons of a loving father take different paths. One wanders. The other stays home. When the wanderer comes home he is welcomed with open arms and a party is thrown on his behalf; the other sulks in the hallway, bitter and jealous that his hard work goes unnoticed. What made the difference?

I have been struck lately with the absolute necessity of repentance for living life as a Christ-follower. It is not a bitter pill to be avoided but the very provision of God for our Joy! A life of repentance is His design for us as He does the work of transforming us to be like His Son. Without it we are destined to leave prayer unchanged and to be continuous party poopers!

I’m not good at the stuff of repentance. It’s hard on me, because to my mind, repentance has always implied wrongdoing, blame, and guilt–all concepts at odds with being RIGHT, good, and blissfully unaware of guilt. I have resisted admission of culpability all my life. I have tried to be a ‘good’ girl (or at least to look good). Yet in the pursuit of being ‘good’ (isn’t that what parents tell their kids to be?!) I have too often skirted the real road to righteousness, and peace of mind, and JOY.

But God is faithful and He sees to it that I keep bumping into this concept of repentance, not just for the sinner over there, the one I can see and compare myself to with smug result, but the sinner right here in my seat. Repentance is not a one-time ordeal to be gotten over with, but a way of life.

I have too often preferred being ‘right’ to being repentant, being ‘good’ on the outside, to being honest about what’s in my heart.
I have for too long avoided blame as though my life depended on it.
And  I can relate far too readily to the Pharisee who stood smugly praying to himself(!): God, I thank you that I am not like other men–I do this, that and the other thing as evidence that I am superior to the common sinner…(Lk.18:11) This is not the way to heart change and growth!

My take on repentance–and here come my excuses–is perhaps due in part to being ‘born in church’ and not having had inclination or opportunity to commit ‘big’ sins (by our church’s measuring stick anyway!) I got in the bad habit of measuring sin by externals rather than the heart. To some extent my poor grasp of repentance is the product of a personality bent on pleasing others and satisfied with externals. But really, I suspect that my resistance to repentance is due to a depraved nature intent on earning the love it needs rather than confessing its unworthiness. Pride is at the core. I have wanted to be right, or at least to appear so. I have seen this as essential to acceptance–God’s and others’. I have been wrong. So once again I am faced with my need to repent, but this time I’m eager to embrace it as a good thing…

I finished Tim Keller’s book on Prayer recently. I appreciated his clarification of a false kind of repentance, what the Bible refers to as ‘worldly grief’ (II Cor.7:10). He points me to a better kind of repentance not fraught with desperate attempts at self-justification! This is not it:

“Legalistic repentance is destructive. In moralistic religion our only hope is to live a life good enough to require God to bless us. Every instance of repentance in this view of things is traumatic and unnatural—because it serves only to (we think) win back God’s favor through our misery. Without a firm grasp of our free justification, we will admit wrongdoing only under great duress, only as a last resort. We will focus on the behavior itself and be blind to the attitudes and self-centeredness behind it. We will also take as little blame as possible, reciting all the mitigating circumstances to ourselves and others. When we do try to repent in this legalistic frame of mind–since we can never be sure if we have been abject enough to merit God’s favor– we can never experience the release and relief of resting in Jesus’ forgiveness.”*

Yes. I know only too well this view of repentance. I have lived it. I want to learn to rest in God’s forgiveness while at the same time being quick to admit my sinfulness. I want to see sin as He sees it and to stop excusing and minimizing its presence in my life. Religiously keeping my own set of rules won’t stop sin’s inroads in my life. These only blind me to its presence. I need to learn a lifestyle of repentance.

True repentance is more opportunity than dread.

More Eureka!’ than ‘Aww rats; I’ve been caught’.

More, “Yes, You’re right Lord!” than ‘But I didn’t mean to..’.

More JOY than ‘If only…’.

This is the kind of repentance I want to learn. There is no truly Christian life without it. God is holy. Man is not. The gulf between necessitates admission of sin and guilt, and faith in the One who willingly paid the debt of sin I owed. This is the very foundation of becoming a Christ-follower. “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand” were Jesus’ own words (Mt.4:17). But repentance doesn’t stop there.

Repentance is essential to spiritual growth. Without it, every other spiritual discipline becomes another opportunity to add ‘Brownie points’ to my self-sustained righteous record. Luther was so bold as to assert that: When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. This is the first of his ninety-five theses that sparked the Reformation. I had never read them till this week. In defense of this statement Luther points not only to Jesus’ command in Matthew 4 but also to His model for prayer– “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors…”. As God’s children we are forgiven sinners, it is true, but sinners still, living in ‘bodies of death’ with a propensity for sin. This sin would enslave us, destroy our relationships and rob us of joy were it not for repentance.

Repentance is the only sure path to righteousness. I was thinking about the fellow we know as ‘the rich young ruler’ who came to Jesus to find out what he needed to do to obtain eternal life. He had riches. He had a great moral record. But he didn’t have the life Jesus was talking about and he knew it. The outcome of their conversation was the man turning away in great sadness, unwilling to relinquish his love of money for love of God. And Jesus used him as an object lesson to teach his followers how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Lk.18:25) His listeners were incredulous: “Then who can be saved?!” Riches won’t do it. Not the riches of dollars and cents or the riches of a fine Christian heritage and moral standard. And I thought, How difficult it is for a self-righteous man to enter the kingdom of God! With men it is impossible but not with God! His kindness leads me back to the Saviour who came not for the righteous, but for sinners (Luke 5:24).

This reminds me of Christ’s rebuke to the Laodicean church: They thought of themselves as rich, successful and in need of nothing. Self-satisfied. But in fact they were wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. It’s a case of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” revisited. I may not be monetarily rich but if I think of myself as ‘needing nothing’ including repentance! this is a word for me. These first chapters of Revelation are not addressed to the godless who have not yet come to know saving faith. These are messages to the Church. And this one is a call to ‘be zealous and repent.’

But it is a call to repentance driven by love. The God who calls us to repentance has designed us to know rich fellowship with His Son. Our sin prevents this from happening. So He stands at the door waiting for us to invite Him in for tea and fellowship. He waits for us to confess our sins, to be honest with who we are and what we’re up to. He longs to give us what we lack– true riches, His white garments of righteousness and eye salve so that we can see as He sees. (Rev.3:18ff) Repentance is the means to these! It leads to LIFE as we were meant to live it–flawed but forgiven, freed from guilt to celebrate our Father’s love forever. I want this. So I’m asking God to do for me what only He can, to grant repentance in all those areas to which I’m blind and to make me to know truth in my innermost being. (Cf. II Tim.2:25).

Living without repentance is not an option. When I assume I’m faultless (or that my faults are no big deal) I delude only myself. I will never be good enough to live without repentance. I won’t outgrow my need of it this side of glory. But in the meantime it is God’s means for my blessing–for restoration of JOY, of peace, of freedom and of rich relationships with Him and others.

Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. Ps.51:6

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Ps.139:23-24

–LS

“God, having raised up his servant [Jesus], sent Him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” Acts 3:26

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? Rom.2:4

Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. Ps.32:2

“Restore to me the joy or your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Ps.51:12

Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. Ps.49:7-9

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart O God, you will not despise.” Ps.51:17

_______________

I commend to you a closer look at these stories of repentance…

–David’s story– Psalm 51 [Historical Context: II Samuel 11, 12]

–The Prodigal and his elder brother–Luke 15

–Paul’s story: Acts 9 and 26; Philippians 3

–And don’t forget Luke 18…the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector and the story of the rich young ruler…

*See Timothy Keller’s PRAYER: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.
Dutton, 2014. p.210.