Friday, October 26, 2007

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep!

Following up on my previous post I want to explore this whole issue of emotion a little more. This time, we won't only be exploring the emotion of joy but a slew of other emotions as well. I want to show that the Bible not only commands us to have joy in God but that it also commands us to hate and grieve as well. All emotion commanded in the Bible should be understood in this way: an appropriate and proportional emotional response to spiritual truth. And we should realize that the reason we are commanded to have these emotions is because God does and He calls us to be like Him - perfect. Our verse will be Romans 12:15 (shown in context here as Romans 12:14-16):

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight."

Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. What an odd command - and it is a command. No Bible-believing Christian would ever say that we are not commanded to bless those who persecute us -because this text clearly tells us that we are commanded to do that very thing. In the same vein, no Bible believing Christian would ever say that we are not commanded to rejoice with those who rejoice or weep with those who weep. But the curious thing that strikes me in regards to emotion is this: how can I possibly be expected to feel sadness to the point of weeping over someone else's suffering - particularly if I am rejoicing and full of joy? How can I possibly be expected to rejoice and be sincerely glad with those who are glad - particularly if I am suffering? The key to all of this is love.

If I sincerely love a person I will be deeply moved at their suffering and at whatever they are experiencing that is causing them to weep. I would be cold-hearted and cruel if I did not weep with a mother who has just lost her only child. I would truly be in sin if I did not grieve with a man whose daughter was just raped and killed. It would be abhorrent and perverted not to weep over their loss or not to go through the pain with them. The same goes for rejoicing. If I truly love another person I will be deeply glad and happy for them when they experience a good thing in their lives. It would be selfish and sick of me to allow jealousy or indignation to rule me when someone has been given a blessing I don't have and want. I would simply prove the wickedness in my own hear if I listened with indifference as someone tells me of a great and joyous event in their lives.

"Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good."

Romans 12:9

This verse, from the same book, in the same chapter, and in the same passage of the Bible, admonishes us to make sure that our love is genuine and not conjured up or done from duty. It is an impossible command to follow because as sinners we always default to duty and rules. What Paul means is that love must be felt and practiced - not one or the other. Both the emotion and the outflow of it must be there for love to be genuine. Otherwise it is simply a duty or simply an emotion. "Love must be sincere...bless those who persecute you...rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." The important thing to see is this: if love is a genuine love then the subsequent emotions and actions will be genuine and a natural outflow springing from my love. My deep and heartfelt love for my wife produces grief when she is hurting and that is appropriate. My deep and profound love for my parents causes me to be willing to give up my comfort that they might come to know the Lord. Sincere love produces appropriate emotions in response to other people's situations as well as actions. Love is the root of all other emotions. We are to hate evil because we love God and people. We are to be glad when others have been given a good thing because we love God and love people. If love is sincere and heartfelt, our subsequent emotions and actions will be the correct ones.

If, however, our love is not sincere and heartfelt we will not sincerely weep at the loss of others, nor will we rejoice at the joy of others. It will all be fake, coerced and disingenuous. The tears may flow, but they are not real tears. The words of rejoicing may come, but they are not sincere. If our love is not sincere and heartfelt - neither will any of the consequent emotions or actions.

Let's look at Jesus for an example of appropriate and sincere emotion. "Jesus wept" is the shortest verse in the Bible. The situation is this: Martha and Mary, dear friends of His, have just lost their brother Lazarus. As Jesus arrives, Martha and Mary meet Him - first Martha, then Mary. Upon seeing their grief at the death of Lazarus and the grief of others who are friends or family, Jesus weeps. He weeps because He hates death and sees the profound effect that this has on His friends. He genuinely loves them all and shares in their grief. Jesus felt the emotion with them and it produced sincere tears and sincere grief. He felt the emotion with them because He loved them sincerely.

Now some might say that this has nothing to do with joy being an emotion, but it does.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice."

Philippians 4:4

We are commanded to have joy in the Lord at all times. Not just when things are going well or when life is comfortable and free of suffering. The question is this: is God asking us to walk around with perma-smiles, or is He asking us to have a deep and profound, heartfelt emotional joy in Him as opposed to our circumstances? The answer is, of course, that God is commanding us to have a deep joy and gladness in Him at all times. How do I know that this is so, you might ask?

In Deuteronomy 6:5 God commands us:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your HEART and with all your SOUL and with all your MIGHT."

This shows us again, that God is after a genuine, heart-felt, deep, emotional love not just choice and lifestyle because these can be imitated. Lifestyle can be imitated and so can choice and a lifestyle that does not flow from an emotional love for God does not honor God nor does it shine forth His infinite worth and glory. Of course, the problem is that in my own flesh, I cannot have such an appropriate love for God and this is the sad truth of our depravity. We can fake the actions and the lifestyle, but we cannot fake the emotion because we are depraved and sinful to our core. Nonetheless, God commands the genuine emotion of love for Him from us.

Then, in Deuteronomy 30:6 God makes a promise. Aware of our inability to produce the genuine love for Him that He commands, He says that He will give us this love so that we may live:

"And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live."

Isn't that amazing? God's promise to us is that He Himself will give us the genuine love He requires of us. God knows that we cannot obey the first and greatest command and therefore takes action on our behalf to bring such genuine love about. He also promises us that when we have this genuine and heartfelt love for Him, we will live. But we’re still not at the end of this argument.

"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules."

Ezekiel 36:26-27

God says that He will bring about the promise of Deuteronomy 30:6 by putting His Spirit in us. By giving us the Holy Spirit, God will bring about the genuine emotion of love in our hearts. The reason is obvious. God loves Himself perfectly in Trinitarian relationship. God the Father is the prime; Jesus Christ is the image, face, representation and wisdom of God the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the love and joy that the Son and the Father have between each other flowing forth into the third subsistence of God - the third person of the trinity. So what love is God really putting in us when He saves us and makes us His? It is His own love for Himself.

"And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."

Romans 5:5

It is by the Holy Spirit put in us and living in us that God produces love for Himself as He commands. God has given us the one thing we could not produce - the deep, profound and emotional love that He has for Himself. And my point in relation to joy is simply that from this genuine love flows a joy in Him at all times. Our circumstances may be terrible and our suffering might be great, but when we are FULL of His Spirit we will experience the joy that God has in Himself - the joy that naturally flows from the genuine love that He has for Himself. No one would argue that Jesus ceased to have genuine and emotional love for the Father when He suffered. Neither would we argue that in His suffering He ceased having the emotional joy of being one with the Father. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit and it produced genuine love and genuine joy flowing from that love. We can obey the command in Philippians 4:4 only if we are filled with the Spirit (which will be the topic of my next post where I will show that we are indeed commanded to be filled with the Holy Spirit and that this is a command that can also be obeyed by asking for it). It's easy to disregard the command because it deals with something we can't control. But the command is there and it is dead serious. God threatens terrible things if we will not be glad in Him:

"Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart...therefore you shall serve your enemies..."

Deuteronomy 28:47-48

The command to be happy and to have joy is not one to be taken lightly or to be ignored. God's passion for His own name and His own worth does not make room for conjured joy and "a choice" to have joy. Our joy must be genuine and that can only flow from a deep and genuine love for Him.

Two final verses will put this to rest.

"I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

John 17:26

Do you see that God puts the love that He has for Himself in us? Do you see that this is done, according to Romans 5:5 by putting His Holy Spirit in us? Like I said, my next post will try to show that we can quench the Spirit and that we are indeed commanded to be filled with the Spirit - so there is something for us to do when our joy is not genuine or sincere.

"I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them."

John 17:13

You see, it is not some glib and dry decision-based joy we are given. It is a real and lasting joy that the Holy Spirit can give us. The very emotion of joy that Jesus has in Himself is the joy that we can have - no, we are commanded to have.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Duty Of Joy

I have heard it said that joy cannot be an emotion. The argument goes something like this: We are commanded in Scripture to be joyous. God would not command us to do something we cannot do. We cannot spontaneously conjure up an emotion in ourselves. Therefore, joy cannot be an emotion. I could not disagree more with this argument.

I should preface this post by saying that I am sympathetic to what people who make such arguments are trying to achieve. Emotions and feelings in our culture have been corrupted to a degree that we can barely understand. We foolishly pursue meaningless and fleeting feelings of exhilaration through possessions, experiences, and prosperity and we carelessly call this “the pursuit of happiness” or even “joy”. In an effort to compensate against this folly, I can understand the temptation to downplay the emotional aspect of joy. Nonetheless, stripping joy of its emotional nature ultimately leads to a misunderstanding of who God is and what His purpose is for our lives.

First, I want to look at a quotation from Pascal:

"All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves."

We all know this to be true. Every fiber of our being cries out for happiness, satisfaction, contentment, joy and gladness. There is not a single human action that is not, at it's core, rooted in the quest for joy or gladness. Even the depraved culture in which we live affirms that this is so. After all, the reason we go from one idol to another is because the happiness we seek is not found to last in any of them. When the joy fades and the gladness leaves from one idolatrous source, we move on to the next one.

Now, the argument above claims that feelings cannot be commanded because we are not capable of turning our emotions and feelings on or off. We have all tried over and over again to "be happy" but we fail miserably. So the first part of the argument seems to make sense. However, suppose we used something other than feelings to make a similar argument. Let’s look at repentance and faith for example. How would the argument look then?

Repentance and faith are both commanded throughout the Bible. Yet the Bible also tells us that human nature is totally depraved, and human beings are incapable of conjuring up faith or initiating repentance. That does not cause us to argue that God doesn't command repentance and faith. Just because I am incapable of producing something doesn't mean that God can't command it of me.

Let's look at the example of Jesus speaking to Nicodemus. Jesus told Nicodemus that unless he is born again he will never see the Kingdom of God. Unless Nicodemus is born of the Spirit, Jesus tells him that he will never be saved. The fact that Nicodemus cannot be born again by himself did not mean that Jesus could not require it from him.

There is a profound fallacy in the argument that joy cannot be an emotion, which is that God cannot command from His creatures what they can't give. Of course He can and does! He does this from Genesis to Revelation, commanding repentance and faith. Yet, we know that the Bible also tells us that we are simply incapable of obeying this command due to the hardness of our hearts and our fallen nature. God must give us new birth, new hearts and He must put His Spirit in us before we can ever obey the command. Hopefully, you already see where I am going with this :)

Now, let's see what linguistics can teach us about joy.

Joy = χαρᾷ in Greek

Joy = שִׂמְחָה in Hebrew

Defined as “the EMOTION of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying...”

Joy is by definition an emotion. Indeed, not only is joy an emotion, it is caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying. Let's look at joy in context and see if joy is contextually congruent with emotion:

"In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
1 Peter 1:6-9

There are two things to note in this passage: 1. The object of their joy; and 2.The nature of this joy.

1. The object of their joy is clearly seen to be Jesus Christ Himself, whom they see by faith (not with their eyes) and whom they love. The entirety of their joy rests on and in the object of it - God in Jesus Christ.

2. The nature of this joy is said to be one that is "inexpressible and filled with glory." Here is what Jonathan Edwards has to say about this joy:

"Unspeakable in the kind of it; very different from worldly joys, and carnal delights of a vastly more pure, sublime, and heavenly nature, being something supernatural and truly divine and so ineffably excellent; the sublimity and exquisite sweetness of which there were no words to set forth. Unspeakable also in degree; it pleasing God to give them this holy joy with a liberal hand, and in large measure, in their state of persecution."

The Religious Affections - p. 23

I would find it quite disturbing if someone tried either exegetically or theologically to prove that the joy of these people was not an emotion. One would almost have to perform some sort of intricate theological surgical removal of the meaning of the words in order to come to that conclusion. In other words, to say that joy is not an emotion or a feeling is to miss the forest for the trees, so to speak.

Now, let us close with what we do know to be true. Jesus Christ is the all-sufficient, all-satisfying, all-supreme Lord, King and Savior of His people. He commands us to "rejoice in the Lord," "delight yourself in the Lord," "shout for joy," "consider it all joy" and many more commands regarding joy. To say that joy cannot be an emotion because we cannot have it in our own strength is to deny the very truth of our inability to love God and our concurrent responsibility to do so.

God desires for us to have emotional joy and gladness in Him (Psalm 37:4) and to remove the emotional aspect of our salvation is to truncate the gospel, leaving it at "you are justified." What is the point of being justified, if there is no pleasure or joy that I can find in God. It would only mean that God is not satisfying and not capable of bringing me the joy I seek - the very joy that He has in Himself, the emotion of gladness and happiness that He finds in relationship with Himself. The greatest gift He has given us is that of Himself and it is supposed to give us the most profound and deep joy. Don't truncate the gospel by removing the emotional component of the gospel of His glory and our joy.

John Piper does an excellent job of explaining in depth what I have attempted to explain briefly in this blog. I would highly recommend his sermon entitled, "Let Your Passion be Single."

You can find it here:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Joy Of The Lord Is Your Strength

My heart is heavy and my soul is saddened to a point that I can barely express this evening. I have choices to make which I never thought I would have to make and the future looks very uncertain for my sweet wife and me. I don't want to go into details about what we are facing because I am not looking for pity nor do I want to burden people with our problems. I would rather spend my time worshiping God and praising His name for His surpassing greatness and share my joy with you so that you can see the infinite joy that can be had in Jesus Christ.

A lot of my posts lately have been in relation to the struggles I have seen coming our way and have really come about as I have fought through the disappointments and discontentment that comes with all human suffering. I have had moments of profound faith and moments of profound perplexity, in this, but one thing has never left me - the joy of the Lord. My hope is in Jesus Christ. Oh, how my heart longs for Him and how I long to behold His glory.

Nehemiah 8:9-10 seems particularly fitting at a time of such uncertainty and sadness.

"And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God;do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, "Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."

Contained in this short verse is the fullness of God's desire for us - joy! Nehemiah has just finished rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem and the people have all showed up for the first worship service. As Ezra reads the law to the people they worship God for the first time in many, many years. They raise their hands to the living God and they worship Him with their faces bowed to the ground, many weeping and turning the sand to mud, I'm sure. They weep out of sadness because they have sinned against God and not honored Him in their hearts. The Lord has not been their treasure or their joy - they had abandoned their husband, the Lord. They weep for joy because they have heard the law and understood it - God loves them and will forgive their sin. He will send a redeemer to them who will pay for their sins as God draws His people back into relationship with Himself. They see in the law the glory of God - His love for them, His kindness and grace toward them, His patience with them as they transgressed, and His infinite goodness. Their sadness is mingled with joy and that joy is their strength.

Oh what sweet words these are to a grief-stricken soul. What greatness the Lord has done among us. What profound sin and rebellion He has forgiven us. What loving kindness He has shown to us all. How glorious and magnificent is He?

As I read the text I am struck by two things: 1. God's desire for us to enjoy our lives 2. The fact that enjoying our lives can only come about when His joy is in us.

First, as Nehemiah tells the people to go home and eat a fat meal and drink the best wine, we get a picture of a God who asks us to trust in Him and to enjoy the gifts He has given. No legalistic, teetotaler, self-righteous religion here. Eat your food because it is a gift from God - not something you are entitled to. Thank Him when you eat the food that is put before you and glorify His name when you drink your wine. Both the food and the wine will taste better when you realize that it has come from a good and gracious God who cares about every aspect and detail of your life - even if your food tastes good and if your wine is sweet! So Nehemiah tells the people to go home and glorify God by having a feast.

Secondly, the promise is that the joy of the Lord is the only thing which can help us enjoy our food and our wine as we ought. Only the joy that is found in the Lord can lead to true enjoyment and true delight in any of God's gifts. Without this joy our food, our drink, our spouses, our cars, our houses - everything becomes an idol that either brings only fleeting joy or ends in despair when it's taken away. This promise will hold us up even when we don't have delightful food to eat or sweet wine to drink. Those who belong to the Lord have a joy that cannot be removed - a joy that is deep, firm, and unshakable. When all of life comes crashing down around us like a deck of cards, there is the joy of the Lord to get us through it. Verse 10 is one of the sweetest words found in the whole Bible. The joy of the Lord is your strength.

We find strength in this joy because it is not rooted in our circumstances and it is not predicated upon comfort, ease of life, or a luxurious lifestyle. The joy of the Lord does not wax and wane with the coming and going of blessings from God because they are not based on the gifts of God but rather on the gift of Himself. Let me explain what I mean. The gifts of God are many: family, friends, cars, houses, food, health, wealth and the like. Everything in our lives is a gift from God coming down from a gracious God who has every right to crush us, kill us and throw us into everlasting darkness for rejecting His all-surpassing beauty and greatness. James 1:17 puts it this way:

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

Anything good in your life is granted to you from a Heavenly Father who cares about you and gives you the very breath in your lungs. Apart from Him you would not even exist. What most of us struggle to see though, is that the greatest gift we have been given is not at all what we tend to think of when we speak of gifts. When we speak of gifts we speak of good things given us in our lives - possessions, people, money, comfort and luxury. This is one of the reasons why the prosperity gospel is so easily spread - we like gifts. What God has given us is something far greater and something which can bring a steadfast joy even when all other gifts are lost. This gift is that of Himself.

It sounds a little odd at first but let us look at the Bible for clarification.

Psalm 37:4 says it this way:

"Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart."

Do you see it? Do you see the profound statement made in this verse? If God is our delight and our treasure, every desire of ours will be granted to us. We will be satisfied, glad, full of joy and we will have peace. That is after all why we pursue anything in this life - to be satisfied, glad, full of joy and to have peace. A new car makes me happy. My 50" plasma TV brings me joy. Our brand new house brings gladness to my heart. And when things are going well financially and relationally I have peace. But there is something odd about this verse because we know that God never promises all of these things. He doesn't promise us cars, TVs, a new house, financial prosperity or relational peace. In fact, many of His promises are opposite of this. "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake," Philippians 1:29 tells us. So Psalm 37:4 is not a promise that we will get every possession or comfort we desire. Rather, it is telling us that our hearts will be satisfied in something else, or rather, someone else.

What it is indeed telling us is that when God is our treasure and our delight is found in Him, then our hearts will already be satisfied and we will find joy, peace and gladness. Everything that I seek in possessions and the like can be found in God. Every joy I seek in my house can ultimately only be filled by Him. All of the gladness and peace I seek in my relationships will ultimately only be found in my delighting in Him. When God is our treasure we will have joy, peace, gladness and happiness.

This is where I find myself this evening. God has already given me the desires of my heart in Himself. His beauty, His glory, His majesty, His absolute sovereignty and His profound goodness are my treasure and He brings me profound and unutterable joy and peace. He is my treasure and I ultimately only want Him. So when life crumbles and darkness covers your life turn to Him and find your joy there - in beholding Him. Delight yourself in Him and you will never be lacking in joy. It may go up and down. Sometimes you will shout for joy at the top of your lungs. At other times you may experience His joy in the midst of weeping and suffering. But Nehemiah promises us that the joy found in Him is strength enough to get us through even the worst calamity. Though my heart is heavy and my soul is sad, I have a profound joy. I have a joy that no one and nothing can take from me. I have the joy of the Lord and it is found in Him and in Him alone.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Genesis 3:6 To desire or delight in anything more than God is the root of all sin

As I was preparing for the class I will be teaching this week I stumbled upon an interesting verse. Not interesting because I haven't read it before but interesting because God showed me the meaning of the verse in a whole new light. All of my life, this blog, my teaching, my preaching, and all of my rambling in conversation is centered around one concept; we can have an inexpressible joy when we see God and treasure Him above all things. John Piper puts it this way: "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." The basic principle is that God is all-satisfying, absolutely sovereign and absolutely supreme in all things and that our joy - the joy that everyone seeks is found in Him and only in Him. We are made to worship and we are created for His glory. Our joy in His glory gives us what we want, joy, and accomplishes the end for which God created the world - His glory!

I have been preparing a lesson around the definition of and root of sin. Sin is usually defined by mainstream evangelicals as the "breaking of God's law." The conventional wisdom regarding sin teaches that we sin by breaking the law and that this is what is wrong with us: we can't stop breaking God's law. I find this definition to be only partially correct and slightly dubious.

First of all, Romans 5:12-14 teaches us that sin cannot be defined in this way - as simply breaking of God's law:

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned – for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come."

Sin was in the world before the law was given and death reigned even over those who did not break specific commands (those whose sinning was not like that of Adam). Clearly, we must realize that we cannot define sin in such a way as to break with the wisdom of Scripture? Paul is venturing into a mystery here, one that is not readily visible to our unscriptural and God-denying minds. We want things nice and neat and don't like things that mess with our system of thought. We always want simple answers to things and therefore come up with silly definitions of things like sin, even though the Bible clearly teaches that the mainstream thought is wrong.

Now, breaking the law of God is sinful, to be sure (though, one could easily argue that David broke the law without sinning when eating the consecrated bread, and Rahab broke the law without sinning when she lied and sent the spies in the wrong direction - but this will be saved for a separate post some time). 1 John 3:4 tells us that sin is lawlessness and Romans 5:20 tells us that God gave the law in order to increase the trespass and so increase His glory in showing mercy to us. But there is something off about the conventional definition of sin...something not quite right.

If God gave the law in order to increase the trespass and sin was in the world before the law was given, then it must stand to reason that there is something more to the definition of sin than meets the eye. There must be something deeper; something other than simple disobedience and breaking of commands. Let's have a look at Romans 1:22-26.

"Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles…therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts…God gave them up to dishonorable passions..."

Paul is describing the sinful and totally depraved state of humanity here. What's interesting is that he doesn't even mention breaking of God's law yet. He seems to be focusing on something else...almost as if he wants to show us the root or essence of sin. Paul is arguing here that the essence of sin is to exchange the all-satisfying gift of God Himself (His glory) for something else. It doesn't matter if it's a man-made thing or something God exchange our delight in God's glory for something else is the essence of sin. Notice that God hands us over to whatever our hearts desire - this is our judgment.

Neither of these verses, thought they make the case by themselves, are what I want you to see in particular. We need to go all the way back to Genesis 3:6 in order to see what the root of sin is - that is, after all, where original sin is described.

"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate." you see what I mean? Moses, the author, wants us to see that the woman SAW that the tree was GOOD (though not in reality, but to her sinful desires already coming of age); that the woman SAW the tree was a DELIGHT to her eyes; and that the woman SAW that the tree was to be DESIRED.

Breaking the command is only an outflow of the sin that is already taking place here. Eve only broke the command because her eyes and heart desired this tree - this fruit - more than she desired God Himself. She ate of the fruit because it was a delight to her and something good to be greatly desired. In her sinful heart she had already decided to eat of the fruit...the actual eating of it is mere formality at this point. If you don't believe me, please remember Jesus' teaching on adultery..."But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery in his heart." Matthew 5:28 It's not as if refraining physically from an act clears our guilt. Sin happens in the heart; in our desires; in our affections. The physical act is simply the outflow of the desire already present - desire for something more than God Himself. In Eve's case, her eating of the forbidden tree came simply because her desires overflowed for the tree, it's fruit and what it promised. God was not her absolute treasure anymore. God was not who she delighted in more than anything. God was not supreme in her mind or in her heart - the tree was.

This should be sobering for us for 2 reasons: 1) Sin is a condition of affections and not behavior - our behavior simply follows as our desires dictate on 2) Controlling our behavior and resisting the sinful desire is not righteousness nor will it gain you any favor with God. Simply having the desire for something more than you desire Him is it the root of sin and is deserving of all of His wrath.

God is infinitely worthy, infinitely treasurable, infinitely enjoyable and infinitely supreme. Yet, our hearts desire things above and more than God. Our hearts crave the delectable myriad of treasures that the world offers - sex, money, power, comfort, safety, family, cars etc. Wanting any of these things is not sinful in and of itself. The sin happens when we want them more than God and our eyes see them as good and delightful and desirable...more so than God.

The description of temptation and sin in James is telling:

"But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."
James 1:14-15

Eves desire conceived when she saw the tree as more desirable and delightful than her glorious and all-satisfying God. Her desire gave birth to sin and her sin brought forth death when she finally disobeyed by eating the fruit. The essence of her sin was not the eating of the fruit or the physical disobedience. Rather the essence of her sin was the delighting in and desiring the tree and what it offered above God.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Sovereignty of God and glorious joy in disappointment

Disappointment is a curious emotion. We get sad; we get angry; we sometimes cry; we feel betrayed; we feel alone; we feel a loss. When the outcome of a situation is not what we hoped for and sometimes even leads to pain, difficulty and suffering, we experience the emotion of disappointment. Disappointment can easily become an excuse for sin, if we don't correctly understand God and His purposes.

As we long for something, pray for something, and reach for something that we think we need or want...we can easily forget that the outcome is not ultimately in our hands and a good outcome does not always look the way that we think it should look. Our good and sovereign God has made it clear to us that He alone controls the outcome of any and every situation, whether good or bad. Life and death; sickness and health; good times and bad; tranquility and disaster; they all come from His hand:

"'See now that I, even I, am he,and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal;and there is none that can deliver out of my hand."

Deuteronomy 32:39

And God revealed His sovereignty and supremacy to Moses in this way:

"The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?"

Exodus 4:11

That great prophet, Isaiah heard the following words from the Lord:

"I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things."

Isaiah 45:7

So disappointment - though a natural, human response to difficutly, loss and less-than-ideal outcomes - often reflects our limited understanding of God's control over and involvement in all affairs.

But, as we behold God's glory in His sovereignty and supremacy over all things, we should never forget that He is good, perfectly good. God does not bring about death and disaster because He is like a mean kid on an anthill indiscriminately taking life and bringing suffering. No, God is good and everything about Him is good. And if we belong to Him; if we love Him; if we worship God and delight in Him; there is a promise we can rest our weary souls upon.

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."

Romans 8:28

What joy this should bring to the hearts of His saints. What blessed joy and assurance we can have in this promise. What looks like a terrible outcome to me is actually God working everything for my good - effectively making sure that whatever happens - it is for my good. Oh, what a Savior we have. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, it is for certain that it is for His glory and our good - IF we love Him.

The promise is only for those who love Him, so we must take a look at what love for God is. (I borrowed this from a sermon on Romans 8:28 by John Piper)

First, let's look at three negatives - three things that love for God are not:

1. Meeting God’s needs – it’s is not the things that we do for God, God has no needs.

2. Love for the gifts of God – salvation, justification, even Jesus’ death on a cross for our sins. We are to love HIM and not just what He DOES or has DONE for us!

3. The things that love prompt us to do – obedience is not love, obedience is a result of love.

Now let's look at the positive - what love for God is and how it is manifested:

Love for God resides in the affections – it is the hearts esteem of, delight in, desire for, joy in God and His character and who He is. Simply put, love for God is a feeling/emotion/affection/desire for God Himself in Jesus Christ!

If you love God; if He is your absolute treasure and your heart esteems Him above all other things; if your joy is rooted firmly in Him and Him alone; THEN, it means that God works all things for good for you.

If you don't love God; if He is not your absolute treasure and if you heart does not esteem Him above all other things; if your joy is not rooted firmly in Him alone; THEN, this promise is not for you.

Disappointment should bring the saints to their knees - thanking God, our sovereign God for His majesty in controlling every outcome and every situation, while savoring the truth that it is all for our good.

Disappointment should bring those who do not belong to the Lord to their knees - pleading with God for forgiveness for trying to rule the outcome of every situation and for mocking His glory, pleading with God for forgiveness for treasuring anything above His all-satisfying glory. Disappointment should send a shiver into the very soul of those at odds with God. Repent! Turn around and make Him your treasure. Turn around and worship Him!

Jesus died to purchase the promise of Romans 8:28 for us. Jesus paid the penalty of our treasuring and delighting in everything but God. Jesus died as a substitute for our collective mockery of His worth. If we turn to Jesus and look upon Him - we will gain the promise of Romans 8:28. If we fall to our knees and acknowledge His glory and His supremacy - all good things are ours.

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

2 Corinthians 5:21

Oh, the promise. Oh, the joy. Oh, the satisfaction in knowing Jesus Christ and in gaining His righteousness and all the good God will give us through Him.

Disappointment has no hold on those who love God because all things are being worked for our good.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!